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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
“Wry, thoughtful, brooding, navigating seamlessly between future, present and past, between subjective and outer life, 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. They keep drilling into, pushing and prying, trying to find the deepest chambers of experience, where the mystery dwells. In The Truth Room is a wonderful book by a fully-developed and original poet.”
“Dana Roeser’s edgy poetic voice strikes me as unlike any other. This is urgent, vivid, unsettling poetry—one that has no time for anaesthesia or consolation.”
“There is an impressive narrative drive in Roeser’s work, and her keenly observed, intensely given poems, sometimes leavened with humor, show a fine ear for the precise sound of language and an unerring eye for just the right detail to convince us of her truth. Hers is a strong and original voice in contemporary poetry.”
“In a time so eager to see wisdom usurped by information, it is especially wonderful to come upon poems whose every occasion shines from within: with mind, with candor and with bright consideration. Dana Roeser is one of our most truly thoughtful poets, and I rejoice in the continuing venture of her work.”
Winner of the 2008 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize
Review of In the Truth Room. 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
“Most of what these poems record is dilemma: intractable, mistakenly-wished-for, overwhelming, unsolaced by the old Romantic verities extracted from nature or self-awareness. … Pricked and pulled by doubt, envy, tenderness, self-critique, grief, and domestic claustrophobia, Roeser’s protagonist, like the sly poet herself, seems to defeat convention by earnest failure at it. Yet these accessible, energetic poems are full of quiet insight, usually presented as minor capitulation, major consequences left understated…. What reaches the reader’s heart—through the ear, as Frost said it would—is tone: varied, candid, pitch-perfect, inscribed by syntax and lineation. In [Roeser's] rich, undeceived catalogs of the world, we hear ‘one soul … taken by surprise.’ … Its sounds are indelible, and without precedent.”
Winner of the 2004 Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize
Pre-publication review of Beautiful Motion. Greenwood, Willard. Hiram Poetry Review, Issue 65 (Spring 2004): 44-45.
Review of Beautiful Motion. Alexander, Constance. Main Street (“Poetry chronicles phases of a female’s life”), Murray Ledger and Times (May 3, 2005): 4A.