The founding Creative Director of Poetry In Voice, Damian Rogers put together our poetry anthology and helped develop our senior recitation competition. She is the author of two books of poetry, Paper Radio and Dear Leader. Born and raised in suburban Detroit, Rogers has lived in Toronto since 2003, where she has worked as a journalist and poetry editor.
I started reading poetry seriously when I was 11 or 12 years old, because my mother gave me a folder of her favourite poems for Christmas. She had photocopied them out of anthology called From Beowulf to Beatles, which included song lyrics alongside canonical and more contemporary poems. So for me, the line between music and poetry was always blurry. I loved poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Don L. Lee, and Emily Dickinson, but one of my favourite poems in the batch was actually a song, “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen. I read it over and over by myself; poetry was a private pleasure for me, not something I shared with my friends. Though I did do an oral report on Ferlinghetti when I was in 8th grade — not sure how that went over.
Because I was reading these poems on my own before I got to high school, I don’t remember that much about what we studied in class. But I do remember doing well with a paper I wrote on “Ozymandias” by Shelley. I think it must have been the first time I had been asked to look at a poem critically, to think about how it worked, and I liked doing that.
My mother said I wrote aphorisms (well, she called them clichés) when I was very little. They were bad. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to write something: stories, poems, songs, a diary. I wrote a stack of poems in high school that I wish I had now — not because I think they were good, but because it would be interesting to see them. They were deeply under the influence of Ferlinghetti, as his Coney Island of the Mind was the only book of poetry I owned before I went to university.
In university I started taking creative writing classes in my first semester and never stopped. It’s taken me a long time to think of myself as a poet, though. It felt like an absurd thing to call myself — like telling people I was a unicorn. But gradually over time, I grew into my horn, I guess. It’s a wonderful way to be in the world, I think.
In our culture, it’s a radical act to commit to living in a state of attention. I think poets work very hard to stay awake, and to speak with integrity, to sing their own note as clearly as possible.
I wrote [“Good Day Villanelle”] as my mother’s early-onset frontal-lobe dementia was advancing, which made her repeat a number of stories over and over, including the one in the poem. Her language was also flattening out, she was losing words, and I was interested in the possibility of capturing the core of some of those stories in her own voice. The villanelle is a circular form that advances through repetition, and so it made sense to me to use that pattern. I had also recently read some wonderful poems by Bernadette Mayer that repurposed natural speech to create sestinas and villanelles, and those inspired me as well.
Of course there are so many I’d love to know by heart. My first thought today is “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” by Emily Dickinson, because of her wonderful, distinct rhythm and for the sensation of transcendence that is transmitted in that poem. I’d also love to memorize “Praise the Rain” by Joy Harjo, which strikes me as an incredibly comforting prayer, celebration, and lament all in one.
Damian Rogers is the author of the poetry collections Dear Leader and Paper Radio. She is the founding creative director of Poetry In Voice, the poetry editor at The Walrus, the poetry editor at House of Anansi Press, and the co-host and literary curator of The Basement Revue.