Friday, March 6, 2015

Paper Radio - Damian Rogers (a misfit book/ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Paper Radio.  Damian Rogers.  a misfit book/ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2009.

There are a few people whose opinions about poetry make me pause and take notice.

If you read this blog with any regularity you'll know that Stuart Ross (Small Press Poetry God) is a poet I look up to.  He is my friend and when he tells me to read something it brings a new urgency to the task.

Another person I listen to is Bardia Sinaee (Poet/Editor/Publisher of Odourless Press).  On one of my rare visits to Toronto I was in a secondhand bookstore with Bardia and asked him what I should read. We had been milling over an excellent and vast selection of poetry - he was without hesitation and handed me Paper Radio by Damian Rogers.

I loved it.

That was a few years ago.  As always, Bardia knew what he was talking about.

You cannot imagine my delight when Today's book of poetry got a copy of Paper Radio in the mail from ECW Press/a misfit book.  The arcane rules of Today's book of poetry only allow me to write about books sent by publishers/poets, none that I purchase.  Now I can tell you about one of the books I have enjoyed with relish but was unable to share.

Don't Look

It's like when you eat sour candy,
how the sugar-coated acid
twists your tongue into a knot.

At the Ambassador Roller Rink
no one would slow-skate with me.

A boy rolled over to you during the power ballad
and I turned into a pillar of salt.

No, that's wrong. I mean, I felt a lot like a sand dune. Or like
that baby food jar our family member filled with volcanic ash.

I asked the DJ to help me prove I knew the secret moves
from transforming my body into four different letters --

Y: raise your hands to the sky.
M: touch your shoulders like a mountain range.
C: pull your belly toward the door.
A: place your palms over your head and pray.

He said no. He said we don't play that song.

I said oh. I said wait, hold on;
I am changing into someone
completely different and better.


Paper Radio was shortlisted for the 2010 Relit Awards and the Pat Lowther Award.  And for good reason.  These poems are electric, fully charged bullets.

Roger's dexterity and intelligence spew out in machine-gun bursts of ideas.  Monster slaying lines like this: "because you woke up hating yourself and thought of me" from the poem "One Lie".

Lines like this stop me in my tracks.  Paper Radio has a stream of consciousness feel that tapers down to laser precise insight at Rogers' whim.

In The Back of a Cab

I lean my body against the door
of a car I'll never ride in again.

In the long line of stores and restaurants
I'll never visit, your name blinks
on a sign that says it has your pizza.
I've never found my name
on any sign, in any city.

So many people move around me,
invisible within the labyrinths
of skyscraper and subway.
They can't know how I planned to save us all
with the secret of human happiness,
which just this morning
I held in my hand like a rock.

But today was too long --
now all I remember is
a few lines from a song,
something about 20,000 roads,
how they all lead back to me,
here, alone in a stranger's car

in the middle of the night,
secretly hoping the driver
who politely pretends I don't exist,
would devote the rest of his life
to taking me home.


You, dear reader, will be like me.  So entirely in love with and swept up by these poems.

Okay, a bit out of left field, but these poems, this book, left me feeling somewhat like I'd read one of Jerzy Kosinski's better novels.  Please know the high esteem I hold Kosinski in.  And it is just a feeling, like you've been in a conversation with someone whose intelligence has covered you like a blanket and you hope to hang on to some of that wise warmth.

Milk and Honey

A cardinal flits through the branches
and the bush appears to burn.

Who are we to say we were thrown out?

We fell asleep,
the garden withered.

We turned our eyes inward
toward our dearest lies.

After weeks of late snow
last year's daffodils shove up
beside blue and white hyacinths.

The grass is so green it's shocking.

This may or may
not be true:

I'm only here
to sing for you.


Paper Radio gets Today's book of poetry highest ratings.  Coach House Press with be launching Damian Rogers' second book, Dear Leader, on March 24.  Rogers' has also recently been named Poetry Editor for Walrus magazine.

Damian Rogers

Originally from the Detroit area, Damian Rogers now lives in Toronto where she works as the poetry editor of House of Anansi Press and as the creative director of Poetry in Voice, a national recitation contest for Canadian high-school students. Her first book of poems, Paper Radio, was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.

“Damian Rogers’ troubled teens, ecstatic utopians, and distracted deities are evidence of a powerful poetic storyteller. In Paper Radio, nature has multiple personalities, perception sits at the table with emotion and superstition, and meaning speaks in dark, mellifluous tongues. This is a poetry of attack and decay, of synchronicity and sleight-of-hand, alive with sudden, vertiginous moments of clarity. It’s rare to find a young poet so deeply invested in both her own experience and the reader’s pleasure. A splendid, memorable debut.”  Kevin Connolly
“In Paper Radio, Damian Rogers emerges as a poet of startling clarity, intelligence, toughness, and tenderness. Her gifts for aphorism, for sudden swift changes of mood and perfectly rendered emotional landscapes, are those of a dramatist. There is not a dull moment in this book — and while that alone is a high accomplishment in this age of dullness, Rogers keeps us awake to a purpose. She keeps faith with the premise of the lyric, which is that, by speaking most truly from the self, we are able to reach others and stay awake to this business of being human together.” —April Bernard
The poems in Paper Radio are very brave. Many tend to look at the past with a real understanding that there is so much there that will never be made right. But what makes them brave is the way they pivot and then drive on with hope because, well, they have to. —Joe Pernice
“Sometimes memories are so distant, we only remember them when an old friend reminds us of those last events. Damian Rogers is such a friend. She tells us of dreams that sound like our own, shooting little arrows of insight that split the heart to reveal the shocking vulnerability of life. Paper Radio is a jewel of a book that you will want to read over and over and over again.” —Greg Keelor

Damian Rogers
reading from Paper Radio
video courtesy of ECW Press


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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