Born in Vancouver, Stan Rogal obtained a B.A. from Simon Fraser University, majoring in English and doing a double minor in Philosophy and Theatre. He moved to Toronto in 1987, where he completed an M.A. in English at York University. He ran the popular Idler Pub Reading Series for ten years, was co-creator of Bald Ego Theatre, and is now the artistic director of Bulletproof Theatre. His work has appeared in several anthologies (The Edges of Time, Seraphim Editions 1999) and numerous literary magazines, and he is the author of nine books of poetry, two novels and three short story collections. We’re thrilled to have him here at Poetic Edits:
How do you work your way through revisions? Do you have any tricks or theories to removing commas, words or lines? Any special chairs or states of mind you like to work from?
Stan Rogal: I’ve been thinking about this and I guess my first stumbling block is with the word “revision”. I tend to think of this as going back to a work that’s finished and then re-writing with an arsenal of new knowledge or a new “take” on it in order to make it something “other” than it was; a fresh angle. To be honest, I’ve never had the luxury (or maybe even the inclination) to do this in poetry. Once it’s done, it’s done and it either gets published “as is” or not and it’s rare for editors to come back and take the time to offer crit in order to overhaul a poem, never mind an entire manuscript.
Even my fiction generally has only had light touch-ups done. It’s a bit different with my plays because (while I may have what I think is a finished product) I get to work with actors/directors and a play can go through many transformations before it hits the stage.
Robert Lowell wrote that “Revision is inspiration.” To what extent do you think that’s true? How would you rewrite Lowell: “Revision is __________”
Stan Rogal: I guess I’m also not too big on the word “inspiration” in its metaphorical meaning, and prefer the more base definition of “breathe new life into”. For me, revision is exertion; it’s physical and mental toil; it’s work. Poems don’t just come to me, I gather bits and pieces of things, pull them apart, bash them up, then reconstruct them; string them together with own voice and view of the world.
Looked at this way, I don’t call what I do “revising” but an ongoing “reworking” of an idea until I get to a place where I’m more or less satisfied with what I’ve produced. I know many writers who write a lot, then cut it back. I tend to get a skeleton down then add to it; build upon it. I try to use as little punctuation as possible and let the line breaks do the work, and/or allow words to blend together and allow the reader decide whether to stop, go or pause. When it comes to words, I try to make one word do the work of several. So, a word that offers several meanings in itself or offers allusions to other ideas, works, people, whatever.
Do you feel any difference/make a distinction between editing a single poem all by its lonesome and editing a series of poems for a collection?
Stan Rogal: I tend to write single poems that tie together via a particular theme. That said, I work on the single poem at one time until I finally break its back. I don’t tend to work on several poems at the same time, though I will consciously echo images, ideas and so on throughout an entire collection.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to editing your own work or someone else’s?
Stan Rogal: Pet peeves? I’m pretty open to feedback and am willing to make changes if they make sense. What really bothers me is editors who want to change your style to make it more like theirs. Or ask for changes that suit their needs rather than mine or the poem. Or obviously have no idea what the poem is doing so want me to write in an explanation.
I’ve never really edited anyone else’s poems. I’ve offered opinions and said they can take them or not.
Are there any lines from an early draft of a poem that you’d like to share? What ideas, principles or gut feelings guided you through those changes?
Stan Rogal: I guess I work on this all the way through subconsciously, but as I’m closing in on the poem, I think more and more about the actual shape of the poem (big and fat long lines; short and narrow lines; lots of line breaks, few line breaks) as well as the rhythm, the music of the poem.
And, of course, what am I trying to say or do with the poem (because yes, I’m one of those poets who does deal with meaning) and is it too overt/not overt enough and so on.
No principles. Lines don’t change so much as the trade places, then make sure each word is doing as much work as possible and if it isn’t, find a better one: “The poem of the mind and the act of finding what will suffice,” Wallace Stevens. Gut feelings, I suppose — does it sing; does it dance; does it tickle; does it shock? Finally, does it make me happy ’cause very few folks out there give a shit about poetry, yes?