The poet and co-curator of the writers-meet-rockers Basement Revue at the Dakota Tavern is keeping the dream of the Beats alive.
1. Rogers’ mom and grandma taught her how to be a revolutionary.
Rogers’ debut book of verse, the taut, sly collection Paper Radio (ECW, 2009), is shot through with romantic references to counter-cultural utopians, from Shakers to beatniks. She grew up in Detroit and was exposed to the MC5 by her mother, who’d gone to see them live as a civil rights-savvy high- school student. Rogers also read about the political underground’s “lunatic fringe” through her grandmother, who had eclectic tastes in literature. Now, she feels, “There’s a war on imagination in modern culture and just being able to build up an interior space in your mind is a radical act. Art, poetry, music and rock ’n’ roll keep alive the ability to resist obedience without question.”
2. Rock ’n’ roll can be a gateway drug for poetry.
For Rogers, “A great poet is your ideal tastemaker, taking in the multiplicity of experience and pulling in details about the weather, the food, the sounds, conversations overheard. The connective thread is the poem.” She acknowledges many people feel shut out of poetry, as if modern verse is a difficult riddle to be solved. Her own “a-ha moment” with the genre came when she encountered the work of David Berman (Silver Jews) and Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers), who straddle the worlds of literature and songwriting; she says they showed her “the possibility that the kind of music I listened to had a poetry that corresponded to it.”
3. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition—or to be pulled onstage with the performers in the Basement Revue.
As founder of the “live-action literary and arts journal” Pontiac Quarterly, which ran at the Drake Hotel from 2004 to 2007, Rogers alternated poets’ readings with musical performances. For five years, the Basement Revue has done the same and combined the two: writers read while bands selected by Jason Collett (an acclaimed solo artist who played bass in Broken Social Scene) improvise behind them. At Collett’s behest, Rogers has found herself onstage with musicians from Zeus and Bahamas—without any rehearsal. “It was really scary,” she says. “You’re competing with this huge sound. The anxiety of everything going off the rails creates the kind of tension where people surprise themselves by what they produce.” Performers aren’t revealed until the night begins. “The audience is suspended in anticipation and open to surprise. There can be no better state of mind to approach poetry or a band that you’ve never heard before.”
4. Memorizing sonnets is the way forward.
Rogers is also the creative director of Poetry in Voice, a non-profit foundation that encourages students to recite poetry in yearly competitions that will, by next fall, stretch to high schools across Canada. She hopes to help nurture the next generation of poetry readers and, perhaps, poets. “As old-fashioned as it can be to, say, learn a Shakespearean sonnet, it will make someone a better thinker and writer. It’s like in music: If you don’t go back and listen to records that were made 20, 25 years ago, you don’t realize how much these bands who are ‘so original’ are ripping off bands that have been around forever.”
The Basement Revue runs at the Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Ave.) Tuesdays to Dec. 27. thedakotatavern.com.