Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Stan Rogal

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Open Book is celebrating National Poetry Month with daily profiles of today's "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Find out what inspires, confounds and delights the poets behind this spring's new releases by following our series.

Whether you're a long-time fan of Stan Rogal or new to his work, you'll delight in the collection Dance Monster! (Insomniac Press), which brings together 50 of Rogal's best poems from the past 30 years. The poems find inspiration in sources as diverse as folksong, linguistics, chaos theory and sexuality. According to Don McKay, it's as if "Rogal had snuck up on a whole regiment of stock cultural myths and assumptions, armed only with a folksong, imaginative muscle, abundant mother wit and a wicked talent for subversive wordplay: it's the surprise that enlivens; the trickster's art."

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Stan Rogal:

I suppose there were two experiences. The first was a Grade 11 English class (way back in the hippy-dippy 1960s) when we were visited by a student teacher who was a young, blonde blue-eyed beauty who had broken her leg on a ski trip and arrived with a cast up to her hip decorated with crazy flowers and paisley shapes and peace signs and goofy get well wishes. She introduced us to the songs of Leonard Cohen and explained that he was a poet as well as a songwriter. I figured if someone like her could enjoy poetry, maybe there was something to it.

Of course, like many youthful testosterone induced experiences, that passed, and it wasn't until Simon Fraser University in the 1970s that I met a very hip and renegade male professor (also a poet) with a Van Dyke beard who suggested that trying my hand at writing poetry might serve to tighten my prose. He introduced me to the work of Richard Brautigan and the realization that poetry could be humorous and sexy as well as dark and deathly serious.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


I guess Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," which the gorgeous young student teacher said was a song as well as a poem. Funnily, it was at SFU that the hip professor showed me how the poem differed slightly from the song — the alteration of one word at the end — that failed to complete the circle of love, which is the usual course for a pop song, whereas a poem tends to upset expectations.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


At the risk of sounding clichéd (especially as a bad movie version just came out), probably Allen Ginsberg's Howl.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Probably my reading of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Chaos Theory by James Gleick.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


Keep at it until it does work. If nothing else, I'm persistent.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


I guess that would be John Berryman's Collected Dream Songs.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?


The best thing about being a poet is that when you admit this to people, they get very excited and complimentary. There seems to be more of an admiration factor for being a poet than simply saying you're a writer. The worst thing is that most of these same people who get all excited and complimentary also are quick to admit that they neither buy nor read poetry. The next worse thing is that many of these same folks will then hum and haw and reveal (in a way that a stranger might admit to downloading porn) that they too write poetry, not very well of course, and so on and so forth, and they never show it to anyone but keep it hidden in a dark drawer in a dark room — but if I'd care to look at it...

Stan Rogal is the author of the novels Bafflegab and The Long Drive Home, as well as the short story collections What Passes for Love and Restless, all published by Insomniac Press. Rogal has also published six books of poetry, including Sweet Betsy from Pike and Geometry of the Odd (Wolsak & Wynn). He is the co-artistic director of Bald Ego Theatre, and his plays have been produced across Canada. He lives in Toronto.

For more information about Dance Monster! please visit the Insomniac Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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