Before bringing you an interview, an interview which explores the nature of my poetry, I'd like to start this section with several poems and philosophical comments about poetry, poetry as a genre, specific poets, the relationship between the Baha'i Faith and a poet or poetry, and about several other aspects of poetry that are of interest to me. If some of this discussion and comment interests you, so much the better, but I will not depend on your interest, however much I would relish sharing my interest with you. Readers may find here in my essays, my poetry and, indeed on this website, what poetry critic R.P. Blackmur called a "repetitious fragmentariness"1 referrring as he was at the time to the poetry of Emily Dickinson. But I like to think that there is an overall shape, a logic, a grammar in the midst of whatever idiosyncrasies readers find in this poetic idiom of mine.
I have been living through the dark heart of an age of transition, in a "morally and spiritually bankrupt society....hovering on the brink of self-destruction."2 Much of my poetry tries to explore the implications of these ominous words of Shoghi Effendi with their tragic implications so far removed as they are from the glitter and tinsel of our society, its emphasis on sport, having fun and the endless circulation of entertainment. As so much of society—including myself—often goes to sleep in front of the TV, as the world faces social enormities beyond cntemplation, I attempt through my poetry to grasp the significance and ponder the implications of the magnitude of the historical transformation that has occurred in my lifetime and the lifetime of my parents and to grasp the meaning of the unprecedented project that had its beginning over a century ago in the lives of two God-men and which is now associated with climactic changes of direction in the collective life of the human species.3
1R.P. Blackmur, "Emily Dickinson: Notes on Prejudice and Fact," in The Recognition of Emily Dickinson, editors C.R. Blake and C.F. Wells, U of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1964, pp. 201-223.
2Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Baha’i World: 1950-1957, Wilmette, 1958, p.120.
3The Universal House of Justice, "Statement on May 22, 2001;" and "A Statement on Baha’u’llah," Office of Public Information at the Baha’i World Centre, 1991.
I just returned from an evening stroll around Pipe Clay Bay here in northern Tasmania. While walking in the cool of the evening with a strong wind blowing, with less than four hours left in a Tasmanian summer, I began thinking about T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. It achieved its final form in mid-January 1922, eighty years ago last month. On 18 November 1921, ten days before 'Abdu'l-Baha passed away, Eliot showed some of this new poem to Ezra Pound in Paris.1 The Waste Land is and was, arguably, the most famous poem of the twentieth century. It was a poem that was unarguably right for the moment, at least for my money. After two manifestations of God and the life of the only human being who enjoyed what has been sometimes called a mystic intercourse with God's messenger, seventy-seven years of divine guidance, human society had indeed been laid waste due to humanity’s obliviousness of its God and "careless of Bahá’u’lláh."2 T.S. Eliot described that reality of societal waste in graphic words that depicted the loathing and horror of life. His poem changed the direction of poetry and, as some critics put it, the direction of time itself. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Lyndall Gordon, Eliot's Early Years, Oxford UP, 1977; and 2Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, New Delhi, 1976(1941), p.129.
It was a poem that spoke for "our time,"
for the sterility, the kaleidoscopic confusion,
the urban apocalypse, with echoes of Ezekiel,
of doom and the promise of renewal,
of the bleak and barren present, the pervasive
failure of love stretching the words of this
tour de force.
For, as those 77 years came to an end,
the world exploded in an orgy of death,
and a branch did indeed grow out
of the stony rubbish.1 The dead tree
gave no shelter and a pearl formed
out of Twin resplendent seas.
We were, as you said, in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.2
Civilization had gone rotten and for men
everywhere the abyss, yawning for those
in their twisted course, would not find
a centre for some time-and only gradually.3
And yes, they had become unreal:
Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria,
Vienna, London. The axis of the world
was shifting. London Bridge was falling
down and a new Centre was just forming,
chrysalis-like, in some new and Holy Dust.
1The Waste Land, lines 19-20.
2The Waste Land, lines 115-116.
3The Poem "Gerontion", completed May June 1919.-----Ron Price 28 February 2002
"The function of poetry" wrote Robert Graves, "is religious invocation of the Muse....I cannot think of any true poet from Homer onwards who has not independently recorded his experience of her."1 The Muse, in the case of this Baha'i, is something I am happy to personify with a capital 'M,' but this personification is based on, is derived from, has something to do with, several complex and interrelated factors. One is a certain obsessiveness which may have its origins in my bi-polar disorder. This is as close as I can come to "the inspired madman" that Plato refers to in his Phaedrus and his Letters. Dickens refers to 'a beneficent power' which showed him how to write. If such a beneficent power is helping me, and for the most part I am not conscious of it directly, that power may very well be those souls who have passed on to the next world and have the power to assist the arts and sciences in this world. This hypothesis, this causal explanation, is untestable. But Baha'u'llah says I "can benefit through them." Undoubtedly, I am dependent on fertile ideas 'coming' to me, on imaginative responsiveness and allowing ideas to take shape in my poems. I am even more dependent, or such is my view, on a sense of wonder and on "new faculties" being created "as standards in the mind" from "the power of the influence" of the writings of Baha'u'llah.2 I have prayed for these holy souls, asked for their assistance for over 25 years now and I like to think I am, indeed, benefitting through them. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Vintage Books, NY, 1991, p.672; and 2Horace Holley in The Ocean of His Words, John Hatcher, Wilmeete, 1997, p.3.
to record my testimony, as you
say, Horace, to new faculties,
new standards in my mind,
any example of the power
of His influence or Theirs.
The beneficent power bringing
these ideas is quite beyond any
account I might give. Like alien
visitors They come to us from
another world. This is the Muse
spoken of in bygone ages requiring
that I become an artist myself1 and
so open that infinite resource within.
1John Hatcher, op.cit., p.6.
24 February 2002
One of the features of metaphysical poetry, wrote T.S. Eliot, is the yoking together of "the most heterogeneous ideas." As Eliot goes on to say "a degree of heterogeneity of material compelled into unity is a feature omnipresent in poetry."1 Heterogeneity is certainly a feature of my poetry as I try to bring together the social and cultural experience of my society, my religion and my own life into relation with each other. The difficulty of defining my poetry is similar to the difficulty of defining metaphysical poetry. The result is a wide range of definitions and explanations that I have given to my poetry. My language, I like to think, is like that of the metaphysicals: simple, pure, with a structure that is, at times, complex. A thought for some of the metaphysicals, like John Donne, was an experience. That is surely true for me, not all the time and with every word or phrase; but I like to think my poetry is a reflection of this reality of poetic experience that was part of Donne’s life and as it is seen by Eliot in his analysis of the metaphysical poets. -Ron Price with thanks to T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays, Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1932, p.283.
is an attempt to devour what
it is that has become my life—
my experience1—in words,
to take this print buffet to the
uttermost depths and with an
intricacy of relationship spread
across my room producing fresh
and unfamiliar juxtapositions of
meats, fruits, salads, dishes of all
sorts--complete perceptions from
thought and mood, an original point
of view, something conceived in my
soul, something from what seems to
me to be a large and unique view of life,
something that nourishes my mind and
reinvents the who that I am in a light of
day that is God's shadow across the land.
1experience, for me, includes, thought and memory.
30 January 2002
This weekend I attended our Cluster’s first meeting in Launceston and the Unit Convention for our region in Devonport. Chris and I have been back in Tasmania for two-and-a-half years to the day. It was our second trip to Devonport, the second, too, with our son Daniel who has just got a job at the Maritime College after being out of work for twenty-two months. He was the only youth at the Convention. I could describe in more detail this weekend's activities, my son's time in Tasmania and the events of my wife and I during our time back in Tasmania. But this poetry is not pure autobiography, inspite of appearances to the contrary.
One line of thought, so often pursued by art critics, is that the artist, the poet, is to be found in his art, his poetry, not his life. In our antediluvian and post-deluvian age people want to know the man often more than the art. "Picasso," so the opposite argument goes, "is not in the man; he is in his art." Or, as Tagore put the emphasis, "the poem not the poet." While I can agree with the thrust of this idea, I must also agree with Wordsworth that "a poet is a peculiar piece of mechanism...geared to language."1 What I write, then, as autobiographical as it is, is not characterized by this radical separation. The people I met this weekend know me as a man, a Canadian, their chairman, a fellow Baha'i but not, to any significant extent, as a poet. What you will find here is some of that 'peculiar mechanism.' -Ron Price with thanks to William Wordsworth, "A Poet's Epitaph," 1799.
The people I met this weekend
during two seven hour absences
from my home here in this town
by the river by the sea do not know
the me who is poet, writer, solitary.
Some know me: the entertainer;
or the chairman or the serious one,
and on and on I could recount the
several selves that I become in a
group, in these groups, out in the
social realm-domain of my life here.
Then there are the many me's that
I become to myself as I react to so
much that comes in to my sensory self.
That cauldron of coalescence:
changing, diverging, emerging,
reuniting patterns of speech in
which social identities and social
realities are born and I turn it all
back on myself, into the self that
arises from the whole experience
which I call poet, writer, self.
Ron Price 4 February 2002
Eight months before he died in April 1993, Roger White sent to me by snail-mail a copy of Rollo May's The Courage to Create with the words "all that Rollo May says about 'the experience' of creativity has been true of my encounters." I plan, then, to weave throughout this section on poetry many of May's ideas. White gave me this book of May's, published in 1975, in appreciation for my friendship and for the collection of essays I wrote on his poetry and which he gave his approval of in a letter before he died. I extended these original essays ten years later and they are now in a book: The Emergence of a Baha'i Consciousness in World Literature: The Poetry of Roger White, Juxta Publications, Hong Kong, 2003.
The point to which the will is directly applied is always an idea. There are at all times some ideas which I shy away from or try to, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, the moment I get a glimpse of their forbidding profile upon the threshold of my thought. Volition is primarily a relation between my Self and my own states of mind. The holding of an idea before the mind, the filling of the mind with an idea is due to volition and attention, the affirming and adoption of a thought, keeping the attention strained on an object or idea until at last it grows so as to maintain itself before the mind with ease, is the first fundamental with respect to volition. My poems begin here.
The whole drama is a mental one. The idea must be kept from flickering and going out. I must hear the still small voice unflinchingly and keep hearing it. I must be unwaveringly firm to withstand the pressing thoughts that take me from the task. It is to be preferred, indeed, it is essential, that firmness and effort of attention fill my mind as exclusively as possible. The result is consent to the task: the writing of a poem, the avoidance of some risk, et cetera. The result is also the extraordinarily intimate and important character which the phenomenon of effort assumes in my eyes; the result is the searching of my heart and mind, the dumb reigning in and turning of the will and a tightening of the heartstrings. -Ron Price with thanks to William James, The Principles of Psychology, University of Chicago,1952, p.826.
Here is where my poem begins,
a level of commitment, a level of
principle, some inner state, some
attitude, will, some dynamic, aspiration,
unshakeable consciousness, a filling of
the mind, something intimate that pulls
the heartstrings and turns my will,
flickering, flickering and then it goes out.
The will has done its job.........for now.
28 January 2002
Poetry, which C.S. Lewis says is impossible to define, is "the unique linguistic instrument"1 our minds have to order their thoughts, emotions and desires." But poetry works so secretly and so insensibly that it is very difficult to trace the tracks it makes, the flowers that burst into blossom on its path or the lobes of balance it composes when old worlds are dieing and new ones are being formed, as they are so pervasively in our time. However secretly poetry works, these lobes of balance that I create possess an internal harmony and order derived from things unseen and from "the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance"2 which has been inhaled during the years of my life, during days of trying and testing when He did not let me alone or, perhaps it was that I could not let Him alone. --Ron Price with thanks to 1I.A. Richards, Practical Criticism, 1929 and 2Baha'u'llah, The Book of Certitude, pp.8-9.
reactions to life, amazement and
wonder in a way that I can not
possibly do any other way.
It's just some lively feelings,
life, situations and ideas I
yearn, struggle passionately
to express and which I feel
acutely and abundantly,1
some deeper birth in solitude.
A passive quality, trained sensitiveness,
imagination's child operating as it does
on the streaming chaos of impressions
through which I hourly move and have
my being here on this earthly plain.
There's a cultivation of the private
in the midst of an immense world
of public entertainment, vulgarization--
the world's and mine--sin and abyss,
a fragmentation and a unity: confusions
and disparities transcended in this locus
of expression--the poem: mine and His
or so I like to think---pretentiously?
1Walter de la Mare, 'Dream and Imagination,' Behold the Dreamer, 1939.
7 January 2002
"The greatness of a poem," wrote Rollo May in his analysis of creativity, "is not that it portrays the thing observed or experienced." It is, rather, he went on, that it portrays the poet's "vision cued off by his encounter with reality." No matter how many times I return to a theme, a topic, some aspect of my experience, no matter how much repetitious fragmentariness there appears in this poetry--and indeed on this website--a new poem or essay or any piece of writing arises with each product. A new vision is created each time. During this concern for vision, uniqueness as well as the newness and freshness in poetry, readers and writers of poetry might find the words of the Russian poet and essayist Osip Mendelstam(1891-1938) a source of dispassionate judgement. He wrote that poetry can not be defined nor distinguished by any specific criteria. Poetry lovers, he wrote in his memoir, are like racegoers backing this poet and then another but not knowing who will win the race.1
And as Australian poet John Tranter wrote in relation to revising poetry, something I have been doing more and ore in recent years: "You don't write a poem, you rewrite it dozens of times." Or as W.B. Yeats puts it with even greater force:
The friends that have it I do wrong
Whenever I remake a song,
Should know what issue is at stake:
It is myself that I remake.2
1 Osip Mendelstam in A Memoir: Hope Abandoned, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Penguin, 1976(1972), p.373.
2W.B. Yeats, Collected Works in Verse and Prose, Vol.2, Epigraph, Stratford-on-Avon, 1908.
A COMMENT ON THE FIRST TEN YEARS OF ENORMOUS POETIC OUTPUT: 1992-2002
Receptivity is not passive. It is, among other things, a holding of oneself alive "to hear what being may speak."1 It is a waiting for the birthing process to begin. Toward the end of that "remarkably dynamic period," the Six Year Plan(1986-1992), as the vistas of new horizons opened and that "auspicious juncture in the history of the Cause"2 the Holy Year, May 1992 to May 1993, unfolded---a creative compulsion came into my life, a fortuitous conjunction of circumstances that I have tried many times to explain to myself and in writing, a compulsion which never really leaves me, although exhaustion, sleep, attending to my several passions-instincts and various activities in that mundane and necessary world, keep the lid on my head and keep that compulsion tempered by quotidian reality.
As the first two years of the1990s advanced month by month, a process began quite insensibly that led to what was experienced as an immense output of poetic production in that year 1992-1993, mirabile dictu; and again in 1993-1994 and in each of the following years, until now in 2002. Beginning in the years 1992 to 1994, I sought to untangle myself from my responsibilities: as a professional teacher, as a Baha'i who attended many meetings, as a member of communities that required of me a significant level of social engagement, as a parent and as a husband and as a consumer of a panoply and pageantry of leisure-time activity that, in addition to those responsibilities, threatened to consume all the time available. Some of these responsibilities and these leisure-time activities had been with me for a large part of my life far back into my teens and twenties. It gradually became my desire to give myself over to my writing in an intense and total way, as total a way as was possible within the normal constraints of daily life.
By the year 2000 I finally had a time-frame, a social-privacy package, that allowed me to give myself to writing after some eight years(1992-2000) of waiting and planning. I finally found, slowly, indefatigably, after decades of various forms of struggle, tests and difficulties--whose origins I could trace back at least to the late 1950s, that I could express via the act of writing my perceptions of reality. So it was in those years, the decade 1992 to 2002, that I became condemned--not an entirely negative word--to perceive and reproduce the world around me in a form that I could conjure into the written word. I did not seek reassurance or publication3 for there was joy enough in the act of creation. It was as if I was marrying a language and poetry was the child of that marriage, after a long engagement of several decades and periods of passionate elopement. Language in its written form became, increasingly, the symbolic repository of meaning in my life. Relationships, talking, listening, job success, the myriad routines and rituals of daily life, which had hitherto been the centre and focus of my life--all moved to the periphery. It was not as if there was no anxiety in my life: job, the Baha'i community, my health and my own family, all contributed their parts and parcels to some generalised anxiety in that decade 1992-2002. But, still, however much anxiety there had been in that decade, by the year 2002 and in the following years the tensions from these sources significantly dissipated.
1Roll May, The Courage to Create, WW Norton and Co., NY, 1975, p.81.
2The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1992.
3I did not feel the necessity to publish but, as the new millennium unfolded, I was able to publish on the internet, thereby eliminating much of the song and dance of the publishing process. The effort to get my thoughts into a hard or soft cover under the imprimatur of a publishing house became ancient history in those first years of the new millennium.
Sometimes an event takes place in my day's travels that I want to celebrate with a poem. This is due to the fact that verse has a place in my home, my work, my interests, in the ordinary rituals of everyday. Poetry feels to me a little like "a gum which oozes." The action of a poem, like that oozing gum, is, as Shakespeare once wrote, "no stronger than a flower."1 Poetry, for me, contains within it the coordinates and contradictions of experience. It also contains within it the presence of the grand elementary principle of pleasure. But it all comes together when I want to make a poem through a "sort of energy, a transfusing, welding, unifying force."2 -Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations Selected Prose: 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, 1980; and ibid.,p.24.
here in Tasmania: at that café,
in my home at a Feast, heard
someone else read them, but
here was my poetry going out
over the airwaves in Tasmania.1
This was an occasion to celebrate
deep in my heart: no songs, no cheers,
no festivities. The silent wonder of an
ordinary life, unscripted, flawed and
plausible, the spiritual intellect's greatest
work, part of the creation of civilization
without establishing some notable presence
in the minds of my contemporaries, just a quiet
reading in a studio and the question: is anyone
listening? There is an awful necessity in this gift
and its lovely wonder tutored by an instinctive
cheer, an upwheling desire and many years?
1I read two poems played on 103.5 FM, City Park Radio, 13 December 2001.
8 December 2001
One kind of poetic form is what Rollo May calls "inner form." This form is organic and comes from within the poet, from the passion the poet puts into the poem. I feel a certain shyness about what I say within this form, as most people do about sharing things that matter most to them. But, however shy, I also feel an inner compulsion to express them, to listen to my inner being, to make my contribution to the whole. The meaning, I am confident, will grow on its own with each generation. Perhaps most of the community and most of the world will never read what I write. But still I must write. What I write will never be finished—at least that is how I feel at present. In its spontaneity it will carry its own form. It is this sort of form readers will find here. They will also find me for, like everyone else, I express my being by creating.
Beginning perhaps in the 1960s there was an explosion in the production of artists, writers, poets, indeed virtually all of the creative and performing arts. By the time I began writing this poem in 2002 there have been some four decades of mass production by creators of various artistic forms: poems, plays, novels, paintings, sculpted works, songs, et cetera—a production that has taken place in the eyars of my adult life(1965-2002). One result is the creation of millions of pieces of homeless work. Of course, most of this creative work has a home in its place of creation, but it never finds a home in an art gallery, a museum or in a published form. Another result of this excess of artistic performers and performances is inflated reputations and wrongly ignored artists. This is inevitable in the short term. Those who thought themselves eagles remain the turkeys they really were, in time, in the long term. My own work, for example, simply can not find a home in the mass media. Perhaps it is the work of one of those turkeys. That is true of millions of other artists. Is that a loss? In poetry turkeys and eagles are difficult to define, to discriminate from each other.
It is in the nature of human beings, of course, to discriminate. Some things strike each of us as better than others, more articulate, more radiant with consciousness, more pleasurable. For each of us that discriminating process, however rooted in biology and physiology, is different, produces different results. Experience teaches us to see differences in intensity, meaning, grace, beauty. Quality is not easily quantifiable and everyone has different tastes. The phenomenon of 'quality' is quite complex. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Hughes, Culture of Complaint, Oxford UP, 1993, pp.193-203.
There's some of the 'telling others' here,
but mostly it's a working it out for myself,
an easy, organized, reverie, a turning of the
inward life, an understanding, perchance
others may understand my way, too....
Some reality I want to bring into sight,
something covered with familiarity's veil,
talking to myself, communicating with my
own being, with what is partly felt, not quite
seen, bringing my life together, scattered
across two continents over forty years,
in so many towns and so many heads
that I need to find something called me.
20 January 2002
copyright: Marco Abrar
Inevitably there is doubt in what I write. To believe in what one says and yet have doubts is not a contradiction. Having doubts "presupposes a great respect for truth," as Rollo May writes, for "truth always goes beyond anything that can be said or done at any given moment."-Rollo May, The Courage to Create, WW. Norton and co., NY, 1975, p.12.
Looking back, I must agree with French philosopher Gaston Bachelard1 that a house, the place where one lives day after day, is "a group of organic habits," "a shelter for the imagination, a nest for dreaming," The house, the home, is a place we need for dreaming, for shelter. It makes storms good or it can be a place of fear. It gives to the imagination a world, a portal of metaphors to deeper space and meaning. Out of the house spin worlds within worlds. We struggle to look "through the thousand windows of fancy" as we ponder the places, the rooms, the windows, the very walls and ceilings where we have lived and moved day after day. In the end, space itself is poetry. It is the armature around which a poem moves, revolves. For me, this French philosopher elevates space to its rightful place beside time, character and narrative in my poetry. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places, Beacon Press, Boston, 1964, pp.vii-x.
It was a little house.
the doors, the rooms,
everything about it was little.
I was little, a boy of five.
My dad was a little man,
But he had a booming voice,
went through the walls like
cannon-fire right into my head.
The garden was bigger.
Spent a lot of time there,
in the summer playing golf,
having picnics with friends.
You could see all the way
to the hockey-arena from
the garden and far down
the little creek all the way
to the powerline where we
played football in autumn.
And then there were the books,
cases of them in the basement
and the lounge-room, never took
them seriously, too many to get my
head around. My world was a little
world, then, in space and time--really.
Now, these books take me everywhere,
to the spaces and places of the infinite.
I provide the cannon-fire now. It scares me,
as it scared me then. Now my world is big,
goes on forever, to the ends of the earth and
beyond to distant galaxies, the billions of stars
and the mysteries in the essence of creation.
10 December 2001
In some basic ways I did not will these poems. Rollo May says we "will to give ourselves to the encounter with intensity of dedication and commitment." Purpose is a more complex phenomenon than will power. For purpose involves many levels of experience. We don't will to have insights or creativity. There is a certain surging vitality; there is a union of form, of passion, of order and vitality. This is what Rollo May calls ecstasy. I experience it in quiet terms: an emotion recollected in creative tranquillity, to borrow Wordsworth's phrase. It is my reflection on what is and has been my encounter with my world. My world is, simply put, the pattern of meaningful relations with my existence. What I do here, time and time again, is to express the underlying psychological and spiritual conditions of my relationship with the world. In the process, I reveal the meaning, at least the meaning to me, of these four epochs and beyond them in time and space. For this meaning conditions, in so many ways, the nature of my creativity. "Creativity," May concludes, "is the encounter of the intensely conscious human being with his or her world."(ibid., p.49)
Now that you have finished sending your poetry to the Baha'i World Centre Library in celebration of the Arc Project, fourteen years of poetry(1987-2000), nearly all of what you had written up to the end of the twentieth century; now that you have been out of full-time employment in the teaching profession and out of an extensive attendance at Baha'i meetings of various kinds for over four years; now that you have begun your forty-second year of pioneering, I think it's timely that we continue these interviews as a means of marking your progress or the lack of it and as a means of defining the ongoing process that is involved in your personal, poetic and literary life. This seems like a good time to catch you in: it's quiet; it's raining; we won't be disturbed, although you might get a little tired since it's after midnight. If you do, we'll finish this interview in the morning after you've had your haircut. How does all that sound to you?
Yes that's fine, but I'll just get some Weet-Bix if you don't mind and put on Beethoven's Fourth Symphony as a little background music.(Gets up, returns with Weet-Bix and puts the Beethoven record on his record player)
I: How is the writing coming along?
P: Quantitatively I think I'm averaging about 6 hours a day of reading and writing, although I don't time myself precisely. I work in the morning, the afternoon and evening. Qualitatively--it is always difficult to measure quality. I have made six attempts to write a novel in the last five years but never really got air-born as I had on at least two occasions around 1990 when I got over 20,000 words on paper. I could list several essays and odds and ends for magazines which I have been able to get published since 1999, but the poetry is still centre-stage, still magnifying my life and what I'm thinking about, making it new again, making it shine, as David Malouf once put the process in a discussion of poetry. We all need ways of refreshing our lives, kindling our souls, as Baha'u'llah puts it in one of the prayers. This is one way that works for me. Look, let's pick this up in the morning. I'm getting a little too tired for this.....
I: Sure(they go off.....) See you in the morning......
P: (early afternoon same day) Sorry for putting you off so long; I hope you enjoyed your walk around Pipe Clay Bay and down at Bass Strait and Low Head. There were a number of important e-mails that came in this morning: several from Western Australia and two from the Baha'i World Centre. I also wanted to listen to an interview with Robert Dessaix and get some information off the Internet on Somerset Maugham. I'm always better after lunch anyway....
I: You are now working on your 53rd booklet of poetry and are at the end of your ninth year of serious writing with an output of nearly 6000 poems. Are you producing more poetry now that you have freed yourself from the various constraints you operated under until mid-1999? And what do you think keeps you at it, at the poetic response?
P: Keeping track of how many poems one writes after several years gets a little tiresome, but when I complete a booklet of poetry I add the number of poems in the booklet to the previous total. It does not require much effort. I don't think I'm writing any more poetry now than I was when I was a teacher and a Baha'i in a large Baha'i community. I would guesstimate that I am writing now, as I have been for many years, a little less than two poems a day on average. This average may actually have taken a dip in the last two years since I wrote two books during that time and this detracts from writing poetry.
Essays and interviews help me clarify what I'm trying to do even if I do less writing of poetry; novels seem to get in the poetic road and since I’ve begun writing on the internet and at my website in the last two-and-a-half years I don't seem to be able to get as much flow with the poetry. One can only do so much in an eight hour day which is the best I do do on average in this overall literary exercise of mine. I have the manuscripts from nine attempts to write a novel since late 1983 gathering dust in my study. I must say, though, that since my wife does not like to see dust around, they occupy space on a book shelf in a clean and orderly fashion.
I have an immense freedom now that I did not have before. I'm not famous; I'm an unknown really, so noone is watching over me. There is none of that pressure which comes from being in some public's eye. And I use that freedom to write. The poetry I write makes me focus on reality, on what happens inside my head and out in the world. So, although it looks like escapism to some, what I am doing, it is really quite an intense involvement in life. When you write poetry, the poem takes you on a trip, not a fantasy or an escape, but an integrative exercise where everything in your life, your knowledge and your experience, comes together to focus on a particular direction that the poem is assuming as you write. There is a bit of a risk, a bit of a punt in the process. Life, a spark, arises between what you see, what the external experience is, and what's inside you. You could call this the spark of reflection, an arising from, an answering to, the depths of your life.
I: To keep churning out these poems you must have something to say and, of course, you can't always take that for granted, can you? There's no guarantee, is there?
P: No, that's true. I remember reading about Emerson's concern, quite a strong one if I recall, that his creative edge would disappear and he'd have nothing more to write. Well, in eleven years that has not happened to me. There always seems to be a reservoir of something, a rich interaction between the three foci in my poetry: the tricotomy of self-society-religion provides a fertile matrix for a prose-poetic production from those sparks I mentioned above. And the Internet is paying off more than I dreamed. There is enough print there to keep the fires stocked forever. And I must have millions of my words electronically circulating around the Internet in the form of books, essays, interviews and poetry. I had a bit of a worry before I retired in 1999 about the availability of books to read. While I was living in Perth, I'd become used to having a dozen or more books around my study at any one time from several libraries in that big city.
Finally, this period, both in the Baha'i community and in history, is part of a great climacteric, a great paradigmatic shift. There is such a teeming mass of stuff that rises from the ashes of life, of contemplation, so to speak, and much of this mass just about waits to be put on paper in some form. And there is a virtual tidal-wave of print that washes in every day. The height of this wave is limited only by one's capacity to withstand the assault of printed matter and by desire's or interest's moulding form.
I: Now that your role in life is quite different, now that you spend your time much more with print and much less with people, as you did when you were a teacher and a student for half a century, as well as going to what seemed like endless meetings and other forms of human interaction, as you once put it, do you feel any different?
P: When I look back at the totality of my life, I see the years 1949 to 1999 as a half century of people centered activity. Well, I can't call myself a teacher now, perhaps a "retired teacher." I’m a student again, but this time as an autodidact. I'm not "the chairman" or "the secretary" of an LSA; I don't have to respond to as many personal requests for my time as I did, say, from 1992 to 1999 when my poetic life began to take off seriously. I still feel it's a little pretentious to call myself "a poet," although I think after ten years of serious writing it is becoming a more comfortable term. I feel a bit like an architect or a doctor. They take ten years of study, training and practice before they begin to wear their title, their role, with the comfortableness of routine and habit. And it will soon be twelve years of serious, specific writing for me(1992-2004). One poet I once read in an interview said that other people can call him a poet. He still prefers to say: 'I write poems' or 'I write prose-poems' or 'I do a lot of writing.'
Also, I'm still a husband and a father, a step-father, an uncle, a step-grandfather; and there is a small Baha'i community as well as two voluntary organizations I work in. These activities and roles take some of the edge off the immense amount of solitude which is now at the centre of my life. I'd say generally that I'm much more organized and, as 'Abdu'l-Baha once put it in a letter, more focused on a single point.1 I am still trying, as He put it in that same context, to become an effective force,2 but in a different way than in the previous forty years, 1959-1999, of Baha'i experience or that half century from 1949 to 1999.
CONTINUE THIS INTERVIEW AFTER OUTLINING
THE BOOKLETS OF MY POETRY:1980 TO 2003
(updated to 2007)
AND A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF MY ENTIRE COLLECTION
OUTLINE OF RON PRICE’S COLLECTION OF POETRY: 1980 to 2007
This poetry is divided into several sections named after the several stages associated with the construction of the Shrine of the Bab and the beautification of its surrounding properties and the rise of the World Administrative Centre of the Baha’i Faith, within the precincts and under the shadow of its World Spiritual Centre, a process that was kept in abeyance for thirty years(1921-1951), whist the machinery of the national and local institutions of this nascent order was being erected and perfected. These several sections of poetry are entitled: The Tomb's Chambers, The Arcade, The Golden Dome, The Terraces and The Mountain of God.
BOOKLET N0. NAME OF BOOKLET WHEN WRITTEN
1. THE TOMB'S CHAMBERS:
1.1------ Poetry: Pioneering Years August 1962- July 1980, but not kept.
1.2------ Warm-Up: The Tomb’s Chambers August 1980 to 2 March 1987
The above poetry 1.1 was written periodically in the first 18 years of my pioneering life but none of it was kept in my files for future use or historical record. The booklet of poetry in 1.2 above was not sent to anyone or any group. It was kept as an indication of my earliest poetry or part of what I now see as my particular form of juvenilia, although it was written from the age of 36 to 42. But, after twenty-five years in the pioneer field(1962-1987), the following booklets of poetry were sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library or some Baha’i institution or community.
2. THE ARCADE:
1 Warm-Up: The Arcade June 1987 to 22 August 1992
3 THE GOLDEN DOME:
2 Pioneering Over Three Epochs 2 January 1992 to 22 December 1992
3 Swiftly Changing Tides 4 January 1993 to 22 April 1993
4 The Priceless Treasury 22 April 1993 to 5 July 1993
5 A Yet Greater Impetus 11 July 1993 to 29 August 1993
6 The Darkest Hours Before the Dawn 4 September 1993 to 11 November 1993
7 Instruments of Redemption 12 November 1993 to 30 December 1993
8 In Ever-Greater Measure 1 January 1994 to 20 April 1994
9 Time Capsules 27 April 1994 to 11 September 1994
10 The Emergence of a Baha’i 18 September 1994 to 28 November 1994
Consciousness in World Literature
11 Intensest Rendezvous 4 December 1994 to 14 December 1994
12 Soldiering On 16 December 1994 to 5 January 1995
13.1 Vista of Splendour 23 March 1995 to 4 May 1995
13.2 The Prelude 4 May 1995 to 30 May 1995
4 THE TERRACES:
14 Mysterious Forces 1 June 1995 to 29 June 1995
15 Apple Green 2 July 1995 to 10 September 1995
16 The Hunt for Ground Cover 13 September 1995 to 3 December 1995
17 Emerald Green 7 December 1995 to 23 January 1996
18 The Strong Room 26 January 1996 to 8 April 1996
19 Tapestry of Beauty 9 April 1996 to 30 April 1996
20 In Loving Memory 3 May 1996 2 June 1996
21 Ivy Needlepoint 6 July 1996 26 August 1996
22 Tender Packages 30 August 1996 to 3 November 1996
23 The Art of Glorification 6 November to 8 January 1997
24 Canada’s Glorious Mission Overseas 10 January to 14 February 1997
(sent to IPC of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada)
25 A Small Contribution...Befitting Crescendo 19 February to 25 May 1997
(sent to the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia)
26 An Imperishable Record of Int’n Service 26 May to 31 August 1997
(sent to several LSAs in southern Ontario)
27 At the Crest 3 September 1997 to 28 November 1997
28 Elegance 29 November 1997 to 4 January 1998
29 A View from the Roof Garden 6 January 1998 to 2 February 1998
30 Lines, Curves and Concentric Circles 3 February 1998 to 13 April 1998 31 Silver Green and Grey & Flame Orange 14 April 1998 to 7 August 1998
32 As Elegant As 8 August 1998 to 9 November 1998
33 Panorama Road’s Monumental Gates 7 November 1998 to 10 January 1999
34 Impression of a Deeper Curve 12 January 1999 to 18 March 1999
35 Cascading Down 20 March 1999 to 16 May 1999
36 Who Is Writing the Past? 18 May 1999 to 6 July 1999
37 The Field Is Indeed So Immense 9 July 1999 to 29 August 1999
38 This Dawn and That Dawn 29 August 1999 to 4 November 1999
39 Epic 7 November 1999 to 24 December 1999
40 A Celebration of Forty Years 27 December 1999 to 15 March 2000
41 A Baha’i Poet of the 4th Epoch 22 March 2000 to 18 May 2000
42 39 19 May 2000 to 12 September 2000
43 Finished At last 14 September 2000 to 31 December 2000
5. THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD:
Fifty Years from F.O.G. 30 December 2000 to 13 April 2001
(sent to the IPC of the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada)
Thirty Years of International Pioneering 14 April 2001 to 12 July 2001
(sent to the IPC of the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada
and the NSA of the Baha'is of Australia)
46 Forty Years of Pioneering: 1962-2002 13 July 2001 to 15 November 2002
47 Some Poetry from the Fifth Epoch 20 November 2001 to 30 January 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Institute of Learning for Western Australia)
48 Out From Under the Bushel 31 January 2002 to May 14 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Centre for South Australia)
49 The Fiftieth Anniversary Plus One 2 June 2002 to 30 August 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Centre for Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory)
50 Twenty Years On 7 September 2002 to 5 November 2002
(sent to the Baha'i Council of the NT)
51 Forty Years On 6 November 2002 to 21 March 2003
(sent to the Baha'i Council of Victoria)
52 Half Way Point in the Five Year Plan:
A Poetic Note Struck 22 March 2003 to 21 October 2003
(sent to the Baha'i Council of Queensland)
53 This Rising Vitality 19 December 2003 to 27 July 2004
(sent to the Bahá’í community of Burlington Ontario)
54 Pioneer’s Report:In Memory of Lulu Barr 11 August 2004 to 16 March 2005
(sent to the Baha’i community of Hamilton Ontario)
Pioneer’s Report: In Memory of Nancy Campbell & Fred & Lillian Price
21 March 2005 to 26 July 2005.
(sent to the Baha’i community of Hamilton Ontario)
Pioneer’s Report: In Memory of Jameson & Gale Bond & Dorothy Weaver
27 July 2005 to 31 August 2005
(sent to the Iqaluit/Frobisher Bay Baha’i community)
In Loving Memory of George Spendlove
2 September 2005 to 9 December 2005
(sent to the Toronto Baha’i community)
58 The Inner Life and The Environment: A Gateway not a Carpark
20 December 2005 to 9 April 2006
(sent to the Baha’i Council for Tasmania)
59 Steeled Though Experience 12 April 2006 to 12 December 2006
(sent to the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada)
A Dedication and A Celebration 13 December 2006 to 13 August 2007
(sent to the Bahá’í community of Ballarat)
61 Current Booklet of Poetry 21 September 2007 to ?? 2008
B. Some Background Information on the Booklets:
The booklet entitled Warm-Up: The Tomb’s Chambers was not sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library(BWCL). It contained some 35 poems. I kept this booklet in my study. But after 25 years in the pioneering field, this poetic inclination increased and, unable to publish my poetry in the secular press or through the various Baha’i publishing houses, I sent it out to Baha’i institutions in Canada and Australia. The following paragraphs outline to whom and when.
The next several booklets of my poetry were not given titles originally, as far as I recall; and, although they were placed in covers, they were not initially given what has become the standard format for each of my booklets of poetry, the plastic folder/cover. I eventually gave titles to all the booklets and each one is in a plastic cover in my personal collection here in Tasmania. I hope, too, that one day the pages can be numbered, a table of contents for each booklet can be arranged and an index can be provided to cover all the poetry. This is a somewhat daunting task given the sheer quantity of material. Since there are no books of my poetry in hard cover and most of my readers are on the internet in these years of the first century of the Formative Age, there is little need to complete such an exercise for publishing and marketing purposes. And, of course, there may never be such a need.
Booklets 1 to 23 were all sent to the BWCL. Booklet 24 was sent to the International Pioneer Committee of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada in celebration of eighty years of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan and Canada’s glorious mission overseas. Booklet 25 was sent to the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia in celebration of the contribution of overseas pioneers from other countries to the Australian Baha’i experience, the fortieth anniversary of the spiritual axis and the Guardian’s last letter to Australia. Booklet 26 was sent to the LSA of the Baha’is of Burlington, to be shared with several LSAs in Southern Ontario, where I became a Baha’i in the 1950s and enjoyed some of my initial Baha’i experience in the early 1960s. I sent Booklets 27 to 43 to the BWCL.
Booklet 44, entitled Fifty Years From F.O.G.,(an expression used in Canada for pioneers who arrive in their goals with their ‘Feet-on-the-Ground.’), sent in April 2001 to the IPC of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada, celebrated the current fifty years of international pioneering, the current situation of international pioneers in-the-field beginning with Alan Pringle in Costa Rica who arrived there in 1951. I sent Booklet 45 to the International Pioneer Committee(IPC) of the NSA of the Baha’is of Canada and the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia in celebration of my thirty years of international pioneering. Booklet 46 celebrated forty years of my pioneering life: 1962-2002 and was presented to the Regional Baha’i Council for Tasmania to celebrate its first year in office.
Booklet 47 was sent to the LSA of the Baha’is of Melville to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of Western Australia’s new Baha’i Centre of Learning which opened in May of 2001. Booklet 48, celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the new Baha’i Centre on Brighton Road in South Australia and Booklet 49 the opening of the Baha’i Centre in Canberra and the beginning of the second half century of Baha’i experience in Australia’s national capital. Booklet 50 was sent to the Baha’i Council of the Northern Territory thanking them for including my History of the Baha’i Faith in the NT: 1947 to 1997 in their newsletter ‘Northern Lights.’
Booklet 51 was sent to the Baha’i Council of Victoria in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the election in 1963 of the Universal House of Justice. Booklet 52 was sent to the Baha’i Council of Queensland to mark the half-way point in the Five Year Plan, October 2003. Booklet 53 was sent to the Baha’i community of Burlington Ontario, my Baha’i community of origin, in celebration of more than forty years of pioneering experience initiated within that community. Booklet 54 was sent to the Baha’i Community of Hamilton as a ‘Report from a Pioneer’ and in memory of the first Baha’i in Hamilton in 1939, Miss Lulu Barr.
Booklet 55 was sent to the Baha’i Community of Hamilton as a ‘Report from a Pioneer’ and in memory of Nancy Campbell and my parents, Fred and Lillian Price, who served on the first LSA of Dundas in 1962. Booklet 56 was sent to the Baha’i community of Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay, in Memory of Jameson and Gale Bond and Dorothy Weaver. That booklet of poetry was also sent in celebration of my decision forty years before to pioneer among the Eskimo/Inuit. Booklet 57 was sent to the Toronto Baha’i community 37 years after I left that city to pioneer. Booklet 58 was sent to the Baha’i Council for Tasmania in celebration of the opening of the new Baha’i Centre in Hobart in 2007. Booklet 59 was sent as a gift to the NSA of the Baha'is of Canada marking the end of the Five Year Plan(2001-2006) and Booklet 60 to the Baha’i Community of Ballarat in memory of Miss Effie Baker and celebrating fifty years(1957-2007) of Baha’i history in that city.
C. Concluding Comment:
The above outlines twenty-seven years of poetic activity, poetic writing, that has taken place virtually entirely in my second twenty-five years in the pioneering field(1987-2012). As I send this to you, we are about one-third of the way through yet another Plan, a Five Year Plan(2006-2011). I look forward to more years of writing as we head toward the completion of the first century of the Formative Age in the next fourteen years(2007-2021). I will complete my own half century of pioneering in the next five years, in 2012. I hope that whoever comes across this poetry gets some pleasure and insight from the experience.
21 September 2007
Continue interview at this point:
I: How do you see your role as a Baha'i now? Is it different than it was in, say, the 1990s?
P: I am one of those Baha'is who lived through those "three decades of struggle, learning and sacrifice"(1964-1994)3 and who is now trying "to capitalize on the insights gained" by those years of experience. I trust that what is now, for me, more than forty years of service in total will enable me to refine my present endeavour and purify my motivation so that I will be, as the House says in that book Century of Light, "worthy of so great a trust,"4 that trust being a continued involvement in the prosecution of the Divine Plan. The older I get, of course, the less I am conscious of any purity in my life. One seems to collect much material and spiritual detritus in the process of living.
I have always, at least since October 1964 when I was first exposed to what could be called 'the military metaphor' in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, seen the whole exercise, my whole experience as a Baha'i, in terms of a very serious undertaking. The fundamental orientation was what the House of Justice called "a solemn consciousness." Celebratory joy grew out of this orientation.(Universal House of Justice, April 1991) Life has been no game, no fun parlour; it has been serious business, very serious. As two of the teachers I had back in 1964 put it: it is war! But the war is played out in the theatre of our daily lives. My thirty years in Australia has taught me to play it with humour. By the late 1990s, as I approached the age of 55, I had worn myself out in the particular theatre of operations where I lived and it had happened several times, partly due, no doubt, to my bipolar disorder which I go into in more detail in a separate essay of 35 pages; I’d prefer not to comment on that disability here because the issues it raises are complex and will take us away from the central themes of this interview and my poetry.
I moved to northern Tasmania in mid-1999 at the age of 55 to refocus, recoup, redirect my energies, rest from the enormous drain that excessive human contact, speech and listening as well as intellectual activity and a private struggle with health problems, had been. As Carl Jung once said, there is a great healing in solitude. This is what I began in 1999 over four years ago.
I: You seem to have quite a range of content in your poetry: from the great processes of history to the ordinary little things. Could you put this aspect of your poetry into perspective for us?
P: Most of the little things that happen to us in our lives never get recorded. I try to get some of them into my poetry, so that they won't get lost and because I see them as precious in some way. So much that is not recorded in life--and there is a great deal--needs to get a look in now and then. You can't get it all down or we'd all drown in the trivia, the boredom and the chowder, as one songwriter called the quotidian realities of life. The deep and meaningfulsalso need to be balanced with the everyday stuff. I want to preserve things, some of the rich experience of these past decades, some of the sacrifice, learning and struggle, the joy and the delights, some of the things that never get into messages and letters. I want to keep this recent history and keep it in context. My poetry provides a host of contexts for our Baha'i experience. Generally the contexts are three: my own life, my community's and my society's from the local community level to a global context.
Also, and finally, with respect to your question, language, the language I use in poetry, is a way of defining who I am, of defining what holds us together in our communities as Baha'is, of specifying identity. To do this I have to relive history, to relive the big and the small. They are both parts, important parts, of the complex and simple world we live in.
I: Isn't there something in your poetry about making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar, to choose someone's clever phrase?
P: No question about it. But it's time for my afternoon walk. I've had about five hours of pushing words up a hill or down a hill or along the plain today and it's time to take my body, the temple of my soul, and give it something to do other than sitting, walking around this house and talking to you.
I: Can I join you?
P: If you don't mind listening to my saying prayers out loud. The primary function of my walk is prayer and meditation in the context of a necessary physical exercise, exercise that counters emphysema and high cholesterol levels.(the two go off on a walk and return)
P: That was a pleasant hour. It is an important hour to me to get that exercise, to do some deep breathing(and after 2006 buteyko breathing) to counter a COPD(chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), to say some prayers for a range of purposes not the least of which is protection, the purposes are multiple and are indicated by each prayer and too many to outline here. The prayers also help to provide the refreshment that allows me to finish off the eight hours that are my working day. With the interviews I hear on the radio, the news programs, lunch and dinner, the domestic work and a little TV, the day passes very pleasantly. This is how I am spending this recuperative period, this preparation period for the road ahead in late adulthood(60-80) and old age(80++), whatever years God grants me.
I: One final question a similar one asked to Australian writer David Malouf by Helen Daniel about the stillness in his novels. Do you think your poetry slows life down or moves things along?
P: I think it does both. With many of my poems I want time to stop completely so that I can move into the moment, explore the second, the event, over many stanzas. At other times I want my poem to survey a vast track of land, of space, of time and only this poem can take such enormous distances and focus them as succinctly as I do on, say, one page. Time and space are dimensions in your hands as a poet which you can play with with great freedom and purpose.
I: I think that is all for now. I look forward to returning to these and other themes in the years ahead in future interviews. Happy writing and happy living, Ron.
P: You, too! What was your name again?
1'Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, Haifa, 1978, p.111.
3The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p.108.
Breakthroughs, insights, in life do not come from "taking it easy." They come "in accordance with a pattern of which one essential element is our own commitment."(Rollo May, op.cit., p.58.) They come to complete an incomplete Gestalt. There have been many incomplete Gestalts I have been struggling with since the early 1960s, since at least the outset of my pioneering life more than forty years ago. As I look back over these four decades I can see many interlocking patterns within the context of my commitment as a Baha'i. The arrival of insights during transition periods between work and relaxation is one pattern. I am experiencing this one now in these early years of retirement from work and even when I go for a walk in the afternoon after several hours of literary work. Another pattern is reading. Going back to the start of my pioneering life in 1962, I would say that print has occupied an average of four hours virtually every day. I drew up a statistical chart four years after my retirement and found that this four had become six to eight for the years after 1999. There are many other patterns but I will leave this theme for another day.
Since much of this poetry is autobiographical there is present in this collection a degree of what Virginia Woolf called "the damned egotistical self." There is, too, an inevitable selectivity with which the past or the present is retrieved and refashioned. This is an unavoidable, an inevitable, reality of the creative process. Drama and object are attached to character in the process. It is here in this mixture of drama, person and object that universality of situation is often found. My aim in writing this poetry, besides the retrieving, the refashioning and the recording of the historical present, is the achievement of universality.
Place becomes refashioned in the process. It is not so much that cities, towns and streets were and are my habitation; rather it is that they have come to inhabit me. They become ‘magical composites’ as Anais Nin called them. This is also true of time. The self proliferates into selves in my poems and a composite aesthetic-self emerges from this multiplicity to create a new totality. This is part of the implication of the term transformation for both self and other that I use from time to time in my writing.
What happens, then, for the person who follows my poetry, is the perception of an evolving personality, a society and a religion in transition. Readers will also be exposed to what I regard as interesting juxtapositions of items from our culture, our global culture, juxtapositions which illuminate what for me are fascinating perspectives on life, society and the Baha'i Faith. The reader can only follow this evolution and these juxtapositions to an extent here on this web page containing as it does perhaps two hundred poems. If readers want to see the 'evolving personality,' the 'evolving society' during the epochal shifts of this Formative Age, they need to see my entire opus and at least a sampling of the other genres of my writing. It would seem to me that this task will be done by only a very few at best and, what is more likely, no one at all during my lifetime. One gets only a taste of my life, a hint, a flavour, but not all, not the essence, as Leon Edel tried to provide in another life when he wrote the autobiography of Henry James.
One gets only a little of what you might call the contemplation of this writer's hind-quarters, little of the sordid detail that we all collect in life. I do not tell it all. Unlike the essayist Montaigne in the late 16th century, I leave many topics, many details, out of the painting and many paintings out of the collection. I trust, though, that readers will find here a sympathetic rendering of a life, what Boswell tried to do with Johnson back at the start of the Enlightenment and a relevant, an interesting, a sometimes surprising, comment on the age and the religion I have been associated with since the early 1950s.
The main aim of the poet, according to W.H. Auden, is to contribute to the life of a future age. I like this view because I often wonder if my poetry will contribute much at all to this age, these epochs. I like the view, too, of Frances Quarles who in the seventeenth century saw his soul as a looker-on, a looker-on who should not judge the play and its many changes, its many scenes, until the play was done. My poetry, I think, needs the perspective of my final hour. I'm not sure why. And, finally, of the famous John Milton who stated in bold and simple language that God did not need man's work nor his gifts: 'they often serve who only stand and wait.' I've done a lot of that, though when I do go somewhere it is not with that same punctuality as my father. Still, I serve. As the great art historian E.H. Gombrich who died this month wrote, this 'serving' the main purpose of the artist.
I take the externalities of life where I find them and bring them into my inner life and, hopefully, my readers'. I process these externalities in my own artistic alchemy, in what Carl Jung calls "the golden gleam of artistic creation." The truths of life, of fact, of the everyday, are transformed, not into fiction as some critics and theorists of autobiographical poetry would have it, but into cultural constructs, dramatic expressions of identity formation, self-and-world-definition. The world and myself are processed through the sieve, the truth-telling endeavour that is autobiographical poetry. This sieve, these thousands of poems, produce a person who as Proust once wrote is le moi profond, someone who is both me and not me, not just the person in everyday life, but someone quite other. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the person in the poem and the quotidian self. There is some mysterious add-on factor. It is a supersensitive reality this work of art; it does not copy life. It uses life in both the concrete and abstract thought forms and produces a hybrid called art, in this case autobiographical poetry.
I feel a little like a skindiver, probing beneath the experiences of my life, to reach a deeper level of meaning, to reach below self-love, habit, intelligence and passion, the apparent, the surface, the everyday, into what is real. It’s not that the surface of reality is false; it’s more a question of illuminating that surface reality with the light of, a measure of, intellect and wisdom "the two most luminous lights in the world of creation."1 Mundane experiences get widened, deepened, multiplied, reformed, into some universal, seemingly-reincarnated, embellished phenomena. The poet frees himself from himself through "the agency of this great endowment."2 I leave myself behind. I go out of the cave, as Plato might have said in the fifth century BC., and find a very new life.
The process is not unlike looking at a hieroglyphic and translating it, taking the ordinariness and habituality from the everyday and reconstituting it, giving it meaning. Another aspect of this transformation is taking some element of history or the everyday, disentangling it from its defining circumstances and reembodying it in some artistic setting, some new office or home. You could say it is a form of reassociation. I am recreating life out of life. I come back into the cave and meet both myself and my former associates with new insights. For poetry is certainly about meeting oneself and others anew. Perhaps, to put it less pretentiously, less intensely and just more simply: essentially I am a ruminative poet who is developing a mythology, a metaphor of self and society.
Leonard Woolf , the husband of Virginia Woolf, at the start of the forth volume of his five volume autobiography of that richly endowed writer, deplored the fact that in describing a life "most of his facts (were) will-o’-the-wisps and it (was) almost impossible to tell the truth."3 Many autobiographers find this to be true. I found I needed more than narrative to tell my story. I needed poetry if I was going to get closer to the heart of my life. The underlying purpose of my narrative and my poetry, beside any light the poems throw on contemporary times, is not to throw insight into my life but into life itself. It is the hope of this poet that readers will learn about themselves through my poetry--and my essays. I sometimes think that what is at stake in my poetry is the meaning of what it is to be a Baha'i in these four epochs of the Formative Age: 1944-2021. We all define, answer, this question for ourselves. Perhaps something of what I write will help others describe their experiences and understandings.
Speculations on me as an historical personage might be useful for some future psycho-historian. Speculations on life that are timeless are useful to anyone if they increase their understanding of life. The personal gets objectified and universalized, moved from the temporary to the enduring. We all have to get out from behind the cotton wool of the idiosyncratic to discover the pattern, our pattern. Unlike the historian H.A.L. Fisher who, in his introduction to his two volume work, 'A History of Europe,' said he saw no pattern in history, pattern for me is part of the basis, the source of meaning. My writing is intended to help readers find this pattern in both the past and the present, in both the historical and the personal. My memory, then, is an artistic process which retrieves the past in seeking the patterns of life not only for me but also for others.
If the intensely personal can become universal then there is reason to write it in a poem. I would argue, as does Nin who wrote 35,000 pages of diary4 over several decades, that the personal life, lived deeply, becomes universal. It goes beyond the personal. Physical reality is essentially a metaphor for the spiritual life, a means of gaining access to the spiritual world. The study of the physical facilitates the understanding of the spiritual. Tests and difficulties in this life are a primal source of spiritual growth and are part of the great metaphorical scheme of life. This physical world of time and place is the place of my spiritual journey. My task, among other tasks, is to connect the physical to the spiritual or life to myth as Nin puts it.5
Friedrich Schiller, the German philosopher, distinguished between the simple and the sentimental poet. The former, the simple poet, is the Homer and the Shakespeare, the non-autobiographical poet about whom we learn little. "There are no great biographies of Shakespeare" says Harold Bloom "because there is not enough to know."6 The latter is the poet who reflects on the impression produced on him by people, things, the past, ideas, et cetera. In this modern and post-modern age Roger White is, for me, an example of the former. One can piece together his life in his poetry but, as he says himself, he sees his poetry as his life. His day-to-day existence was simply not very interesting. I’m not so sure my own existence is any more interesting than White’s, but my poetry tells you a great deal more about the person and the context of writing. That makes me the sentimental poet. Perhaps it’s not so much this distinction that is crucial but the affect the poetry has on others. Only time will tell that.
In and on this journey of our lives there is so much that can nourish and so much that can wear us down. In the end it all becomes fodder for the poet, for reintegration into an artistic composite. In this transient life, where everything only stays for a time, poetry fixes more than anything, except perhaps love. But it is important that what is fixed is not of distressing insignificance, great piles of trivia. I strive, through a certain spontaneous sincerity and earnestness, to discuss what is significant and sometimes what is distressing but, hopefully, not what is distressingly insignificant. I write about what is, in the end, the condition humaine and my part Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
And so another booklet is added to the collection.(This essay, revised extensively, was written originally to introduce booklet #29 of my poetry: A View From the Roof Garden). This booklet of poems is, among other things, a celebration of a stage in the development of The Centre for the Study of the Texts in which the areas where the roof garden will be developed are finally in place and a view of the Universal House of Justice building is available for the first time. It is a view I trust we will enjoy for hundreds of years to come. This is but the first glimpse through the many photographs the Baha’i world is enjoying.
Each booklet of poetry I wrote7 during the 1990s was a celebration of some development in the Mt Carmel Project in an explicit or implicit sense. It was not intended that all of the poetry be about the Project, but rather a poetry that was inspired by the wondrous vision that this development on Mt Carmel represents.
This booklet also attempts to bring up-to-date some of the other features of my poetic autobiography Pioneering Over Four Epochs. Essays, diary, letters and narrative all receive some up-dating in this booklet. I am not sure whether I will continue for many years to add to my collection of written work in the way I am doing, but for the moment I feel a genuine inspiration to continue sending material to the Baha’i World Centre Library as I am doing.7 I trust in those mysterious dispensations of a watchful Providence to determine their usefulness and pleasure to others over the years to come.
1‘Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p.1
3Suzanne Nalbantian, Aesthetic Autobiography, MacMillan, 1994, p.136.
4I have a four volume Journal and a two volume Photographical Journal.
5Suzanne Nalbantian, Aesthetic Autobiography: From Life to Art in Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Anais Nin, MacMillan, 1994, p. 172.
6Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, Harcourt Brace and Co., NY, 1994, p.61.
7 By 31 December 2001 I will have completed 46 booklets of poetry, 40 of which--nearly 5000 poems--I have sent to the BWCL. In December 2000 I ceased sending poetry to the BWCL. Only about 200 essays, some of the journal and the autobiographical narrative were also sent.
There is only one school of writing and of art and that is talent. The difficulty is defining it and obtaining some canons of artistic specificity to agree on. In the absence of such standards—and that is our situation—the one school of talent is ultimately divided into a host of sub-schools. Subjectivity and relativism become expressions for the foundations of artistic philosophy and a thousand different art forms are produced resulting in a plethora of art resembling a galaxy of stars: some of impressive beauty, some dark with the light gone out, some faintly visible, some covered with clouds of confusion and disorder, at the very least an incredible profusion of forms and at the worst an array that, in its sheer variety and extent, is impossible of evaluate, although a myriad of attempts are made.--Ron Price with thanks to Martin Amis in interview on Books and Writing, ABC Radio, 11 April, 1999, 7:30 pm.
It seemed impossible to share,
a whole life, so far, trying, trying,
and so I was impelled toward poetry,1
toward autonomy, privacy, books,
a reader, a mutuality of aloneness,
a living in language, a head-to-head silence,
mainlining, expressing my separateness,
my uniqueness, an uncommon visage,
a commonality, toward something
I had myself built from thought,
toward expressing my guilt, my shame,
my joy and sorrow, toward creating
ex nihilo thus bringing the future into
the present, toward expressing the soul
of this new community which I have laboured
it seems, in retrospect, to build all my life----2
in these earliest years of community building.
12 April 1999
1 " The moment when we experienced something we could not share with our outer world, because our outer world had given us no "word" to acknowledge it, was the moment that impelled us toward poetry.’ -Alan Williamson, "Falling Off the World: Poetry and Innerness", Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, G. Orr and E. Voigt, editors, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1996, p.86.
2At the dawn of a nation, a religion, a civilization, poetry is the expression of its soul and the repertoire of its knowledge and history put into verse.-In Poetry Criticism, Vol.17, Gale Publishing, NY, 1997, p.49.
I feel that in some ways I am lobbing my poems into an unknowable future in the hope that my world of particulars will confer an increased sense of historical legibility on future readers. Those future readers will, I trust, complete my poems with meanings currently unavailable to me in my historically prior and epistemologically determined condition. For memory is more than the comfortable source of poetic emotion and lyric subjectivity that that term now evokes. Memory is slowly extending itself, I do believe, in our world of immense confusion and often anarchous conditions, beyond its present place of confession, reminiscence and the inviolable substance of individual identity, to a site where possible collective futures may be negotiated. At this site, this place of poetry, concrete ideological and theological issues will be expressed; collective emotional dispositions will also be found in a network of shifting and often contradictory values. An etiquette of expression, a fuller and more adequate perspective and one more appropriately responsive to the complexity of the questions, points beyond these present epochs. It points to epochs more variously and capaciously endowed with solid thinking.
I feel like I am actively lending myself and my poetry to a future which is inevitable but only partly comprehensible and partly intelligible. This poetry, it seems to me, is partly the embodiment of a world of anticipated meanings which this emergent historical community may or may not 'take up' with a view to practical action. -Ron Price with thanks to Joel Nickels, "Post-Avant-Gardism: Bob Perelman and the Dialectic of Futural Memory," A Review of Bob Perelman's The Future of Memory, Roof Books, NY, 1998.
We shall see:
what this emerging world religion
will do with this poetry,
of anticipated meanings,
this site of collective
this network of shifting
and contradictory values
which attempts an etiquette
of expression, fuller perspectives,
to create a place endowed with
solid thinking and point beyond
the horizon of these four epochs.
18 July 2001
The following remarks were obtained from a summary of two Japanese writers in the last century: Natsume Soseki(1867-1916) and Nagai Kafu(1879-1959). The importance of having a firm viewpoint from which to interpret life; the importance of empathy, of being able to observe from within, of being able to feel as ‘it’ feels, as the basic principle of artistic creation; the importance of working in the kind of artistic medium that befits one’s life style and temperament; the importance of the poet’s personality as the basis for the value of his poetry; the importance of writing in the contemplative state after a period of emotional excitement; the importance of the poet as a unique selector and as a person who has retired from the utilitarian world; the importance of being able to write a poem and project it to the reader as if you have been his friend for a hundred years: must be stressed in outlining the determinants of a poet. -Ron Price, with thanks to Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1976, pp.1-53.
Quite a fitting message
for one like me
who has just left the workaday world
for a while and would like to leave
traces that will last forever.
Quite a fitting message
for one like me
who would like to have readers
who feel I have been their friend
for a hundred years.
Quite a fitting message
for one like me
who starts a poem with a fire
but continues and writes
with a quiet residual heat,
a contemplative coolness.
Quite a fitting message
for one like me
who, as unique selector,
draws on an individual,
14 April 1999
Poets seek a voice, a mode of writing, a means of creating a language in which the meanings of their private experiences can be constituted, a private form of intercourse, of communication, as if an audience were present. It is a language of privacy restricted to those capable of entering into and sharing that privacy, to those who possess the same or similar private experience. It involves taking past events and fixing them onto concrete realities of the present time. It involves recovering the poet’s self-presence, taking stock of the past, grasping their present moment without which the past ceases to have any meaning. The past lives on in this ‘recollection’ and the future lives in advance. This is eternity.
-Ron Price from ideas in In the Beginning Was the Deed: Reflections on the Passage of Faust, Harry Redner, University of California Press, London, 1982.
I go back and dig
and bring something
into my world,
fixing it to my life,
reconstituting my day,
my private world,
and I share it
with those who can
and want to understand.
This is my voice, my trademark,
my language, my inner world,
my past, present, future and eternity.
12 April 1999
Ernst Cassirer, commenting on Goethe’s autobiography Poetry and Truth, says that Goethe did not mean by such a title "that he had inserted into the narrative of his life imaginary or fictitious elements." Goethe meant, rather, that "he wanted to discover and describe the truth about his life; but this truth could only be found by giving to the isolated and dispersed facts of his life a poetical, that is, a symbolic shape." -Ron Price with thanks to Richard B. Schwartz, A Preface to the Life, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1978, p.38.
To give poetic form to the real
is what I am on about,
as I shape and fashion my days,
a certain heightening
and intensification of reality,
somewhat like a painting,
a still life of van Gogh
with his vivid colours:
a man in the condition of his time,
continuities and discontinuities,
some moral analysis of
my own predicament,
28 April 1999
Give a poet a mask, a persona, and you will hear the truth. The truth about the personality and writings, about life and society, comes more easily when uttered from behind the many masks, the veils, of poetic persona, alter egos and their many selves. Showing one’s heart to the world, in its fragile vulnerability, is not wise. "Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed," as Baha’u’llah emphasizes. Often words are not timely, nor suited to the ears of the hearer. For these reasons, masks are necessary things, drawing on the supreme instruments of liberation, reason and imagination. For we all must suffer according to our gifts and the circumstances of history and these masks, this poetry, while not removing the suffering, simply give it a voice.--Ron Price with thanks to Gary Schmidgall, The Stranger Wilde: Interpreting Oscar, Dutton, NY, 1994, Chapter 18.
When to the sessions of sad and happy memories,
I summon up the spirits of all those whom
in history’s long embrace,
I would have any and all of them back,
but on one condition:
that we all could partake of blissful joy,
of heavenly delight, as assuredly as I sit here.
Free from the vanity, the emptiness,
the semblances of the real,
the flatness in the choreography,
we might enjoy unimaginable places,
orchards of happiness,
rose gardens of acceptance,
of nearness, like home,
within precincts of transcendent mercy.
In such conditions we could go on together
in perpetuity to the end that hath no end,
25 June 1999
Rollo May is a member of the first generation of American existential-phenomenological analysts. In fact, he is the first writer to introduce European existentialism into the USA. He sees meaning as the basic stuff of our psychological selves. Poetry and thinking are seen as collaborators and part of our ruminating , responsive selves. The critical question asked by the poet, the human being, is: "what do I feel at this moment?" When the poet relates to human beings there is something going on that is infinitely more complex, subtle, rich and powerful than we realize.1 To May and existential analysts, consciousness is "our capacity to transcend the immediate situation and live in terms of the possible." The loss of a sense of community is seen as an acute problem of modern human beings. Understanding the environment involves far more than describing it. The most crucial fact about existence is that it emerges.
"What we seek to become," May wrote, "determines what we remember we have been." We also remember what has significance for our style of life. This remembering is a creative process and is a mirror of our life-style. It also "depends on our decisions with regard to the future." The past becomes alive, writes May, if things in the future matter enough to us. Some hope and commitment to work for something in the future changes that future. Self, to Rollo May, is the capacity to see oneself in many situations. And the creative act enables us to reach beyond death.
I have written a great deal about poetry in my 6500 poems, perhaps as many as three to five million words, the vast majority of which are not on this site. This website has some 400 thousand words and 4000 pages. I leave this poetry page on my website in the shape it now has after ten years of operating a website. (8/97-8/07)
1Notes on Rollo May's The Discovery of Being: Writings on Existential Psychology, WW Norton and Co., NY, 1983, p.23.