Thursday, October 22, 2009

Damian Rogers’ Paper Radio


We remember what it was like

when the world unfolded like a map,

intricate as a Victorian valentine.

We also remember when the thought of the sun rising

made us feel like we were chewing aluminum foil.

We too imagined our lungs

filling with warm bathwater.

We rested in liminal spaces,

our bodies framed

by windows and doors.

We wanted to thank you

for painting our fingernails electric pink

while we lay dying in the hospital.

It was a lovely gesture.

We remember our last breath,

how we rattled like a toy as they told us we would,

and of course, what came after.

We’ve learned we can’t live

in the seed and in the grain.

We carved a star in the driveway

to give you a sign.

Follow the cracks.

I’m rather amazed at what Toronto writer Damian Rogers achieves in her poetry collection, Paper Radio (Toronto ON: ECW Press, 2009), coming on the heels of a successful daily blog run as writer-in-residence at Open Book Toronto. In her first collection of poems, Rogers is writing a density with such an enviable ease, rivaling even American poet Sarah Manguso for her clear, tight wisdom and ease of thought, but in a prevailing edge and undercurrent of darkness far more wry than cut. How do such simple and complex poems come so easily through with such an amount of bare knowing?

I run along the lake that’s named for its beauty,

breathing without pain.

The world has no corners,

though everything we build in it does. (“Running Along Ontario”)

In his piece “The Trick of It: Poetry and the Plane of Immanence” as his “Contributing Editor’s Column” in Descant #146 (fall 2009), Mark Kingwell makes a compelling argument for paying attention to Rogers’ work, writing:

The sentence and the line are two grids of meaning, two frames or machines. The skillful breaks of enjambment wrest unexpected meaning from their simultaneous ripping and collision. Here’s an example from Damian Rogers, a poem called “Dream of the Last Shaker” from her 2009 collection, Paper Radio:

We stream into the meetinghouse

through two doors

like twin cords

in the same braid.

I love the men,

all of them

lined up like

God’s long finger.

The sun attends everything

equally: the wood, the bend

of her white muslin sleeve,

the outstretched arm of the apocalypse.

Take hold of my shoulder.

Shake me awake.

Here there are particularly nice breaks at ‘cords’, ‘them’, and ‘bend’. The only line in any poem that is not subject to this reverse-pressure effect is the last one, which itself bears the whole weight of the lines above. The oneiric command to be shaken awake, with its echo of the Shakers’ rapt vision-trances and ominous sense of impossibility – if the dreamer is the last Shaker who will be the shaker who shakes her into wakefulness – is the kind of last line that makes the end of poem bear all the meanings of end at once.

It is hard to say whether coming to an end or making a beginning offer the more difficult prospect. What is clear is that, at their best, philosophy and poetry are engaged in the same kind of beginnings and endings, working on the same plane, the plane of immanence.

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