Simon Thompson / Comes with Instructions

A note about Stanley’s poetics and pedagogy.

In the article “Careless in Vancouver,” Daniel Bouchard makes a vital observation about the fact that Stanley expresses his pedagogy in Vancouver: a Poem. Bouchard writes, “The role of instructor is significant in the poem”(172). I’d like to offer some additional, contemporaneous evidence from Stanley’s work on the manuscript of my book, Why Does It Feel So Late? (New Star, 2009), to support Bouchard’s thesis.

While Stanley was working on the successive sections of Vancouver, he was also helping me prepare my manuscript. The suggestions he offered, and the way he offered them, were essential to me being able to see and to understand what it took to produce a book. For example, in May, 2008, he wrote the following to me about a poem, “Frost’s Country,” that I was in the process of wrecking:

I think this longer version is mistaken.  The original (2007 ms, p. 19-20), which goes back to your chapbook, “Not Hungry All the Time,” is a tough, jagged poem – like a saw. The new version is wordy + draggy – from the first introduction of the word “philosophy.” “Tear the hand” is far superior to the cliché “bite.” And by the time you get to Roch Carrier the poem has long since lost its edge. I implore you, return to the original!

Stanley’s very specific advice to me was aimed at correcting a serious error made by many inexperienced writers: the tendency to go back and to reconceptualise older work in an effort to make it more “poetic.” Bouchard notes of Stanley’s process in Vancouver: “Its essence is the desire not to overdo things” (173). This is exactly what Stanley was telling me, and, of course, he was correct.

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