Jeffrey McDaniel, Endarkenment, University of Pittsburgh Press
In “The Endarkenment,” Jeffrey McDaniel’s fourth poetry collection, the slam poet describes a plethora of topics including politics, sex, religion, and the strengths and flaws of humanity in analogies rich with passion, pain, tenderness, crudeness, and humor. This unique mixture is features both the strengths and weaknesses of McDaniel’s poetry whose voice is strong and creative but occasionally over-reaching which disrupts his soft, clever moments.
McDaniel is known for his talent performing his poems, however his voice doesn’t lose its impact in written form. It maybe more powerful because the reader can review the poet’s unique ideas and phrases over and over until their various meanings sink in. McDaniel uses repetition in poems like the vivid “Origins” where the hilarious “don’t touch it!” translates to the written page enhancing the messages of the poems.
McDaniel has an incredible knack for generating fresh and intriguing ideas and imagery between topics that initially seem incongruous. For example, in his title poem McDaniel disputes the use of the word “sunset.” The sun does not set or rise, he writes, but if it could turn, it would never come back to a planet like ours. He calls moonlight a “luminescent echo,” and “a politician whose speeches are written by the sun.” Towards the end of the poem he leaps from talking about Bill O’Reilly to wondering and describing what it would be like to mate with a sheep. Depending on your sense of humor and love of the wooly animal, you’ll declare McDaniel brilliant or too clever for his own good.
Regardless, his variety of tone creates a book that isn’t neatly tied together to a single, collective theme.He’s humorous in “Boner Etiquette”:
the boner is always half full. Most
boners sleep upside down in caves,
ready to flutter into the world
at the drop of a bra strap.
He’s tender in “Little Sadness”:
I know the pain is inside me, that the sadness
has not gone away forever, but where is it?
Come here, my little sadness, I whisper
down my esophagus.
He’s angry in “Ethel Rosenberg Addressing Her Brother, David Greenglass”:
For fifty-plus years, you’ve lived off my ashes.
How did it taste to swallow our name?
What do you see when lightning flashes?
And often, he’s more than one of these characteristics. In “Lament for a Shriveling Flesh Plant,” McDaniel talks about the need that humans have to be watered in the same way plants are except that humans need to be watered on the inside and out while still insisting on their independence. The narrator reveals his inability to give a person all that he or she needs in a moment which begins with intimate insight and swiftly changes when the narrator diverts his attention to the subject of the poem:
I sit here by the bed, pressed
against my exterior, wishing I had more to give,
so in the dark, when you tilt me to your lips,
a wave could rinse through your insides,
but alas, I’m just a cheap, unwashed glass
with three measly ounces of tap water
in my grasp and you are the whore
who will one day hurl me against the wall
McDaniel’s poetry is incredibly accessible for both poetry lovers and those people who swear up and down that they can’t understand the hidden meanings in poems. He uses everyday images in unconventional ways. He combines humor, horror, sex, pain, and sentiment in the same verse. By shocking, touching, and entertaining readers, he opens them up to new ways to imagine.