Poetry Primer #9: Stan Rogal & Emma Healey

April 16, 2015

Stan Rogal is both a poet and playwright, having published 19 books in his long career. His most recent collection of poetry, After Words (Guernica Editions, 2014), is a tip of the hat to all those that have influenced him over the years. As Rogal is looking back, we're looking forward to those newly emerging voices beginning to shine on the Canadian poetry scene. When asked to look ahead with us, Stan Rogal selected Toronto poet Emma Healey as an up-and-comer he felt would make a mark.

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Stan Rogal is both a poet and playwright, having published 19 books in his long career, including Loves Not the Way To, Dance Monster, and Fabulous Freaks. Originally from Vancouver, but now a long-time resident of Toronto, he is the artistic director of Bulletproof Theatre. His most recent collection of poetry, After Words (Guernica Editions, 2014), is a tip of the hat to all those that have influenced him over the years.

As Rogal is looking back, we're looking forward to those newly emerging voices beginning to shine on the Canadian poetry scene. When asked to look ahead with us, Stan Rogal selected Toronto poet Emma Healey as an up-and-comer he felt would make a mark.

Emma Healey's poetry has previously been published in various journals, newspapers, and websites, and her debut collection, Begin With the End in Mind, was published by ARP Books in 2012. She's currently a poetry critic for the Globe & Mail and is a regular contributor to the music blog Said the Gramophone.

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Stan Rogal on why he selected Emma Healey:

Emma’s collection impressed me immediately by the Donald Barthelme quote: “The citizens in their cars looked at the porcupines, thinking: What is wonderful? Are these porcupines wonderful? Are they significant? Are they what I need?” My own favourite Barthelme quote is: “The only forms I trust are fragments.” These two phrases capture much of Emma’s writing, which is often fragmentary, and which also questions what is wonderful, what is significant and what is needed.

She writes prose poems. What the hell is a prose poem? A compacted text containing highly charged language (not the hackneyed image and/or simile that is the usual sad attempt); that employs various poetic devices or techniques. Think Gertrude Stein or Ken Sparling, but shorter. Emma consciously fabricates ruptured texts; texts pockmarked with odd juxtapositions of images/ideas, fact busting humour via the unreliable narrator – “Canada’s smallest recorded year was 1982” – upset grammar and syntax, busted rhythm, lack of punctuation  or “language as punctuation,” meanwhile tossing in sometime-seeming non sequitur questions to the reader, all in order to call attention to the writing and the production of writing.

She catches off-guard, ascribing others (who???) as third person: “How it drinks juice out of the carton and eats cold SpaghettiOs straight from the can.” She blends the discourse of the literary: “enjambment” “glottal” “cultural signifier” “panopticon” “threnody” (like she’s read a book or two and is unafraid to let it be known) with that of the quotidian, to relate: “We’d curl like shitty punctuation under our desks” or “Our passenger rail system is named after a preposition.” The image or thought in relation to language.

She writes: “I love the vocabulary and weird diction a group takes on when it speaks as a we, and I love it double when the language misfires.” This is a young writer who has already developed a strong artistic sensibility from which to work. Progressive enough to say the word “fuck” and wise enough to use it sparingly and for intended effect.

When asked why poetry, she replied: why not? When asked for comment on the phrase, poetry’s a mug’s game, she replied: whose mug? When asked if she planned to continue writing poetry, she replied: so long as the big bucks keep rolling in. In fact, she never answered this way, glibly. She replied with considerable consideration: “I was discovering all these new ways to think about language and structure and phrases and lines that made me feel like fireworks were going off in my brain 24/7.” She said: “Discovering the prose poem in all its weird endless possibility was such a crazy revelation.”

She further admitted that, as a writer, she’s bad; slow, lazy, sulky and takes forever to finish anything. Well, no shit Sherlock, join the club. If it was easy, anyone could do it.

Emma has a talent and an aesthetic that deserves exploring and sharing. The work is not simply smart, it’s intelligent, energetic and often humourous: wonderful, significant and needed.

And darn it all, people like her.

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Emma Healey on why she writes poetry & who her influences are:

I came to poetry sideways. When I started I thought I was destined to be a Serious Novelist, but the more time I spent actually writing instead of just having ideas about myself, the clearer it became that "serious" might have to to mean something different than what I'd initially thought.

The stuff I wrote had always felt a little off-kilter (to me and to anyone else who had to suffer through it); weighted strange, hard to follow. But I had no real vocabulary or framework from which to diagnose its strangeness, and everyone who read it was kinda just like, "....huh." When I found prose poetry, as a form, it was like I'd spent my whole life walking around mumbling to myself in a shoddy dialect that I thought I'd invented - and then suddenly I stumbled into a city where everyone'd been speaking that language, my language, but better and clearer and realer, for centuries.

At its best, the prose poem is flexible and stubborn, sharp and expansive, rigorous without being prescriptive, and necessarily weird without being too precious or clutching its strangeness too close. To me, it's the perfect convergence of contradictory impulses. Nothing else makes so much sense.

In regards to whose work influences me, I've talked too much already ( to you guys!) about how I'm not totally sure how use that term - but right now, at least, I'm Very Into Ellen Willis, Renata Adler, Sina Queyras, Olivia Wood, Patricia Lockwood, Heather Havrilesky, Drake, Broad City, and pretty much all dogs.

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Missed the first half of our Poetry Primer series? Get caught up here or buy the chapbook, ibid., featuring work from all our emerging and established poets. Available in both print and electronic editions!


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