Stan Rogal: The Imaginary Muse
The work of Canadian writer and poet Stan Rogal has made a mark for himself at home and abroad. NATHANIEL G. MOORE chats with him and discusses "The Long RIde Home" and "Lines Of Embarkation."
ART, 01/16/2k: INTERVIEW ON "THE LONG DRIVE HOME" Poetry and prose, a novel, and a great deal of theatre experience makes Stan Rogal one of the most prominent writers in Toronto. This year two books (a novel "The Long Drive Home," and a book of poems "Lines of Embarkation" were published by two different Toronto presses this year. He's been running the Idler Pub reading series, and is working on a play with his Bald Ego Theatre. His new poetics delves heavily into the scientific, perhaps due to the millennium buzz this format seems appropriate. While tradition 20th Century poetics have relied heavily on the human condition, these new works of Stan Rogal's are language poems, and deal with the structure of assonance. What makes this collection different from his others is these poems are influenced by the sciences.
Published by Insomniac Press in April 1999, THE LONG DRIVE HOME IS STAN ROGAL'S first novel. Broken up into almost cinamatic styled clips, the story moves from city to city, crossing over to Maine in the states, back to Toronto, to small towns in Quebec.
We are minutes away from Book City, a small three store franchise in Toronto. This ties into my question on the small press scene, the independent book stores threat of extinction. We discuss the corporate cut-throat nature of Chapters, the lighter side of what many indie Toronto and Canadian stores feel is a threat.
ON "LINES OF EMBARKATION" This is the first of Rogal's books to feature samples of the author's collage work. "Rogal walks the line, the fine line between the mundane & miraculous, love & story, heart & break" (Books in Canada). "Calling for an aesthetic of the unexpected. / Wearing the Fool's coat to be other than. / Coughs up toads & / shits cocks of starlings / Singing from his asshole / to conjure amuse." Stan Rogal starts his new collection by citing praise to Douglas R. Hofstædter's Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, inspiration.
In the poem BEARDED EROS Rogal makes a reference to both Latin and contemporary poetics with Giaus Valerius Catullus (Ancient Roman Lyric Poet) and german writer Viktor Shklovsky. The focus on language and sound is apparent:
The ghosts you secrete are worms eager for fish.
This collection of poetry when matched with his older works seems a lot more logical and tighter. This may simply be the attempt at bridging the logic of science with the random acts of poetry.
The idea behind his new book, he explains is borrowing from the sciences. "Poetry I find very much collage-like things, probably a little bit more abstract that way than my short stories. I try to find different discourses so if I'm doing a lot of reading on chaos theory, which is what GEOMETRY OF THE ODD uses as a metaphor, the idea of chaos, and pulling scientific discourse and using it in my poetry because I found when I was reading a lot of the sciences they are now using poetic language in ways of explaining the world because they can no longer do it with numbers, sort of thrown up their hands and said okay we admit it there's a lot things that we can't explain so they needed something more creative so they're borrowing from poets and so I thought poets should be able to borrow from scientists."
Literature, for years relied heavily on the human empathy factor, now writers are using simply knowledge, knowledge on any level to attempt to link their readers to the meaning, not just for their writing, their art, but the basic fundamentals of communication.
Our society is highly developed on a visual level, we can digest just about anything. However, once we throw a word onto the canvas, people throw their arms up, as if it is locusts. Because logic has trained us to digest SALLY GOES TO THE STORE instead of THE GOES TO STORE SALLY the plain for understanding this progressive medium has been tampered with.
Sentences with nouns as nouns, verbs as verbs and adjective as*you guessed it; adjectives have spoiled it for literature. Bill Bisset is another poet whose writing is a complete abandon to natural English cohesiveness, actually transcending the idea of wordplay. With Bisset's work there are no rules and it's a lot of fun to read. Stan Rogal's new book is along these same lines, not to the same extreme, (enuf / enough) pushing the envelope of our own systems. These poems are for the most part short and direct, and simplify our mental blocks, our own pre-conceived notions on how words should tell a story, showing us that we are all very spoiled in terms of language.
The voice shouts out that predictable reader's thought patterns can be as boring as predictable rules of verse. Stan Rogal is no pioneer, perhaps this new book would never have seen the light of day if it wasn't for the author's previous works, nonetheless, he does what he set out to do, draw a line from the science of it all to the poetics of it all.
There is a gimmick, and a progressive statement in these poems. What one would assume is highly exclusive , impersonal suddenly lends itself to being potentially inclusive. That science is as accessible and misunderstood as poetics.
Poetry for years has been ruined and torn down by critics. Not since the beat generation or perhaps ever again will there be poetry heroes. What Rogal is attempting is not becoming a hero, but using his power to promote new angles for poetry, it's something he enjoys doing. There certainly is little hope for the genre as we close the century. William S. Burroughs used the extreme which gave us a new intelligent humour, insect characters, and the inanimate became animated.
These poetics use logic as humour, the idea that poetry has to be about handing a girl a bouquet of flowers will forever menace the face of the style, however, taking away the muse, or taking the muse hostage, silencing the predictable nature of the reader to the page, disengaging them from the cinematic spoon-fed familar traits of language may be exactly what we need.
The poem "The Lesson" proves the point clearest. Sports has never been a part of poetics, (especially the CFL) however with the logic and tension in this style of poetry, the rules of a sport, the relation of a son playing this game with his father all collide.
However obscure the disection of a poem can be, everyone remembers countless hours spent for grade eleven English, researching to exhaustive ends the meaning beneath Robert Frost's poem 'Fences', now the science and behind the scenes mechanics are right there in the poems. Batteries included.
If any of the written genres are on death row certainly poetry is at the head of the line, if not already requesting a light for it's last cigarette. Stan Rogal's new direction in poetry isn't entirely his, or new, but at least its not some shawl-wearing or pipe smoking cake bearer, trying to fatten us up/ smoke us out with their new brand of spiral bound cook book poems from the heart.
Coach house books is one of the small press publishing houses in Toronto. It is also one of the most advanced in terms of format, running on-line versions of newly released books to spark interest in printed formats. While many would suggest that this demeans if not inhibits actual print book sales, it does allow the relationship between artists and reader to become more intimate. Pages from a new book can be culled on command (at their site).
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