Monday, May 16, 2016

Dear Leader - Damian Rogers (Coach House Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dear Leader.  Damian Rogers.  Coach House Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2015.

Today's book of poetry would by lying if we pretended to know exactly what Damian Rogers is going on about with every page in Dear Leader.  But Dear Reader, what fine, fine music.  Rogers can cook.

Dear Leader is hot to the touch when you pick it up because it is so beautifully crammed with electric images and incandescent moments of truth that they rumble up on one another and create sparks, they make heat like an engine.  Today's book of poetry has been down this road before, back on March 6, 2015, we looked at Damian's book Paper Radio.

You can see that here:

Today's book of poetry was a big, big fan of Paper Radio, everyone on our staff simply loved it -- so Dear Leader really doesn't come as a surprise but it certainly is grand, it certainly is welcome.

List poems come and go but Rogers nailed Today's book of poetry to our seat when we read this beauty.

Poets in the Public Domain

Found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. Died days later.
Shipwreck at the age of 40.
Typhoid fever. 44.
Orphaned at 14, dead from tuberculosis at 25.
Lost at 27 on a French hospital ship anchored in the Aegean Sea.
Sister stabbed mother to death in a fit of anxiety.
Drowned at the age of 30.
Worked at the post office until death at 37.
Died of fever in Greece on way to war.
Went down sailing at age 29.
Died of pneumonia while commanding a hospital in Boulogne.
Stabbed to death in bar fight.
Killed in action one week before war ended.
Drank to death.
Jumped off an ocean liner.
Overdosed on sleeping pills.
Drowned swimming in Lake St. Clair in August.
Sick with Grave's Disease for many years. Died of breast cancer.
Small pox.
Swallowed by a sudden storm after seeing Doppelganger.


Damian Rogers has a bit of the Midas touch because these poems are golden.  Rogers is a poet you could easily follow into the dark reassured by her certain footsteps and that incandescent thing that she seems to know.

Sun Ra.  Damian Rogers dedicates a poem to Sun Ra in Dear Leader!  I'm listening to him now as I type this, we all know that Sun Ra and his Arkestra will be blowing wild at the end of the world but only Rogers is singing about it.  Whew.

Our three poem limit here at Today's book of poetry is being bent today to allow for the following two poems to be seen together.  

Good Day Villanelle

You ran naked out the door.
The neighbours laughed; I chased you down.
I hardly see you anymore.

I know you're busy.
Did I tell you when you were little how
you ran naked out the door?

You got halfway down the street
before I caught you in my arms.
I hardly see you anymore.

I think I told you this before:
I was giving you a bath and then
you ran naked out the door.

It happened fast.
The neighbours laughed.
I hardly see you anymore.

You have to watch a baby close.
I remember once -

You ran naked out the door.
I hardly see you anymore.


Bad Day Villanelle

I swallowed something hard and dark.
It wasn't food. It moves around.
The doctor wants to cut it out.

I feel it now it's on my hip.
It's very painful when it shifts.
I swallowed something hard and dark.

I'm telling you
it's money that
the doctor wants. To cut it out

will save my life.
I need your help.
I swallowed something hard and dark.

He ran my body through five tests.
Then the doctor told me straight.
I'll died if they don't cut it out.

I'm telling you it has to go.
There is no medicine that works
on something quite this hard and dark.
The only road is cut it out.


In Dear Leader Baudelaire measures what counts and Yoko Ono may indeed by a witchy wonder.  In Damian Rogers' world Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright's coat can reign in reason.  These poems move from the personal to the universal and back again in the blink of an eye, in the space between two lines.

Today's book of poetry thinks that Dear Leader is full of kaleidoscope poems, multi-faceted and full of light.

Dear Leader

As you know, I did not join the Hole in the Universe Gang
or follow Father Yod of the ridiculous robes. I flowed
through my crises beautiful as a bruise, and alone. A man I loved
drove his motorcycle off the fat lip of Big Sur into glittering
oblivion. A new nation of Penelopes practiced the art of the loom,
planting a never-finished forest in which wildflowers bloomed
on the backs of jean jackets and hand-sewn throw pillows,
while I waited for you to choose me. The waitress at the health
food restaurant was a lemon-scented sun to my Death Valley
moon. I swooned as out the window your dark cluster rose
in the sky. How glorious was your shining forth from the horizon
when you detonated the Two Lands with your terrible rays!
I starved till my bones shone, and your voice rang in my ear.


Dear Leader felt like a robust visit from a rock star poet pillager priestess.  Damian Rogers drank everything in our office and then shot out the lights when she left!  We should be so lucky. 

Today's book of poetry felt shaken and just the right amount of stirred.

Damian Rogers

Originally from the Detroit area, Damian Rogers now lives in Toronto where she works as the poetry editor of both House of Anansi Press and The Walrus, 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.

‘Multi-vectored, Rogers's poems hum with life and tension, their speaker poised as mother, seer, reporter and daughter. They speak of loss and cold realities (misplaced charms of luck, a tour of an assisted-living facility, coins thrown into Niagara Falls). They also interweave dreams and visions: "O Lion, I am / an old handmaiden; I will not lay the pretty baby in the lap / of the imposter." Simple but evocative, at once strange and plain, Rogers's poems of address ricochet off the familiar "Dear Reader" or Dickinson's "Dear Master" ... Rogers's poems provide instructions for what to leave, what to take and what to fight. They act as selvage between the vast mother-ocean — the mem of memory — and the fabric we make of the uncertain in-between.’
     — Hoa Nguyen, The Boston Review

‘How can we live with the kind of pain that worsens each day? Dear Leader explains through bold endurance, enumerated blessings and the artistic imagination. By pasting stark truths over, or under, images of strange, compelling beauty, Rogers creates a collage, a simulation of the human heart under assault, bleeding but unbroken. Part Orpheus, part pop-heroine who can “paint the daytime black,” all, an original act of aesthetic violence and pure, dauntless, love.’
     — Lynn Crosbie

Damian Rogers
Reading from Dear Leader 
at the AWP, Minneapolis, 2015
Video: Tim Kahl



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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