Acclaimed poet Tony Hoagland says that “Dana Roeser’s lanky poems are neck-deep in life, and relentlessly intent on learning the truth. She has her own charming and muscular prosody; she tells lively, moving stories; but it is the determined persistence of their very human speaker which drives the poems.” Rodney Jones, recent winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, says that her “overarching theme is individual, feminist, contemporary: how does a woman know herself apart from convention and duty?” Dana Roeser delivers to us a world filled with cars breaking down, young children throwing up, a mother dying, women in their underwire bras getting struck by lightning—all the usual, casual, catastrophic events of our lives folded together with other foreign objects into a child’s crazy King Cake.
Dana Roeser is the author of three books of poetry: Beautiful Motion (2004) and In the Truth Room (2008), both winners of the Samuel French Morse Prize, and The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed, winner of the Juniper Prize and forthcoming from University of Massachusetts Press in March 2014. To purchase Beautiful Motion or In the Truth Room, click the links at the bottom of this page.
She has been the recipient of an NEA fellowship, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Antioch Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Laurel Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Northwest Review, POOL, Shenandoah, Sou’wester, and other journals, as well as on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.
Roeser has received fellowships for residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Le Moulin à Nef (VCCA France), St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity (Valletta, Malta) (VCCA International Exchange), and Mary Anderson Center for the Arts.
The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed
Sui generis, Dana Roeser’s poems are spoken by a stand-up comic having a bad night at the local club. The long extended syntax, spread over her quirky, syncopated short lines, contains (barely) the speaker’s anxieties over an aging father with Parkinson’s, the maturation of two daughters, friends at twelve-step meetings and their sometimes suicidal urges—acted on or resisted—and her own place in a world that seems about to spin out of control. Bad weather and tiny economy cars speeding down the interstate next to Jurassic semis become the metaphor, or figurative vehicle, for this poet’s sense of her own precariousness.
Roeser brings a host of characters into her poems—a Catholic priest raging against the commercialism of Mother’s Day, the injured tennis player James Blake, a man struck by lightning, drunk partygoers, an ex-marine, Sylvia Plath’s son Nicholas Hughes, a neighbor, travelers encountered in airport terminals, various talk therapists—and lets them speak. She records with high fidelity the nuances of our ordinary exigencies so that the poems become extraordinary arias sung by a husky-voiced diva with coloratura phrasing to die for, “the dark notes” that Lorca famously called the duende. The book is infused with the energy of misfortune, accident, coincidence, luck, grace, panic, hilarity. The characters and narrator, in extremis, speak their truths urgently. – See more at: http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/theme-tonights-party-has-been-changed#sthash.lPpVz4HF.dpuf
“Dana Roeser’s The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed is a tour de force, a book of startling, almost dizzying, juxtapositions, wide in scope and deep in feeling. Roeser’s poems remind me a little of A.R. Ammons’s, concerned as they are with mirroring the rapid, unpredictable movement of the mind as it finds similarity in dissimilarity, always the poet’s task. The pleasure in reading these poems may be in the way they both amuse and alarm as they capture the texture and split focus of contemporary experience where two, three, or four things must be held in the mind simultaneously, often at the poet’s peril. I admire the honesty of these poems, their craft, risk-taking, and seriousness. No poet I can think of writes better about the anxiety that fuels modern life.”—Elizabeth Spires
“These poems drew me in, kept me listening, with their sharp incidents, their quick-stitched lines, their methods of connecting disparate memories: they are conversations, remembered monologues, places of ordinary terror—wind farms and sand dunes in middle America, a beach abroad and a Target near home, where ‘a fan, a// hair dryer, an air-conditioner,’ ‘random cheap household/ items’ betoken exceptional sadness. Roeser’s long braids of quips and demotic confessions outline exceptional efforts at being an adult, at trying to be good, along with remarkable figures for them: ‘the/ layer of turbulence/ right after takeoff,’ for example, ‘that made the/ plane feel like a/ pair of metal pancake/ spatulas rubber- banded/ together, flapping/ in a high wind.’ Her paradoxically conversational lines handle extraordinary difficulties—addictions and remedies both false and true, the years-long troubles of a globetrotting daughter. But they can handle the ordinary too: here is your life, they say, cut up and reassembled with such acuity that you can put it together, can handle it, once more.”—Stephen Burt
“What I love about Dana Roeser’s poems is the way they unfold—beginning with the first glimpse; their formal or ‘razored’ look on the page—and how these energetic narratives split into complexities of rhetoric and landscape—fictions full of characters the poet presents in a full-blown orchestration of the self that is anything but ordinary or self-indulgent. Halfway through a typical Roeser poem I find my breathing has been changed—I’m that caught up in the performance and the story. There is a plushly confessional core to the poems, and yet the self-deprecating humor and the velocity—I’d call this Roeser’s Voice—save them from any possibility of bathos. Instead, I end up feeling moved beyond measure by this poet’s spirit, as reflected in the poems, in the face of failures and unrelenting desire. A lyric poet who writes narrative poems, Dana Roeser is a poet who transcends classification.”—David Dodd Lee
“Dana Roeser is an aficionado of fear. Radical anxiety flows into every corner of experience for this poet, and becomes a lifestyle. Desperation is daily. ‘I // wake in the dark / trying to assemble // a lexicon, / to make a coherent // line—in the dark / I scratched // words on top of each / other on a // pad by the bed / “Torture, / torture, torture.” At the time / I thought it // brilliant.’ If you find that passage thrillingly alive and nervy and funny and scary, then Dana Roeser is a poet for you to check out. She’s no smoothie, and no chicken-disjunctivist. She is an existential protester.”—Mark Halliday
“From Mass to twelve-step meetings, voodoo dolls to rosary beads, the poems in Dana Roeser’s The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed are concerned finally with ‘the corporeal self’—vulnerable and resilient. Roeser is a poet of fierce intelligence and high creative metabolism, and there is unmistakable urgency in these narratives, the poems’ structures expansive, ‘stealthy, labyrinthine,’ and irresistible.”—Claudia Emerson
In the Truth Room
“Dana Roeser’s second collection, In the Truth Room, is a face-to-face with those propulsive forces that shape contemporary life: the push and pull of a difficult marriage, raising children, the deaths of parents and friends. An eye for poignant detail and a gift for seeing the metaphorical possibilities of the everyday characterize Roeser’s best work. Throughout In the Truth Room, the reader feels the pressure of autobiography, the poet’s lived experience, conveyed by a persona who is at once familiar and fresh.”
MacDonald, Catherine. “Making a Map of the River, by Thorpe Moeckel, and In the Truth Room, by Dana Roeser.” Blackbird 8:1 (Spring 2009). www.blackbird.vcu.edu
Winner of the 2008 Morse Poetry Prize
“These poems are ultimately triumphant in the face of loss, rejecting expected pity and bitterness in favor of a languishing in everyday details. As an alternative to narrative and logic, these poems are your childhood friends who have linked arms and make a joint effort to walk side-by-side, thoughtless of anything that might prevent their journey and thus, triumphant over any obstacle. The only possible threat to their success is a thoughtless reader. Like all associative poems, diligence is required; after all these are not your associations but those of another you are following. But your diligence will be rewarded handsomely; Roeser’s slippery slope line breaks, as well as the frequent joy and celebration in these lines, will make you glad you came along.”
Winner of the 2004 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize