Consciously oppressive and morose, Andrew Demcak's new book of poetry Night Chant labors to create what could in lesser hands seem like a queer rewriting of Sylvia Plath. Demack knows better, although he, too, creates a dreary atonality through intriguing word choices. Often the work he does here feels strained, but in a good way; he doesn't want any of his triggers to produce a baldfaced narrative. The titles of his poems --"Rent Boy," "Crossing the Water," "Troll," "Child Killer"-- seem irrelevant; they feel like a random noun someone uttered to rev Demcak up to show his skill. And there's more than a solid amount of ability here.
For a significant portion of the book, Demcak strains to deconstruct a noun, and then asks us to help him reassemble it. In the better poems, we feel the labor of that strain--the diction and metaphor pushing the subject in a way that force it to become something one can perceive as new. Here's some of the fun play in the personae poem "Oedipus Rex": "His lips had lost their sphinx,/ that tired jinx, that nag./...Midnight's middle was not an empty room./My cock was the answer to the riddle." Or the curiously askew final couplet in "Orgasm vs. Rainbow": "Orgasms are bluster, quick mouthfuls, ogling eyes./But you have rainbows for days after denouncing the clouds."
Occasionally, he doesn't feel like he's straining quite enough; he doesn't deserve the release. For example, in the less striking poem "Eros": "Inferno, bright flame, the spasm of flesh./ Halos blazing sparks ignite: orgasm."
Demcak's book sometimes feels over-long (close to ninety pages); the exertion required for reading such a lengthy book feels slightly greedy, especially since some of the poems like "Mirror at Forty" and "In Solitude" could be easily edited to highlight some of the best like "Eavesdropper, 1990" and the daring "Mishima Fantasy.". But still, it's hard to find any place in the the book where there is anything that resembles "a merciless desert here, this page."
Andrew Demcak's Night Chant is available through Lethe Press.
Steve Fellner's second book of poems The Weary World Rejoices was published last year. His first book of poems Blind Date with Cavafy won the Thom Gunn Gay Male Poetry Award.
His memoir, All Screwed Up, focuses on his relationship with his ex-trampoline champion mother.