'The Million Mile Stare': How Dorian Paul Rogers used racial trauma to inspire poetry colouring book

Abu Dhabi's Rooftop Rhythms founder describes his foray into the written word as a 'cathartic experience'

Dorian Paul Rogers is the founder of Abu Dhabi's Rooftop Rhythms. Courtesy: NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre
Powered by automated translation

A poetry book, a colouring book and an exploration of racial identity, love and socio-economics, Abu Dhabi's Rooftop Rhythms founder Dorian Paul Rogers's debut work The Million Mile Stare marks the spoken-word artist's confident first step into print.

The collection gets its name from the phrase “the thousand-­­yard stare”, used to describe the shell-shocked unfocused gaze of soldiers when they’ve become emotionally detached from the horrors around them. Rogers – who has black, Native American and Polish roots – says the reworked phrase seemed like an apt way to portray the trauma he faced growing up as a multiracial child in the US.

“When I grew up in Cleveland, I was in a black neighbourhood, but very accepted and there were no mentions of anything about ‘white boy’. I didn’t know about that,” he says.

“But when I moved to South Georgia in 1990, we were initially accepted as kind of like the token, different family. But then I also remember soon after the day we moved, I was called the ‘N word’ under someone’s breath.”

A poetry collection and a colouring book, 'The Million Mile Stare' is Dorian Paul Rogers's debut into the written word. Courtesy: Dorian Paul Rogers
A poetry collection and a colouring book, 'The Million Mile Stare' is Dorian Paul Rogers's debut into the written word. Courtesy: Dorian Paul Rogers

Rogers, who works as a teacher at a school in Abu Dhabi, was only 8 years old then. Soon after, he began to understand differences in race and social class. White pupils at the school began bullying him, using racial slurs. The black students, meanwhile, called him "white boy", but "in an endearing way", he says.

He says writing the book has helped him to reflect on his childhood experiences and understand how they affected him. A number of the poems in the collection explore the angst he dealt with as a child, and there are several others that depict how he learnt to be more comfortable with himself. It also helped him to confront notions of toxic masculinity and work on his mental health and mindfulness.

"It was a cathartic experience," he says. "I talk about mental health in the poem A Phone Call With My Self Esteem, which I put towards the beginning of the book. It reads with a bullyish tone, where I'm speaking negatively about myself, but not from the conscious Dorian, but from the things the self can say about you."

The colouring book also aims to offer readers that same sense of catharsis. The illustrations were created by Rogers's sister, Gabrielle Fludd.

“A large number of adult colouring books seem to be very technical and mandala-based. My sister made a good point by saying some of those books actually bring out the anxiety in her because they’re very complicated and feel like a task.” That’s why the illustrations in this book were drawn with the aim of making the colouring process fun and less daunting.

Rogers has been working on the poems that will appear within The Million Mile Stare for at least five years. "Perfectionism leads to procrastination," he says.

“You would think that with being a founder of an open mic platform it would be easy to get my art out there, but a lot of times I was like, yeah, it’s not ready.

“One day you can have an anthill of an idea, but then it becomes a mountain of anxiety.”