Atoms of Life: Grady Harp on Meg Pokrass’s Damn Sure Right

Damn Sure Right, Meg Pokrass, Press 53, 2011

Damn Sure Right is a collection of quickies that are better designed moments of fiction than most writers spend pages and pages developing. Each of this at times single page stories, at times 2-3 page stories find a fascinating little detail to explore, a snatch of a story told with carved sentences that create atmosphere not unlike those little snow scenes you shake and watch your own story develop until the mechanical snow settles at the bottom.

A lot of the themes (if that is what label we can use to dot the i and cross the t as fast as Pokrass can) involve little encounters – ‘Brain Chemistry’ floats a scene between two girls whose attractions can be quickly altered by Jim Beam before the truths come out; ‘Freaky Forty’ tersely defines a man who bakes, stands naked on his head for yoga exercises, and uses Botox; ‘Foreign Accent Syndrome’ revisits two girls after a year’s absence; ‘Scraps’ gives in a few words an indescribably touching mother/daughter relationship. ‘Thirty-Nine’ throws at us the thoughts of a woman who seems to be taking up with an old flame – one who hasn’t lived up to expectations. ‘Irina’s Hair Shop’ is the crux for a newlywed couple, the wife obsessed with health foods, the husband gets a haircut and complains his hair is falling out due to his wife’s tofu lasagna: the strange little Russian stylist gets that last word.

Or Pokrass can make a story out of a ‘To Do List’:

1. Wake adolescent daughter with softest mom voice, tell her it’s time to get up and ready for school. She hates to be late, even 10 seconds, because she hates to be noticed.

2. Cereal and orange juice are ready, you say.

3. Cut puzzle pieces of parboiled meat for sick cat, microwave low, re-animate, sprinkle cat vitamins, serve on cat tree,

4. Measure out dog food, mix with pumpkin and green beans or dog diet.

5. Use kitty voice. Isolate other cat in bathroom with stars of kibble.

6. Prepare for drive to school by finding keys and sunglasses in purse despite the stain remover stick, planet stickers, half-eaten food bar, lavender hand sanitizer. Hiding like thieves, keys often play this game forever.

7. Talk to dog about losing things all the time.  He is the most well-adjusted creature in the house. Offer volume discount for this service itemized as “dog love” (note to self – always talk to dog).

8. Calm the surly adolescent who used to be your adoring child.

9. Put on function face, lip color, deflate hair with water – forgive it.

It just goes on and on. Pokrass is not only a genius for finding little atoms of life to poke but she does it with such dexterity that every now and then the reader has to look up form this terrific little book and simply say ‘Wow!’ More please.

Technicolor Physical Encounters: Grady Harp on Andrew Demcak’s a single hurt color

Andrew Demcak, a single hurt color, Mipoesias

Andrew Demcak opens yet more vistas into that seductive world he continues to create in his new book of poems a single hurt color. And even for the polished practiced linguist he has revealed before, this sturdy volume reaches even higher marks on the rising tide of his young career. Demcak is a wizard with words, a sorcerer and lusty sensualist who is able to paint indelible images that may fly past the reader’s eye as in his haiku settings as in the following perfect three line 5/7/5 setting:

I’m wet all over
from the tart smack of your voice
on my new iPhone.
(Only Boy)

or linger in the musky flavors of physical encounters experienced or imagined. His ability to present the reader with immaculate depictions of sensual encounters is one of his strongest assets as in Obscene Caller,

All that muffled silence,
then the edge of orgasm.

You thought that sex would mean forever.

You never asked who he was.

The problem wired in distance.

Your eardrum didn’t need help;
you laid down with his voice completely.

A creature of hungers,
you wanted to fuck 1,000 middle-class men.

But you were young;
you swam in his need,
so rational.

Demcak works in homages to fellow poets and friends, so connected is he to the community of artists in which he finds such admiration. At Abalone Cove is ‘for Matthew Hittinger’, another brilliant young poet:

Like kelp hung from a dead ship’s planks,
naked before his towel,
pubic hair wet on his cock,
a young Poseidon washed up on the tan shore.

The ocean’s rhythmic yawn buoying in,
while the various gulls and men came to collect its prizes.

A wave’s quick swallowing.

After days of sexless calm came this ripe character,
a young man shared between the sea and me.

And though many writers attempt to cope with the profound losses of death and dying and terminal illness, Demcak manages to stun us with his personalization of concept as in Positive:

Final vowels I’d memorize,
dying languages.

The unknown alphabet of his sperm articulated its sentence on my lips.

Shirt unbuttoned,
collar politely slathering,
tiny double helix.

I’d met him by the urinal.

Unlettered histories.

DNA was a conjugation of blood I’d learn to read or concede to
complete guesses.

Andrew Demcak brings speech and words to arenas such as same sex issues as well as any poet writing today, as the examples above suggest. But not all of his poetry deals with these Technicolor physical encounters. He does understand how to offer us bits of beauty. He whisks us away on journeys to other times, other places, dabbles with thoughts of Kurt Cobain, Wallace Stevens and Freud, channels Icarus, Samson and Delilah, and Joseph Smith, tinkers with lovesongs to mussels and orchids, and summons some of the most erotic scenes imaginable. Demcak at once entertains, challenges, seduces, and puzzles us with some of the finest new work being birthed today – a poet shaman!


Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist.  He has presented premiere artists from throughout the world for such exhibitions as WADE REYNOLDS: Full Circle Retrospective, BODY LANGUAGE: Current Figurative Painters, INDOMITABLE SPIRITS: The Figure at the End of the Century and MEMENTO MORI: Contemporary Still Life. He has produced exhibitions for the Arnot Art Museum in New York, Fresno Museum of Art, Nevada Museum of Art, National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum in Chicago, and Cleveland State University Art Gallery and has served as a contributing artistic advisor for universities and colleges throughout California, in Berlin, the Centro Cultural de Conde Duque in Madrid, and in Oslo.   From 1996 – 1998 his collaborative exhibition, WAR SONGS: Metaphors in Clay and Poetry from the Vietnam Experience toured the United States.  He has provided chapters and Introductions to numerous books such as the recent Powerfully Beautiful and !00 Artists of the Male Figure .  He is the art reviewer for Poets & Artists magazine and is the art historian for The Art of Man quarterly journal.