Many of my poems are written about some immediate situation, event or personal activity. Some of these 'immediate events' are placed in a context of history and society. Some are ongoing events, like the writing of poetry itself. Readers will find here some poetry and an interview. This poetry, for the most part, gives an accent to my immediate experience. Indeed, over a million words are now devoted to this prose-poetry as I call it. There are now, too, some 30,000-40,000 words available in the form of interviews: one of these interviews, simulated interviews I should add, is found below--after several poems.....
THE ONENESS OF EXPERIENCE
Twice in the last four months I have heard the poet-novelist Michael Ondaatje interviewed on the radio. What he had to say about writing his novels was descriptive of why and how I go about writing poems. Writing, said this Canadian/SriLankian writer, is an exit from the things in life you can't do or understand or don't want to do or understand. One can do and understand only a small portion of life's activity and conundrum. Writing is one of the great escapes in life and one of the forms of intense engagement all at once. Ondaatje did not say all of this. I've just expanded on a basic point he made. He said he does not plan what he writes; the writing, characters and plot, evolves out of the language and its focus and it is hard work. The plot is not there until he finishes his book. This also true of the process of my writing poetry. Voice, Ondaatje went on, comes along in the process; it is difficult to know just where it comes from. -Ron Price with thanks to "Michael Ondaatje," ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 5 March 2002.
Yes, Michael, voice came along
insensibly in that first decade,1
mysteriously welled-up, grew,
found its place as the black marks
appeared line after line on the pages.
The poem comes along insensibly, too,
the same way, mysteriously, wells-up,
grows, finds its place on the page,
life making its mark, telling its tale,
bring the inner and outer into one form.
And so I renew my life, life, express
what you might call a certain, distinctive
planetary sensibility, a spiritual-moral vision,
a maker-agent of a new culture and the oneness
of humankind, of all reality and my experience.2
1 1992-2002: perhaps it evolved in the years 1962-1992 or 1944-1994 or........in ways I can neither understand nor describe.
2William Carlos Williams in "Communion," Eric Elliott, December 1989.
5 March 2002
Arnold Toynbee discusses the stimulus of difficult physical environments, the stimulating effect of a hard, demanding place, a region that is unusually troublesome, on the people resident there. He says that the response of people who live in such places surpasses the response of people in easier environments.1 One of the many examples he describes is the Israelites and the Phoenicians. The home of the Israelites was a thin-soiled, uninviting, no-man's land and, although it remained obscure and unknown even down to the time of the Greek historian Herodotus, seven centuries after Moses, it became one of the world's great nations in its spiritual understanding.'2 Civilization and great difficulty, Toynbee argues, seem to go hand in hand. It seemed to me that there was a message here for the Baha'i community. The following poem explores this message. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. 2, Oxford UP, 1962, pp. 31-73; and 2ibid.,p.55.
They would bring into being,
would be an agent,
for global civilization,
some mysterious force,
some means of grace,
some fresh influence
amidst the tangled fears,
the massive complexity
the endless pundits of error,
the forecasts of doom,
the phantoms of a wrongly
The darkest, most frightening
time in history, stimulating,
transforming this scattered
collection of people
into a global, unified
and harmonious civilization.
1The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 156.
7 March 2002
Sometimes an event in one's daily life is deserving of a poem, at least the feeling arises that "I should write a poem about this." Perhaps the feeling that arises is part of something Wittgenstein once wrote about poetry and philosophy, namely, that "philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry."1 Perhaps the inspiration to write a poem arises from the feeling that, as Hume once wrote, it is the business of poetry to bring every affection near to us by lively images and representation; or, perhaps, as Proust once wrote, it is to express something that has struck the heart or the imagination;2 perhaps it is a simple taking pleasure in one's own sensibility;3 or, finally, like Seamus Heaney, it's essentially a part of putting the practice of poetry more deliberately at the centre of my life.4 -Ron Price with thanks to 1L.Wittgenstein, Culture and Value and 2 Marcel Proust, Selected Letters: 1880-1903, Doubleday and Co., Garden City, NY, 1983, p.xxii; 3 idem and 4 Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose: 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, 1980, p.13.
There were twelve girls
up on the benches
in the little sauna bath
for the first time
in their young lives.
I was having my monthly trip
to this hot room, to the spa
and pool to relax the timbers
of my aged being as I stepped
up to to the top bench where
it was hottest, always hottest.
These nymphs came from a
private school, grades 3 to 5,
their little bodies in their little
bathing suits, such little girls,
full of life: would they always
be in danger in this new Age?
I poured some cold water
from my bottle on their shoulders
one at a time, surprized I was to
receive their invitation—and me
someone they hardly knew and
we laughed and talked spontaneously.
There was that engagement which comes
in some fast exchanges, but not quite enough
to move us all into that Water of Life--that
would have been too fast—in minutes this
delightful, refreshing, symbiosis ended as fast
as it had begun, here at the end of the Antipodes.
8 December 2001
THE MAJOR ORIENTATION
The year I joined the Baha'i Faith, 1959, a book called The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills was published. For a young Baha'i youth like myself, attempting to understand the nature of the non-partisan system that was the Baha'i Faith and the starkly contrasting socialist and liberal parties in Canada that I had grown up with, this book could not have been more timely. Mills argued that "our major orientations--liberalism and socialism--have virtually collapsed as adequate explanations of the world and of ourselves."1 I did not read the book in 1959, but in my studies of politics and sociology during the years 1963 to 1967, I came across Mills' works. It was during these university years that I acquired my initial understanding of the global Baha'i system of administration and organization as well as an intellectual underpinning and orientation to the partisan politics that would be an unavoidable part of my daily diet and the diet of all those who attempted to be informed about what was going on in the affairs of state at the local, regional, national and international levels. -Ron Price with thanks to C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination, NY, Oxford UP, 1959.
I'm not a party man,
just have no affiliation, man.
I vote for the man, man,
but getting to know the man
is no easy trick in this complex land.
So, for the last forty years I have
oriented myself to understanding
the structure and drift, the shaping
and meaning of the epoch, the time,
the terrible and magnificent world
of human society in which I am caught.
I have a high sense of mission,
keeping aloof from the partisan,
turning all my forces to this Cause,
this Administration, for this is what
will help the millions and those crying
out, this is what will help build a refuge
for humankind-but it seems so slow---
but then Rome was not built in a day—
some say twenty-five centuries!!!!!
24 October 2001
DIEING AND BEING REBORN
The man could not look out of a window without seeing something that had never been there before.-J.M. Barrie on Thomas Hardy in The World of Poetry: Poets and Critics on the Art and Function of Poetry, Selected by Clive Sansom, Phoenix House, London, 1959, p.86.
A poem gives the world back to the maker of the poem, in all its original strangeness, the shock of its first surprise. It is capable of doing the same for the rest of us. -John Hall Wheelock, Poets of Today, 1954 in ibid., p.86.
Even the sun and the moon are novel curiosities;
who wants to get used to stars?
When you come away from death’s grasp
and darkness’s engulfing night an unfathomable
beauty and mystery hits your eye.
When you die everyday from some mortal wound,
some day-star of divine mystery is rekindled
in your breast, a radiant dawn breaks and
you are reborn, but then you die again
in the whispering embrace of Satin.
Simplicity and freshness, unsubdued by habit,
unshackled by custom, join to wonder and
the poet explores his own amazement
at what he sees, as if for the first time,
in the forest of time on the crumbling bark,
wet leaves and under the glistening sun.
Can he convey this pristine beauty
which overwhelms his senses and fills
them to overflowing with their compelling
sweetness and a vision he can scarecly express?
18 September 1995
PIPELINES AND QUIBBLES
All that one relinquishes of the past is not so consciously shed as the events of imperious yesterday which cut through our enjoyment of the present and which we simply call ‘forgetting.’ -With thanks for an idea to Roger White, Notes Postmarked the Mountain of God, 1992, p.7.
If I didn’t think our mistakes were
the source of our best learning
I’d be irredeemably saddened
by some of my bitterest lessons:
like the woman I once loved whom
I drove away with my intense vision
which I wanted her to wear and by
an anger which seemed to grow
like some weed in my garden shutting
out the glow in her golden hair.
like the woman I once knew
called my mother whom I sacrificed
on the anvil of my own petard
and whose loneliness I did not see,
so blind was I to her very need;
I did not hear her cry, so caught up
was I in my own brave and lonely deed.
Do not mock the wine; it is bitter
only because it is my life! Rumi
once said. But so, too, is it sweet:
the cup of pure and limpid water*
this is the final honey of life,
a certain indifference: for one brings
one’s past into the present and finds
providence revealed in calamity,
even the one in today’s pipeline,
for there’s always a new pipeline.
And then there is the inevitable quibble,
some inner dissenting voice for one knows that
God’s will has not entirely appropriated his.
With quiet elation he turns to his book,
his garden view and his silence. The fan
blows a breeze relentlessly, effortlessly,
like the past which is never relinguished,
consciously shed, as easily as this wind
which blows in his face, or those branches
in the garden which give all their beauty
and form to nature’s zephyrs, forever.
28 December 1995
* ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, p.239.
I was impressed recently by the art work of Richard Long. I saw a demonstration of his stone work on television several years ago and last week I borrowed his book Walking in Circles from one of Tasmania’s best, most extensive libraries. The following interview which I have ‘choreographed’ is a result of reading about his philosophy, reading an interview with him and looking at his wonderful work in stone, wood and his own ‘choreography’ of art. This interview was also influenced by the words of Robert Creeley about poetry in The American Poetry Review(Sept/Oct, 1999, pp.17-18) -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
Interviewer(I): Do you think that artists are difficult to get to know, that they are virtually invisible.
Price(P): Yes, most artists are virtually invisible; very few make it into the media, into the world of fame and publicity. Many artists would like their work to be known, but they would prefer to remain in the background. That is understandable. As far as those who do get to be known by the masses it is largely a superficial knowing. Occasionally, a biography is written about someone’s life, then some depth is possibly revealed. The biography industry has unearthed increasing numbers of good quality work, though often the artist is dead by then. The biography section of a good library has become massive.
I think people generally, though, are difficult to get to know to any depth. That is why I have pursued autobiography as I have. "Know thyself" has quite specific and profound meanings to me in this entire work Pioneering Over Four Epochs. After living in so many places and ‘knowing’ so many people over more than 40 years in my 'journey', I can think of many people whose biography I would enjoy writing. For some time I was interested in the life of Roger White. But he argued over and over that his life was not worth writing about. Actually I did write a brief biography of Roger, several pages. I sent it to him; he made a number of corrections and returned it to me making it clear that he could see little value in me or anyone else writing a detailed biography of his life.
I should add that after writing brief biogrpahical statements of some two dozen Baha'is back in the 1980s in the Northern Territory, I concluded that there was a general disinterest in the subject. After attempting to continue the process when I lived in Perth in the 1990s I realized it was an uphill battle and I gradually lost enthusiasm for this literary exercise. Looking back over these years, I could argue that my interest in writing autobiography partly arose out of the difficulties I had in writing biography. But to write a significant and useful biography, like the one recently published on the Canadian Baha'i Angus Cowan, requires a passion, an enthusiasm and a direction that perhaps my peripatetic existence has militated against. And so I lead the way in Baha'i literature toward an autobiographical thrust.
Henry James and Anthony Trollope became disenchanted with the biographies they were working on. The fields of both biography and autobiography are littered with manuscripts which are incomplete. I have come to settle for pleasant conversation when human interaction is unavoidable, but I make no attempt to write the stories of others as I did for perhaps a dozen years. To a large extent now, I keep human conversation to a minimum, having had enough for a lifetime. Each artist’s invisibility has different roots. The energy I used to pour into talking and listening for most of the first forty years of this pioneering experience, 1962-2002, I now pour into writing and reading.
I know I'm wandering a bit, but to conclude....
The main poetic company I had in the first dozen years of writing poetry, my formative years, was Roger White. It was ‘a company defined by letters,’ as Robert Creeley might have called it.(The American Poetry Review, Sept/Oct, 1999, p.18) He was there at the start from 1980 to 1992. In the years 1993 to 1999 the company I had was, for the most part, books: ‘a company defined by books,’ dozens and dozens of them. I found email, public reading in cafes, etc., publishing, unrewarding and, in the case of publishing, virtually impossible. Even though I was a successful entertainer in public and had been for years as a teacher, I found it increasingly a source of fatigue, a medium I had overworked, was overworked. After thirty years of having a listening audience as a teacher I had come to derive little enthusiasm from a form of interaction that resembled the role of a teacher. Even feedback from individuals, ranging as it did from glowing praise to outright indifference and disinterest, was generally not useful. My wife’s feedback I found most helpful. She was critical: ‘a company defined by affinity’.
More recently, I have found my first meaningful email relationship. It may lead to the eventual publication of my first chapbook as it has already to an enriching dialogue. I suppose this is essentially ‘company by email.’ Occasionally someone comes into my email horizon and a series of emails results that is quite satisfying. Email has its dangers, though; one must be sensitive to its use or one can be dumped with piles of garbage one doesn’t want to read. But as a medium it lends itself to the simple transmission of poetry.
I: Richard Long says that artists are map-makers of human consciousness and of the spiritual world as well as measurers and describers of the natural world. Do you agree?
P: Everyone’s life is a map and everyone makes maps. When I was in my teens I bought a religio-philosophical map that has guided my journey for over forty years now. I make my own map from this master-map. This map is used as the basis for my exploration. My poetry reveals just how I use this map.
I: How are your ideas born, where does the energy come from and how do they develop into poems? Do you know what you’re doing? Are you perfectly secure in your writing?
P: Ideas for poetry are born of intuition, there’s a lightness right at the start, a quickness, a feeling of "connection, of yes, of aha, there’s something here, this is good, I like this." The poem is an effort at taking these feelings, this brightness and giving it form, development, substance, more than the airy-nothing, the vagueness, the potentiality which it is at that starting point and which it will be, if I don’t work on it and give it shape.
The energy comes from books, from experiences, from being in a room alone and being with others in social situations. I also liike to think it comes from "souls who have gone on." I have been praying for their assistance for several decades now. Baha'u'llah tells me they can help me. I believe Him. But I can not 'prove' they are helping me. I don't have any extrasensory impressions. Ideas come in a myriad of ways. The poem becomes a stopping point in my journey, a brief visible moment, a resting place in that same journey, a sustained note, a punctuation mark, a point I can look back on later in life in quite a different way than the normal memory trip. The whole exercise of writing the poem is usually quite spontaneous, quite fast, although on occasion the poem takes two or three hours to take form.
I feel a strong sense that I know what I am doing. I also have an equally strong sense of security, but not all the time. I have my vulnerabilities, my losses, my incapacities. They are legion. With each poem, or group of poems, I define the process more sharply, more definitively, more comprehensively. In writing poems I pay a lot of attention to what I am doing, to giving the process a description. I would say, looking back over what must be at least two million words now, that there is an ongoing poetic analysis of process, of content, of relationships between what I am doing, my writing, and myself, my Faith and my society which are the three corners of the geometric triangle that is my poetry.
The sense of security I feel is not arrogance, superiority, or self-righteousness. It is a composite feeling that is firstly inspired by my religious commitment, the faith that is built on this commitment, something that is reflected in all the appropriate protocols of piety I know as a faithful petitioner and practitioner. It is also a feeling that takes me out to sea, with my spirit wrung, with remorse on my wings, with an open wet world beyond which I do not always approach with courage and which I sometimes apporach with sadness. I am aware of my cowardice, for I am human.
I: Would you go so far as to see your own life as your poetry?
P: Yes, I often feel I am the path which is outlined in my poetry. It is a line of movement between the many places I have travelled, the many experiences I have had. It is a path, a line, conditioned by my thoughts, feelings, indeed everything that has happened to me. Not all of it is down on paper, of course. What is not there will disappear into oblivion and be no more, eventually, except perhaps traces in the lives of others I have known, traces that are for the most part not observable. What is there is my line; I walk my line. We all walk our own line; it is the easiest thing a human being can do to put our mark on a place—and the hardest! My words have a substantive actuality about them for my poems are autobiographical and I bring my society and my Faith into relation with my self. I don’t do this in all my poems but in many of them I do.
Every work of art, every poem, has its own mysterious sense of purpose about it, except for the works of those, I suppose, who see their work as devoid of purpose. This purpose comes partly from the traces of energy used in the making of the work, or perhaps this purpose uses these traces of energy. There is an energy connected with the spiritual path as defined in the Baha’i teachings. There is an energy in aloneness and its simplicity. Purpose is also connected with a withdrawal of energy and its defining, delimiting, function. Purpose also comes from the viewer’s own inner journey in relation to mine, to me, the provider of the poetry.
I try to keep all channels of sensitivity open, to experience things as keenly and immediately as possible and to explore as deeply into reality as I can. My poetry, in the end, should be a conveyor of this feeling ; for, as Pound once said, only emotion endures.
I: Tell us a little about some of your thoughts on poetry.
P: Writing poetry is like finding your place in a room, in a group, on a street, in a town, in a state, in a country, in the world. Finding your place, bringing the physical things around you into the right, the most suitable, relationship. The process is dynamic; so is the process of writing poetry. You have to find the right set of words and when you find it, you move on to another poem, to another part of life. It’s like making everything your friend, making it familiar, even when you’ve never seen it before. You do the same with people, so you are comfortable wherever you go in the world, as long as you’re not freezing or roasting. The process of writing poetry is a poeticizing of your world, of a translation of the familiarization and the estrangement, yes, estrangement, because you can’t win it all. You are going to hurt, be hurt, feel alone, afraid, joyful, worn out, utterly fed-up with existence, et cetera.
I: Do you always feel happy when writing poetry?
P: Most of the time it is an exercise in concentrated pleasure. Effort, my life, my world, come together in a pleasing mix. This is what keeps me at it day after day, year after year, ten years of quite concentrated work, after a dozen years of more casual encounters. Also, by the time I had started writing poetry seriously, I was tired of a lot of things in life. Poetry was clearly a new lease on life. I’m happy and relaxed when I write; occasionally, when something has got under my skin and I’m feeling sad, despondent, unhappy, or whatever, writing poetry is like a conduit for this negativity. I usually work it out, like someone else might do in a physical workout. I do it also because it has deep meaning to me; the most profound, sublime feelings come to me when I work in the privacy of my chamber. I hope this sublimity comes through to the reader. If it does that is a bonus; thusfar I have not heard about it happening in others who read my poetry
8 December 1999
A MANIFESTATION OF BARBARISM?
In December 1989 The Simpsons aired for the first time on television. In the last 12 years, 1989 to 2001, this program and its characters have become an institution, a mass phenomenon. I was first introduced to the program by a class of 18 year old boys in a Tafe College in Perth about 1990. In the dozen years since its inception, I have met people who love The Simpsons and people who hate it, appauled they are by what they see as its low moral tone. It was with interest that I came across an article yesterday "Simpsons at the Gates: Intimations of the Coming Barbarism" located at The Simpsons Website. The author, Keith Gessen, makes many points about The Simpsons in his article. He talks about stories we tell in order to live. We order, he says, the anarchy of our experience into useful narratives.
Glessen refers to Allan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind and Bloom's concern at the collapse, the irrelevance, of the referenceable reality of the classical canon of western literature, the once critical provider of our stories. Glessen sees The Simpsons, among a host of other programs, as part of a great devouring of the tradition of western culture by means of idiocy and videocy or, as Gore Vidal puts it, having laughing gas pumped into lounge-rooms every night to the humour and delight of millions and billions. A plethora of cultural material has entered society since the beginning of 'the Kingdom of God on Earth' in 1953 when TV was beginning its conquering road; and since the unveiling of the Tablets of the Divine Plan in 1919 when radio was about to spread its sounds to every corner of th eplanet.
One thread among the trillions of threads of the billions of garments in the current cultural provided by these electronic media and their melange is the Baha'i Faith and its story. -Ron Price with thanks to Keith Glessen,"Simpsons at the Gates: Intimations of the Coming Barbarism," Internet, 13 October 2001.
We were just experiencing some of
that longed for entry-by-troops, signs
of an acceleration yet to come....when
We were just experiencing our first
heightened expectations from the
architectural design just adopted
for the Terraces and the realization
of the Guardian's vision along the
path of the kings.....when.........
We were just experiencing those
changes in attitude in the early stages
of the fourth epoch and thought to
ourselves: perhaps, peace was breaking
We were also experiencing the verve, the vision
and versatility of the International Teaching Centre
with warm admiration......when.............
As we entered the second half of the then
Six Year Plan,1 what some thought to be a
manifestation of barbarism entered our culture.
It insinuated itself into the hearts of millions
with a laugh and a chuckle, very clever....perhaps
the barbarians had finally arrived.
Were their names The Simpsons?
Surely not? Surely......when??
1The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1989.
15 October 2001
"Life, as we experience it," wrote W.H. Auden, "is primarily a continuous succession of choices between alternatives." The journey of life seems infinitely long and the possible and distant destinations far removed from each other, "but the time spent in actual travel is infinitesimally small." As Auden sees it, on this journey there are three or four "decisive instants" that carry us the whole way through life. I think there is some truth in this way of looking at our lives. The several decisions, several instants, in my life that have been crucial have been: becoming a Baha'i in 1959, pioneering among the Eskimo in 1967, pioneering overseas in 1971, marrying my first wife in 1967 and my second in 1975. There are several other instants I could include here, but this core it could arguably be said has got me through the whole of life. -Ron Price with thanks to Richard Davenport-Hines, Auden, Minerva, London, 1995, p.1.
There are dozens, hundreds,
thousands, of lesser moments
of transportation along life's
road of blissful solitude
and its occasional nightmare,
its ordinary ordinariness,
the giddy collective gallop,
amidst bleak-gray and radiant-light,
moving as we all do toward
the black earth and the hole
for those who speak no more,
through endless introspection
and our humble attempts to sing
praise in the prison of our days.1
1 Auden, 1939.
9 October 2001
THE HEALING WALK
Unlike the vast majority of my poems which are written with a light heart and with the serious but pleasureable pace of life within me, this poem is written with a heavy feeling as if one of life’s arrows had pierced the normal shield that protects me from various aspects of life’s travail. And so I put up my especial shield of poetry which satisfies the craving of my mind to react adequately to life.-Ron Price with thanks to J.C. Powys, In Spite Of: A Philosophy for Everyman, Village Press 1974(1953), p.289.
far more than ever.
more than in months.
and done everything
in my repertoire
and this poem
is my last defence
against innermost turmoil,
and deep brooding misery.
It’s just a more extreme form
of the soar-plunge,
the bi-polar tendency,
which is part of my life
right to the central core
and poetry will always be flawed,
because flesh is flawed
and we know that:
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.1
Of course, you will never be lost to me,
my dearest man.
I struggle here in this poem to ease the pain,
the perplexity and the complexity of it all.
If I could just have more of that self-forgetfulness
it would all be gone and time would perform
its great healing walk.
1 Shakespeare, Sonnet 64.
21 June 1999
BUYING A PIE
This poem was written while sitting in a parking lot behind the Park Heights apartments on Subiaco Road, opposite Kitchener Park, while the football fans streamed out of an afternoon footy game at the Subiaco Oval. I was resting in the middle of moving my son and my step-daughter into their new flat in Cottesloe, on the eve of the winter solstice. My wife and I had gone out to buy some hot food to help keep us going on one of those all-day jobs.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 3:30 pm, 20 June 1999.
The birds still sing,
white clouds float by
in a sea of clear blue,
the Sunday arvo footy1game
still packs-em-in by the thousands,
although there aren’t many places
to buy a pie at 3:30 in the afternoon.
A normal winter freshness is in the air
and the sun, intense and warm,
sets the world aglow.
You’d never know it was the
darkest hour before the dawn
in this age of transition, perhaps
the darkest hour in the history
of humankind’s several civilizations.
20 June 1999
1 arvo is an Australian expression for ‘afternoon’; footy is a vernacular expression for ‘Australian football.’
THERE WAS A NEW WIND BLOWING WITH YOUR LAUGHS, JACK
Jack Lemon died today. He was a famous actor of the twentieth century. He was born in 1925. The year I pioneered in 1962 he played in Days of Wine and Roses. He came into prominence during the Ten Year Crusade and was active in the film industry for over half a century in more than one film per year. The persona he developed was of a humorous character usually with some weakness or fault. Like so many of the actors and actresses in the first eighty years of the Formative Age, Jack Lemon served as part of the backdrop, for Baha'is who liked watching films, of the texture of the Formative Age.
Lemon was part of a system that projected a world, through thematic and social conventions, values and institutions, that seemed natural and self-evident. That world habituted its audiences to accept the basic premises of the social order and its ideology. But, beginning in the 1950s/1960s, the social consensus both in society and in film began to 'come apart.' Jack Lemon and his films were part of this questioning of society's dominant myths and values.1 -Ron Price with thanks to "The Jim Leher Hour," SBS TV, 5-6 pm, 29 June 2001; and 1 M. Ryan and D. Kellner, Camera Politica: The Politics of Contemporary Hollywood Film, Indiana UP, Bloomington, 1990, p.3.
People began to question,
if they had not already,
the dominant ways of doing things
during those Ten Year Crusade years.
That most wonderful
and thrilling motion
which appeared in the world,
that inception of the Kingdom
of God on earth1
was blowing onto cinema screens
and transforming our world,
little did we know.
Your work, Jack, back then,
back when I had just taken-off
into my pioneering world,
your Days of Wine and Roses,2
was more than part of some
It was part of a permeation
of light to the entire planet.1
1 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.351.
2Frankly portrayed alcoholism in 1962.
3one critic's characterization of films in the early to mid-sixties.
29 June 2001
I don’t recall crying as much as I did in the thirty-one hour period from 3 am 21 June 1999 to 10 am 22 June 1999, just passed. But I think this tearful period has ended, at least its intense expression. It was precipitated by my son moving out of home to set up his own place in Perth, part of a process involving as it does the move of my wife and I to Tasmania. I did not anticipate my tearful emotional reaction. It came like a bolt out of the blue. The sense of loss on the one hand and the sense of being "worried for him" combined to bring the tears. In addition, as I point out in the poem Wisdom and Balance, 21 June 1999, I gained a new appreciation of what my mother and my wife went through when they ‘lost’ their children. My tears were also for them. They were an expression of my own regret and remorse, which I trust, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha says, will root out weakness, mine.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript,1999.
Would I have done it any differently
back then when it was your heart on the block?
Would I have aimed at the status quo,
the familiarity, the sameness,
made some adjustment
to keep your heart from breaking,
knowing what I know now?
I’d like to think I would.
My kinder self says
I would not have wanted to hurt you.
But my realistic self,
the one that knows me well,
says it had to happen the way it did, then,
as this has to happen the way it is
and I must learn acceptance
the same way you did, though patience and pain,
sadness and a pull of the heart-strings
to the point where you think they’d break.
And they do, but some spiritual surgery
puts them back together with new strength.
22 June 1999
The following poem was written while my wife talked to three men at Spot-On Motor Trimmers on King Street off Beechboro Rd in Bayswater, a suburb of Perth. It was about closing time on a Friday afternoon. A slight wind was blowing through this light industrial area, one of many such areas in Perth. I sat on the front seat of our new 1989 Ford Courier Crew-Cab which we had just purchased three days before for our trip to Tasmania. I had felt a poem brewing all afternoon after my wife had called me into our garden to show me her potted Bromeliad.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 18 June 1999.
She called me into her garden.
I was never equal to this task:
appreciating virginal beauty.
This was her world.
Her soul was here.
Our souls only touched at points,
past the many barriers.
Here was this red piercing thing,
wet with winter rain.
Long bright shining green leaves
on display for the world to see,
to protect red darts, soft curves,
beauty’s perfection in a cone,
could pierce your soul
if you looked long enough
beyond this ordinary world
of potted plants,
a wife and husband
standing prosaically side by side
not knowing, yet, what is love.
18 June 1999
TO PIONEER IS TO FAIL
"To travel," writes Frederick Ruf, "is to encounter some significant degree of failure in most of one's activities, and to witness the mocking of what one does."1 Travel, historically, meant discomfort and danger. This was before the conveniences of modern travel. In today's world people seek, paradoxically, the confusions of passage, the prolonged encounter with danger, discomfort, dislocation and failure. Without these problems the journey wound not be the same. Indeed, it would not be a journey at all. The usual frames of reference that situate us in reality are gone when we travel: time and space become fluid and strange. We become strange not only to the locals but to ourselves. This should not concern us for, as He says, failure is success, and "anguish is peace of mind."2 The following vahid follows this theme.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Frederick Ruf, "The Ride of Passage: The Pursuit of Danger, Trance and Failure in Mark Twain, Paul Bowles and Us, on The Internet, 31 July 2001; and 2'Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 1978, p.245.
Pioneering, like life,
is to travel,
as I have found,
from place to place,
a sense of loss
Such is the way it is
even if one does not
seek out these anxieties.
They come one's way
even now in the presence
of this tranquillity.
In time, death will come,
my final home
in an Unknown Country,
a mysterious Kingdom
at happy journey's end.1
1 'Abdu'l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, 1970, p.107.
31 July 2001
In 1937 a collection of D.H. Lawrence's journalism and miscellaneous writing called Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence1 was published. The book was published at the very start of the first Seven Year Plan. This Plan was, indeed, the beginning of the rise, yet again, of the phoenix from the ashes. In the ninety-three years since the Declaration of the Bab in 1844, this new Faith, this powerful Cause, had already arisen from its proverbial ashes several times. This time, through a series of Plans in fulfillment of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, this new world religion would continue on from strength to strength, although various crises would, at times, "threaten to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress (might) engender."2 -Ron Price with thanks to Ian MacKenzie, F.R. Leavis: A Life in Criticism, Allen Lane, 1995, p.184; and Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 1957, p.111.
A man's most vivid
emotional and sensuous
experience is inevitably
bound up with the language
that he actually speaks
and I strive, as far as possible,
to ensconse my poetry
in this language
so that people can feel,
become, the complex life
behind the words.
17 July 2001
The second century(1944-2044) is destined to witness...the first stirrings of that World Order, of which the present Administrative System is at once the precursor, the nucleus and pattern-an Order which, as it slowly crystallizes and radiates its benign influence...will proclaim the coming of age of the whole human race. -Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp.72-73.
The Parthenon, or whatever, is universal because it can continuously inspire new personal realizations in experience. It is simply as impossibility that any one today should experience the Parthenon as the devout Athenian contemporary citizen experienced it...The enduring art-product...was called forth by something occasional, something having its own date and place. But what was evoked is a substance so formed that it can enter into the experience of others and enable them to have more intense and more fully rounded out experiences of their own. -John Dewey, Art as Experience, Capricorn Books, NY, 1958(1934), p. 109.
And so it is universal and will go on
being so down the halls of time,
enriching and intensifying the
experience of those who are willing
to share in its beauty, to experience
it as something new, something mine,
to which I give the meaning, reordering
colour and shape in relation to myself,
to experience delight and overcome the
inchoate, restricted, apathetic, tepid,
fearful, conventional, routine through
some expansion, intensification, fullness:
ordering matter through form, on this journey
to these far places, distant gardens.
23 December 1995
SELVES ARE HARD TO COME BY
Poets who make their poems and their readers a part of their daily lives are a feature of our time. Poets in the past: Roman, Greek, renaissance, romantic did not place consciousness at the centre. Today, it seems to make little sense for a poet to deal with anything else. Is this because of our nightmare age, because desperation occupies the centre stage, or because we are too cozy and settled? Is this autobiographical focus the result of a perception that readers can never see the poem as it really is, never quite know what they see or quite see what they know? Or is it because poetry is about the whole world, about all of life and selves are hard to come by? -Ron Price with thanks to John Bayley, Selected Essays, Cambridge UP, NY, 1984, p.45, p.35
Poetry is where I live, life, my life.
Not words on a page but life projected,
thrown, with careful aim, with an
unprecedented effortlessness, as smoothly
as a professional pitcher throwing a ball
across the plate, an impressive naturalness,
an exhilarating complexity, a mystic sense
of reality, to see a pattern and plan in the
haphazard, chaotic and contradictory world
of experience, to help me create a life, my life,
to hold onto life for a moment and have a look,
another container for the effervescence of the soul,
to simplify, to create and perfect my place in existence:
a way of knowing myself, a tool to examine it all.
8 October 1996
A LETTER WRITTEN TODAY
...a mass conversion....will suddenly revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith....and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength...of the Faith of Baha’u’llah. -Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965, p.117.
Burlington, Ontario, Canada, 18 July 1953.
The crickets sing closely in the garden
on this warm summer night
as they always do this time of year.
I can hear familiar human voices
a few feet away.
My world is warm and safe and home--
and I am eight years old.
The world is new and fresh and familiar
even now. The screens have been there
on my window forever and my mother
is as old as the hills.
Fear hangs around the edges of my life
and the sound of my father
always brings a little my way.
I have no idea that the Kingdom of God
has just begun, nor do I know about the letter,
written only today, by a man in Haifa,
a little older than my father,
predicting what he calls ‘mass conversion.’
They are just big words to me now,
laying on these cool sheets
listening to my mother’s warm voice
and feeling a love I scarcely know,
in a world which is still so small.
30 April 1996
THIS INTIMATE WORLD
Whatever ambitions the modernist poets of the early decades of the twentieth century had toward making their art the vehicle of some grand union of science and religion, their work survives as a poetic revolution rather than an ideological one. These poets enlarged the field of sensibility, the very landscape, available to poetry. -Ron Price with thanks to Jacob Korg, Ritual and Experiment in Modern Poetry, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1995, p.192.
The lyric becomes feeling experimenting with its object....It becomes experimental....as it deals with an uncertainty, or, better, with a discontinuity of feeling from both an unidentifiable self and from any clearly defined occasion, it becomes a great exploration of poetry itself as the emotional accommodation of the world and its experience. -Bernard I. Duffey in: ibid., p.23.
They weren't able to pull it off,
but we've got it now--the grand union--
going down the road together
in one grand synthesis, at last.
But their work was a poetic revolution
preparing, purging and purifying us
for the great ideological thrust
that will capture and unify this planet
on a poetic landscape
as large as the universe itself
and as small as the microcosmic world
that is larger than the universe
and so small as to occupy no space.
And this lyric which is and is not lyric
depending on who you talk to
is unquestionably feeling, experimenting
with an object, a dozen objects,
a whole world and all that liveth
and moveth and is dead
and immoveable therein.
This great exploration of poetry
which has been engaging me
these several years deals with
continuities and discontinuities of self,
a self I have been playing with
on an inner landscape
and identifying the unidentifiable
in an elusive cat-and-mouse game
on clearly defined occasions
that slip irretrievably from my grasp
at the very moment that I tie them down;
for they only exist like some will-o'-the-wisp,
here today and gone tomorrow
into some marvellously mysterious,
that I could keep telling forever
with a million precisely delineated vignettes,
but still I am untouched
and still the reader is double-guessing
as he walks through my intimate world
of blessedness with its heedlessness
which destroys; this intimate world
which tells much of the past,
but more importantly talks of
a promise of things to come.
29 April 1996
LET’S GO ALL THE WAY
Described below is an evening spent in the home of an Australian couple. It was a typical evening. The conversation flowed smoothly and quickly. On other occasions, with other couples, the conversation is often not as flowing. This couple is one which my wife and I have known for about five years. I have tried to describe, as graphically as possible, the nature of the evening and the difficulty of talking about the Cause in any meaningful sense. The evening represents one venue, one situation, one typical teaching activity in a person’s home. It must be repeated ad nauseam across Australia and has been for many decades. -Ron Price, 11:00 am., 1 January 1996, Rivervale WA.
Well, there’s a five hour whiz-
evening, occasionally coming up
for gas conversations,
all very stimulating
as long as you can keep feeding
the machine with verbal fodder
just to maintain the pace at all times
with lots of food and drink thrown in
for good measure and sociability.
How many evenings I’ve had
like this in twenty-five years
on the international pioneer stage
in the Antipodes: Australia.
By God, I can talk
with the best of them now,
shift conversational gears
with razor-sharp speed,
touch down on the serious
or the inner life just to measure
the waters, mention the Cause
once or several times en passant
just to see if someone
would like to pick up on it,
play mental gymnastics,
a pot pourri, keeping it light,
from here to eternity.
I question the mileage gained,
the meaning, the purpose, the value
of endless discussions about trivia.
Make friends, you say, get to know
people, lay the foundation,
make a start, lay before these contacts
your inner life and private character
which ]mirror forth in their manifold aspects
the supreme claim of the Abha revelation.*
You become the entertainer, the raconteur,
the man-for-all-seasons, everybody’s somebody,
bouncing the verbal ball for five hours;
maybe there’s an infinitessimal glimmer,
the smallest of look-sees
into the inner chambers
of each other’s hearts, minds and souls.
Perhaps to the extent that
the outer is a reflection of the inner,
we make a start, build a bridge.
How many only saw the outer life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha?
Only a few seemed to see what Howard Ives saw.
So, too, do we dance around each other’s outer shells.
After twenty-five years of playing
pass-the-parcel in lounge rooms
and gardens all across Australia
I’ve become quite adept.
I’ve heard that faith is patience to wait;
I wonder if my inner life
will ever be good enough
and I ponder at the nature of a society
which rarely gets beyond the outer layers
of the parcel.** I’m tempted to yell:
take it off! take it off! Let’s go all the way!
1 January 1996
*Shoghi Effendi, Guidance for Today and Tomorrow. This quotation is part of one of the more famous of the Guardian’s statements. It begins: "Not by the force of numbers..." Shoghi Effendi says that our success in teaching ultimately rests on our inner life and how that inner life mirrors, in its manifold aspects, the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
** pass-the-parcel is a children’s game that can also be played by adults and consists of passing a small article, wrapped up in many layers of paper, from one person to the next. The person who has the parcel when the music stops takes off one layer of paper and then must leave the game. The person who is never caught with the parcel when the music stops wins. The game usually generates lots of laughs and excitement and the pace is quite fast. I have a theory, developed from twenty-five years of playing this game-as a pioneer-that social evenings like the one described above are just that, social. We take layers of ourselves off. The Baha’i should not attempt to get into anything serious insofar as the Cause is concerned, or indeed any other serious topic for that matter in the course of the first few evenings. People seem to find it difficult to take off too many layers to pursue the serious, the inner person.(See the writings of sociologist George Simmel on sociability for a theoretical/analytical discussion of what I am saying here). Serious stuff comes outside this context on a one-to-one basis or a special meeting convened for seriousness because the person has indicated their interest or you have spontaneously invited them. These are just a few reflections on a ‘fireside’ situation I have been in so many times and which this poem attempts to describe.___________________________________
CONTRADICTIONS AND CONFIRMATIONS
Like Shakespeare, Montaigne is, in a sense, our contemporary. Few writers of the sixteenth century are easier to read today, or speak to us as directly and immediately as he does. It is difficult not to like Montaigne, and almost equally difficult not to treat him as one of ourselves. -Peter Burke, "Montaign", Renaissance Thinkers, Oxford UP, NY, 1993, p. 305.
Here was a man who praised the
inner life and private character,1
stripping public life of pretence,
the outward show that perverts reason,
not to give oneself up completely
to public affairs, but to give oneself up
to a challenging private realm,
some touch-stone of the heart
and the inevitable wandering mind
whose dark depths and inner folds
are not completely penetrable
by whatever thorny enterprise we choose.
For every movement and idiosyncrasy,
in public or in private, reveals us
and our natures. We can have solitude
amid the public gaze and be in company
when alone: such are the contradictions
of life which we learn as we travel the road
to self-acceptance and the enjoyment
of our natures in serenity and wisdom,
with those confirmations and assistance
from the threshold of Oneness.2
12 October 1996
1the Guardian placed these arenas of human experience in a preeminent place. They mirror forth in their manifold aspects the great truths of this Cause. The success of the teaching work depends quintessentially on this mirroring of the inner life.
2‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, p.5.
AFTER THE BOMB
Price’s intention has rarely been the statement of visionary experience, although he tries to incorporate some of it in his poetry. Rather, his is a dogged probing of all the routine business of life in search of the real, the quick, the marrow, in all its detail, its texture, its meaning and an attempt to intertwine this quotidian world with the visionary. In this way he attempts to make poetic conquests in the many categories of the prosaic. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, May 30, 1996.
A vast aggregate of our experience is: dismissed, buried in the inner recesses of awareness below the conscious level, reduced to a few functional impressions, out of touch with our feelings. Lyric poetry is written as a response to this reality. It seeks to describe intense but transient sensations and emotions. It seeks to suspend parts of our primary experience for a moment in time to be savoured and relished.-Yohma Gray, "The Poetry of Louis Simpson", Poets in Progress, Northwestern UP, 1967, pp.227-50.
It’s gone now, so much of today,
yesterday, all days and their millions
of bits of time and stuff, buried
in the inner recesses of my mind.
Then, I mainline, direct line,
straight line, back to yesterday,
yesteryear, back to Jill Smith’s
blond hair, with a face more beautiful
than anything I had known;
the coloured maple leaves in October
on the driveway, their last dance before
winter’s chill, kill; the music of the crickets
on hot July evenings, sweet warm sounds
after a scorcher. All of this in 1950
when I was only six
in the aftermath of the bomb.
There was so much more happening
that I did not know then-
the Commemoration of the Centenary
of the grinding in the mill of adversity,
the martyrdom of the Bab,
that Holy Seed of infinite preciousness,
which I can savour now, taste its crushing oil,
see sparks ignited to outdance those crickets,
with greater colour and beauty
than all that I knew that summer
back then after the bomb.
30 May 1996
Nothing more about "today," I say....