amongst books

amongst books

Monday, May 23, 2011

Stan Rogal Blows Me Away

Last Friday at the Carleton Tavern, I had the pleasure of hearing a writer I’ve heard tell of, but never heard read before, nor do I recall reading any of his poetry in the past.

Rogal read from his selected Dance, Monster, fresh from Insomniac Press, and some new work, including one very saucy number from an anthology about food.

I wonder how I could have missed this poet. rob mclennan has published Rogal a few times via above/ground press:

#87 In Search of the Emerald City, February 1997 chapbook
#236 Elephant Man, April 2000 broadside

but that was before I got into contemporary poetry and the Ottawa scene, so poof, missed it, missed him. and rob did a 12 or 20 questions interview with him in 2007, which i likely read too but i didn’t search out his poetry at that point either.

i’m not the only one apparently. in his foreword to Dance, Monster, Paul Vermeersch says “For several decades now, Rogal has been writing poetry that has quietly become one of the most entertaining and engaging bodies of work in recent Canadian letters while at the same time developing a reputation, rightly or wrongly (I suspect wrongly), for being what one waggish reviewer called ‘an intellectual redneck.’ I believe this outsider status has contributed to a remarkable poet being largely (but not entirely) overlooked by the Canadian poetry establishment.”

At Friday’s reading, I enjoyed Rogal’s energetic delivery, his irreverence, imagination, word play, syntactic play, humour, sense of fun, straight up mention of body parts and sex, the grotesque and the monstrous, which i found refreshing. There’s an exhilarating pace to his poetry.

Here’s a poem he read on Friday night:

Homespun
after Lorine Niedecker

Nothing new in this, except,
blah blah consolation / no one /
invented the atom. Feeling freakish
among overcomes doing almost anything
good for starey-o-eyed walkmen
sinking static & hiss in the verdant sog
animal wind flushing carp rotting the
nostrilled doorsteps one thing food for
another but, Raleigh sd: “No use going
to the country it will bring us no peace.”
Armed & armoured as we are night air
pumps us pure
mad with oxygen fight drunk to punch
the lights out of unfabulous frog rattlings
homespun communes even eaten alive by no-see-ums.
“The country,” he sd, him standing off
the path nicked of all civilized trappings
sd: “will not,” his naked rack abuzz
with bees sd: “bring us” afraid to move
a muscle, bat an eye, sd: “peace.”

Blah, blah blah…

In Dance, Monster: Fifty Selected Poems, there are poems from eight collections from 1992-2005. Rogal has been a prolific and constantly published writer with fifteen books, including three novels, three story collections and nine poetry collections. And yet, i knew nothing.

Sometimes he’ll hit you with a kapaow opening:

“When someone shouts his love to you / Sew up his lips.” (Labyrinth)

imaginative juxtapositions:

Among the shattered scattered tiger eggs & horsefeathers (Down the Road)

startling imagery:

“As that day, the unholy Grail/looped a scarf around several necks and yanked.” (Riddled)

and much of the book talking about nature, not seeing it as hallowed:

“Nature/Against its will tangles root for root producing/beauty” (Legend)

“Within my grave, ever./Twin shades frozen in unutterable stillness./No solace in a nightingale.” (& the Void Stares Back)

and especially irreverence:

“How make an educated guest among such empty yak?” (Personations 17)

“just one more unlucky bastard left swinging from the scaffold” (Sound the Silent Aitch)

“Herod jacks off between the ecstatic hands of Beata Beatrix while/Salome demands the head of Orpheus and gets it” (More Pricks than Kicks)

“I believe that every hundredth monkey should be made/accountable for its actions./Should supply empirical evidence for motives & long-range plans./ Should be interrogated its brain picked clean of software. / Should be stripped of articles that can be used as weapons.” (Dance, Monster, to My Soft Song)

There’s something plain yet beautiful about Rogal’s writing, a mixture of the lyrical with the irreverent, a lust for life while at the same time not being fooled by its smarminess. I admire that. I don’t want purely cynical poems, nor do I want sentiment. Rogal’s a kind of Frankestein’s monster of a writer, building up body parts and emotions and bits of nature., much like the cover of one of his books, Fabulous Freaks (Coach House Books, 2005), some of which appears in Dance, Monster.

Thanks to rob for another excellent opportunity to hear fine writers. The other readers were Ben Ladouceur and Bruce Taylor who both gave fine readings themselves.

I’ll leave you with one last poem from Stan Rogal. And Ottawans, if he comes back again, and I very much hope he does, don’t miss him.

Love: 1

Often easier spinning straw to gold.
Limiting the body’s adventure to a dark room in a brick tower.
Where dreams are a wrestle with dragons.
Every awakening bolts a sticky must of blood & sap.
Hair grows out of proportion in this place.
A riddle to be climbed by the clumsy hands of youth.
You remember the feeling.
Hard rocks as a matter of course.
Love led around by the nose & no amount of distance forever.
Intaglio of two tiny hearts.
One blind lost in a forest of thorns
the other wandering barefoot in the sand
living hand to mouth the slow unwinding of stars.
Hopeful outgrowing no ancient magic can contain
Or undo.
Her golden tresses brushing darkness from his eyes.

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