Darren C. Demaree—Lady You Shot Me (8th House Publishing, 2018)

Lady You Shot Me by Darren C. Demaree is a poetry collection revolving around the scandalous life and death of soul singer Sam Cooke. The collection may best be described by the poet himself: “It began as hero worship, and evolved very quickly into a much more complex study on the damage a famous man was able to inflict on the women in his life.”

For those who may not know, Sam Cooke died from a gunshot wound to the chest. It was a controversial death for the well-loved crooner It was self-defense according to the court and the woman who pulled the trigger. It was a set up according to everyone who loved Cooke. But no matter where you stand on the situation, whether you believe he was a bad man who got what was coming to him or a musical god who left too soon, or even if you have no idea who Sam Cooke was, there is surely a piece in this collection that will resonate with you.

Demaree gives us the truth. There are poems you may love, poems you may hate, and poems that may be too much for you to swallow. But isn’t that what the truth is? Everything you want, but also everything you don’t. He doesn’t spare our feelings and willingly shares his thoughts alongside the truth. In “Lady, You Shot Me #17,” he says, “It was arson / that killed Same Cooke; / those bullets / were only the last / logs to be tossed / onto his final flame.” Was it the alcohol? The limelight? The women? The tragedies that marked his life? His popularity amongst black and white folk alike that did not shield him from the realities of a black man in the 1950’s and 60’s? Or was it a combination of it all, and more, topped with a lapse in judgement that eventually led Mr. Cooke to his tragic end?

Sam Cooke, the King of Soul, a man who could bring women to their knees with the subtlest of notes. A father, a husband, a gospel choir singer, a Civil Rights activist. A womanizer, an adulterer, a deadbeat father, a sinner. A human being, which may be the hardest truth of them all. In the end, Cooke was human. He was killed with a bullet from a shotgun, bled out on the floor, all because he flew into a violent, drunken rage at a motel night manager. Was it premeditated murder? Many would say yes. Demaree would like to say yes because that’s just how hero worship is. But again, he gives us the truth, theorizing why it was murder, explaining why it wasn’t.

We remember Sam Cooke for his music and his untimely death, but in between the music, before his famous last words, Sam Cooke lived an imperfect life. Lady You Shot Me by Darren C. Demaree reminds us of that without holding anything back, ugly truths and all.

~Kellyn Berzabal