In this special feature for Chirograph, rob mclennan presents the essay he wrote as a preface for Stan Rogal’s Love’s Not The Way To (Toronto ON: Bookland Press, spring 2013).
“That’s why I forgot the bottle this morning because the Japanese squid fishermen are asleep and I was thinking about them being asleep.”
-Richard Brautigan, The Tokyo-Montana Express
One of the first books I read by the late American writer Richard Brautigan was the poetry collection June 30, June 30 (1976), composed as a direct result of an extended period the author spent in Japan. When I discovered a second hand paperback copy of the collection, I was in my early 20s, and had been intrigued by Brautigan’s writing ever since I was seventeen, and my girlfriend handed me a copy of Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970 (1972). Named for the date stamped in his passport, Brautigan’s collection of Japanese poems encapsulated some of the best aspects of English-language haiku: a compactness, composing meditations on love, death and nature. The book originally struck me, as much of his work, for its incredible brevity, using simple language in complex ways. June 30 was also my mother’s birthday. Perhaps I took it personally.
Around the same time I encountered Brautigan’s Japanese collection, I discovered the poetry of Stan Rogal, one of the first contemporary poets whose work really jumped out at me, from The Carleton Literary (later Arts) Review, White Wall Review and other small Canadian journals. I was seriously (even frustratingly) unpublished, and his was the position I aimed for—a smart, sharp, engaged and published poet—and I quickly ordered his first trade collection once it appeared, Sweet Betsy from Pike (1992). Since then, I’ve followed him through all of his poetry collections, drawn to their quick movement and intelligent depths, and have been fortunate enough to raise more than a couple of pints in his company. I’ve followed him until our paths simply connected yet another time, through his collection of connected haiku, Love’s Not The Way To (Toronto ON: Bookland Press, 2013), subtitled “a suite of poems dedicated to the life and works of Richard Brautigan.”
If he could dream per
fection it woud be Vida
in visible ghoul
O buffalo gals
if envy is the woman
in the green dress then
Monsters also borne
amid the rough & tumble
cast a wary eye
If you have followed his work in any way, Rogal’s poetry makes repeated reference of a number of creative individuals, from Brautigan to Jack Spicer (a friend and mentor to Brautigan), Stanley Cooperman, Arthur Rimbaud and Marilyn Monroe, suggesting an attraction to highly talented, accomplished and often-misunderstood artists who ended far too early. But why haiku? It is the mantle of folk-art, mainstream literature would have you believe. Vancouver writer George Bowering once described contemporary (i.e. Canadian) haiku as being written only by older women back in the east (ie. Ontario and further). Rogals’ Love’s Not The Way To… provides a different level of engagement with Brautigan than his previous works, a continuation of a deeper inquiry into Brautigan’s work and life, echoing some of the late writer’s structural concerns.
Rogal is but one of only two Canadian poets I’ve known over the years to reference Brautigan (the other being Daniel f. Bradley), and I’ve become aware of the deep snobbery regarding Brautigan’s writing. Satirical, they said, misunderstanding the deep earnestness. Considered light, and even shallow, despite the fact that Brautigan packed an enormous amount in such small spaces, something Rogal has also accomplished, during his twenty-odd years of publishing. Rogal’s work has also been dismissed and somewhat misunderstood, cited as “too intellectual,” as though the poet must write down to the reader, instead of readers being asked to rise up to the challenge such writing requires. Ironically, this is a similar argument often lobbied at the poetry genre by so many contemporary readers and writers, specifically by those who don’t read or understand it.
There was something of the English-language Japanese poetic forms that made perfect sense to the aesthetic of Richard Brautigan, and Rogal comes to these forms through a Brautigan lens. “Shoeless Joe” author W.P. Kinsella wrote his own variations on Brautigan’s short stories, dubbing them “Brautigans,” in The Alligator Report (1985). It’s a territory I know as well, having attempted my own engagements with Brautigan’s poetry through my collection The Richard Brautigan Ahhhhhhhhhhh (Talonbooks, 1999), a title borrowed from an unpublished Brautigan short story, “The F. Scott Fitzgerald Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” later engaging his prose in my near-abandoned work-in-progress, “A Short Fake Novel about Richard Brautigan,” a manuscript Kevin Killian says I shouldn’t give up on. Rogal’s is a sharp eye that misses little, and that carves his haiku with a scalpel blade so honed it’s nearly double-edged.
The late Gatineau writer John Lavery once wrote that if you write enough around an absence, the absence shapes itself into a portrait. Along with Kinsella, Keith Abbott, Ianthe Brautigan and William Hjortsberg, this is Stan Rogal, helping to hone the shape and the clarity of that portrait.