Damian Rogers: I wrote Dear Leader over a pretty intense stretch of my life, after my mother had been diagnosed with frontal-lobe dementia and during the years that I decided to start my own family. I’ve always been interested in oppositional forms of consciousness—what I started to call “non-consensual reality” when faced with the solidity of my mother’s delusions—as well as doomed utopian communities, the search for transcendence through group or private worship, occult forms of information, paranoia, conspiracy theories, the attempt to elevate the self through gestures of resistance. My mother raised me to have a rich inner life, and this book explores all of these preoccupations as a way of capturing the atmosphere of disordered thinking. Maybe I was trying to find some beauty in the violence of cognitive failure, to imagine an alternate landscape for my mother to inhabit.
IFOA: When did you first start writing poetry and why?
Rogers: I don’t remember when I started to write poetry. It seems like it was something I always did. My grandmother and my mother were both big fans of poetry and they encouraged me in this direction. My grandmother used to quote bits of Shakespeare and Dorothy Parker around the house and I’d try to write poignant one-liners, earnest clichés that just made my mother laugh. I wrote reams of stuff on notebook paper as an adolescent that I would love to read again—I’m sure it was hilarious—but at some point it all got lost. When I was about 12 years old, I gave an oral report in my English class on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, my favorite poet at the time. It was a little controversial, I think. My mother had photocopied poems she chose for me out of a classic early-70s anthology called From Beowulf to Beatles and I would carry these around in a folder, I loved them so much. When I went to university at 17, the first thing I did was start taking writing workshops and I basically never stopped.
IFOA: How has your writing process developed and changed?
Rogers: It took me a long time to find the confidence to be honest. I’ll spend the rest of my life struggling to be better.
Rogers: I love the poet Hoa Nguyen, who has been living in Toronto for about four years now. She has a very clear vision of who she is as a poet within the context of her own poetic lineage that I find inspiring. Wave Books recently published a selection of her early work called Red Juice; they also published her most recent collection, As Long As Trees Last. Her poems have such a distinct, individual life force in them. Claudia Rankine’s most recent book, Citizen, blew me away. I think Matthea Harvey has a magical mind, and I especially love the work she did with miniatures and erasure in her last book, If the Tabloids Are True What Are You? There are these great American women poets with astonishing bodies of work, like Joanne Kyger and Alice Notley, Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles. The Indigenous Canadian writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is doing beautiful genre-crossing work that is challenging and fierce. Suzanne Buffam is wonderful, sharp, wry. I’ve been reading Baudelaire’s essays over and over for a writing project of my own, so he’s on my desk all the time. Shane Book’s Congotronic is fantastic. I love Robin Blaser, Jerome Rothenberg. Sina Queyras and Karen Solie. I’m all over the place these days with my reading.
IFOA: What’s next for you?
Rogers: I’m currently doing research for a memoir about my mother. I’m also working on my next collection of poetry. I think the less said about unfinished work the better.
Damian Rogers is from the Detroit area and now lives in Toronto, where she works as poetry editor of House of Anansi Press, poetry editor of The Walrus and as 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. Rogers presents her latest poetry collection, Dear Leader, with poems that provide instructions for what to leave, what to take and what to fight.