Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Stan Rogal

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Stan Rogal

Stan Rogal's After Words (Guernica Editions) is a series of poetic responses to authors and artists both contemporary and iconic. Steve Venright called After Words "a nuanced work vibrant with wordplay, humour, musicality, atmosphere, and style". Stan's work has drawn comparisons to talented and diverse writers including Leonard Cohen, Anaïs Nin and Italo Calvino.

We're speaking with Stan today as part of our Poets in Profile series. He tells Open Book about the young woman who showed him poetry could be youthful and relevant, the Leonard Cohen poem that cinched that idea and the best and worst things about being a poet.

Open Book:

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

Stan Rogal:

In high school our class was visited by a student teacher. She was young, blonde, beautiful and sporting a cast on her leg from a skiing accident. The cast was covered with well-wishes from friends plus drawings of flowers and other crazy paisley designs. She played Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” on a phonograph and said this was poetry. It was the first time I had made that connection between songs and poems. Up until then, it was all the grey haired poets with all their pompous language and hidden symbolism. This was different. I figured if someone as young and gorgeous as her liked poetry, maybe there was something to it. This event opened me to at the possibility that poetry might be interesting and even entertaining.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

SR:

Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Even more so when I discovered the poem differed from the song by one word, which gave it a whole new meaning and — as Leonard said — made it more of a poem than a song. The poem ends: “She’s touched her perfect body with her mind” rather than his body.

OB:

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

SR:

It would have to be either “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot or else “Howl” by Alan Ginsberg.

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

SR:

Reading Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas F. Hofstadter and various other books on Chaos Theory.

OB:

What do you do when a poem is not working?

SR:

I generally manage to eventually beat the bastard into submission if I really have an idea I want to complete. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t metamorphose along the way into something different. I remember reading a story where a painter is doing a picture of sardines, and in the end, it’s totally unrecognizable as fish except for the title: “Sardines.”

OB:

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

SR:

John Berryman’s Dream Songs.

OB:

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

SR:

Being alone in my room, writing.
Being alone in my room, writing.

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Stan Rogal was born in Vancouver and has resided in Toronto for 25 years. His work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies in Canada, the US and Europe, some in translation. He has published 19 books, including four novels, four story and 11 poetry collections. He is also a produced playwright and the artistic director of Bulletproof Theatre.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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