The Theme of Tonight's Party Has Been Changed
88 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:31 Jan 2014
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The Theme of Tonight's Party Has Been Changed


University of Massachusetts Press
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.
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'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
'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
'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
'Nothing is cute about Roeser's latest collection; concise poems doing their job—lifting us up from a place of heartbreak and loss with real-life challenges and suspense. From 12-step meetings to memories of the dead to meandering thoughts and moments between mothers and daughters—these lines are for all readers. Roeser reminds us life isn't about what we plan. For that we are grateful. Chosen one of '30 Amazing Poetry Titles.''—Library Journal
'Beginning and ending with petitions to a higher power, this collection sends up an honest prayer, pleading that for the ones we love, everything will turn out all right.'—Publishers Weekly
Dana Roeser is the author of two previous books of poetry, Beautiful Motion and In the Truth Room, both winners of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. She has been the recipient of the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Beautiful Motion and an NEA Individual Artist's Fellowship. She lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and serves on the core faculty of the MFA in Creative Writing program at Butler University.
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