In My Ohio

​On the Writing of The Pony Governor

Darren C. Demaree
​In July, my third collection of poetry, “The Pony Governor” will be published by After the Pause Press. This book is important to me for three reasons: One, I still jump up and down at the thought of having a book of mine published. Two, I’ve never written a book of political poems before, and this first time it feels very much like pissing on a sleeping lion (which is both a thrilling and incredibly stupid thing to do). Three, all of the proceeds from the book will go to the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education. So, when the book is released in the latter part of July, there will be much celebration from my end.
I decided to write the book after Governor John Kasich spoke at my college’s commencement ceremony. I wrote an infuriated column about how poorly he prepared, how poorly spoke, and how insulting his message to a room of mostly black graduates and black families was. I had never been a big fan of Kasich because of his stance against the teacher’s unions (my wife is a teacher), but I had just spent two years working with this graduating class and he ruined what should have been a great celebration for them. To be honest, I don’t think most of the people were paying attention to him, but I sure as hell was.
That began the research of his recorded speeches, the good articles on him, the bad articles on him, and how he had put together his first presidential run, etc. I read what he had to say and what others that loved and hated him had to say. I talked to friends of mine in politics to see what was true, what was myth, and where I could blur the lines most strategically with metaphor and image.
I decided on “The Pony Governor” as the title because it screamed privilege, immaturity, and a general disconnect. It’s a terribly insulting and slightly funny title, but I choose it because at the emotional core of the book, I had felt insulted. The more I found out about him, the less I understood why it was that he just plain didn’t like Ohioans. At best we were props for him, and at worst we were lab rats for a rightwing agenda bent on going national.
What has kept the adrenaline of the project steady since I started writing it at the end of last year was the speed and emotional connection to the work. I wrote the initial one hundred and fifty-six poems in six weeks. I wrote these poems with a ferocity that I had not experienced since writing poems about women breaking my heart in my early twenties. Looking back at writing this book, it makes a lot of sense to me. My heart had been broken; the leader of my home had stood in defiance of my beliefs, most of my efforts, and he had smiled and called himself a good man and a patriot after the fact. That spurned me, and I reacted accordingly.
Once it looked like After the Pause would be publishing the book, the head of press, Michael Prihoda, and I discussed how this was the sort of thing that was happening all over the Midwest. The original idea of a full-front attack on Ohio’s governor was abandoned, and we broadened the text to incorporate any governor currently defying their constituents (Indiana, Wisconsin, Louisiana). I took Kasich’s name out of the book. I took Ohio out of the book. I needed to incorporate others in the text to make it more accessible, and I think that was the final piece of the puzzle. By making the collection more abstract we were able to elevate the message as a whole.
There is a righteous, dynamic, and hilarious tradition of political poetry in our country. We are an ornery people by nature. This book, “The Pony Governor”, is me at my orneriest. The hope is that I got my good blood rising for the right reasons, and that we (in Ohio and elsewhere) can rally around the idea that it matters who we elect on the local level. We cannot embrace those that would never embrace any part of us.