23. PRICE’S POETRY
INTRODUCTION TO THIS POETRY
I feel a strong connection with, a strong influence from, the poetry of Roger White. I find the famous literary critic Harold Bloom places my relationship as a poet with the poetry of White in a helpful perspective. The work of other poets, too, help to define my own work. And so I open this section with poems that describe and define some of these relationships. There is a strong introspective sense in this poetry and I have included here an interview which explores the 'phenomenological' orientation of my poetry, thus providing some sense of the philosophy underpinning my poetic narrative.
What readers make of all this poetry, or some part of it, should they ever delve into it to any depth, will depend, of course, on how they focus and what they bring---what stories and plots and words from their own lives1---to their reading of what I see as an extended poetic narrative, an epic poem. Readers inevitably attribute meaning to words in quite personal ways. Words are themselves not fixed or definite in meaning; they are fluid and functional, not irrevocable things. The inferences, the meanings, behind this epic poem, now composed of nearly six thousand individual poems and two to three million words, can be drawn in so many different ways by both myself and the many readers who come to this oeuvre in the decades--and I like to think--centuries, ahead. For what is here are, as Virginia Woolf expressed it so beautifully, "flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its myriad messages through the brain."2 -Ron Price with thanks to Marguerite Harkness, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Voices of the Text, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1990, 1p.53 and 2p.13.
There's so much messiness,
stuff all over the place
that just keeps accumulating
as the years go by
adding up their days
hardly worth recording--
if I was more interested
in gardening, or art
or one of a dozen things
that keep my wife busy
from dawn to dusk
year after year.
But I give all this stuff order,
the undisciplined flux,
the fleetingness of thought,
that can't be integrated
and made solid--
I give it a shape, a form,
and all is form, at least
Wilde saw it that way.
And so mysterious connections
that rumble in my private world
become shapes on pages
and I can call it poetry.1
1 Drusilla Modjeska, "A mystery of connections," The Weekend Australian Review, December 1, 2002, pp.4-5.
---Ron Price 1 December 2002
Every poet follows his own genius, his own poetic inclination and every poem dictates its own laws. For this reason poetry is, for me, an experiment. I exult in the freedom of the poet and in the independent, elastic and prodigious literary form that is the poem. I do not use the word 'prodigious' loosely. For I have now written some six thousand poems and two million words. I find this result, this productivity, 'marvellous' and 'enormous,' two of the meanings of 'prodigious.' I employ whatever terms and ideas are available to suit my needs and match the performance that evolves during the poetic exercise I am engaged in. The 'form' of each poem is its shape, a shape that results from the unfailing cohesion of all the ingredients in the poem and from the germinating idea or ideas at the centre of the poem. The success of each poem results from its intensity, its coherence and its completeness. During the writing of each poem my motive provides an intimate commerce, an avenue, a vehicle, for the flow of ideas, for the growth of taste and the active sense of life that each poem engenders. -Ron Price with thanks to J.A. Ward, The Search for Form: Studies in the Structure of James's Fiction, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1967, pp.4-9.
So many years of incessant labour
and a particular kind of observation
surely will come to something--
all this poeticizing,
some peculiar affection
for those leavening forces.
So many years of incessant labour
for this international spirit
breathing forth the perfume
of His Cause so that, one day,
it will not be passed over
by the thoughtful.
So many years of incessant labour,
one of the antennae of the race,
but the bullet-headed many
do not trust this antennae
and the slough of despond
continues with troubled
forecasts of doom.
So many years of incessant labour
to create means of communication.
This is the struggle,
the struggle of great art
to describe the different,
to write of it in poetry.
4 October 2002
Ezra Pound, "A Brief Note," Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1963, editor, Leon Edel, pp.27-30.
THE GENERAL POETIC TASTE
There are several models I could use for characterizing the progress of my poetry and whatever literary reputation accrues to it over the years. One is the gradualist approach in which the history of my poetry and its affects on many kinds of people is the history of the slow advance of the social force that is the Baha'i Faith with its unique role to play in the unification of this planet, of humankind. This gradualist approach would involve a slow advance of the institutions of this Cause to meet its poets. This gradualist approach would also involve the slow dissemination of my poetry and the acquisition of a group of enthusiasts who in various ways would push toward the acceptance of my work. Such a gradualist approach was formulated theoretically, in English, the year I was born, 1944. It is as follows and I paraphrase:
Somewhere, at some time, the poet follows the divine summons sent him and, true to an inner urge, responsible only to himself and answering no call from the outer world, creates his works of poetry that are dictated by the ideal that floats before him. The works brought into the light of day often show divergencies from existing forms and do not fit into the contemporary scheme of taste. Over time, though, the poetry finds friends, gains recognition and affects the general poetic taste. -Ron Price with thanks to Levin L. Schuckling, The Sociology of Literary Taste, trans. E.W. Dickes, 1931(1944), Oxford UP, NY, p.35.
And, then, there is the Kuhnian model:
a sudden saltatory discovery,
a rapid paradigm shift
and some acknowledgement
of this new, this original, poetic
after long and uncertain years.
If this poetic attains a popularity
perhaps some predisposition
made its popular reception
inevitable as the reception
of this Cause is inevitable.
As we build anew the world
with the fingers of His might and power,
this new Order will gain an ascendancy
over all competing social
and cultural authorities,
as Plato envisaged it,
in a new spiritual universe,
an ocean which we will swim in
In this dark heart of an age
will this poetry find a home
as I grow old, as the need
for these poems to exist
becomes more obvious.
And if there is no need for
these thousands of poetic
focal points, this voice
among many of a unified,
crystallized global community,
this bard who sings of Oneness,
I shall happily disappear
without a trace
behind the tangled fears of millions1
and the myriad phantoms of imagination's riot.
1Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, BE 156.
22 June 2002
THE TURNING OF EARLY MIDDLE AGE
During the years when the Guardian served his stewardship of the Cause and the years of my mother's young and middle adulthood an insurance man gradually rose to prominence in American poetry. He did not really become central to American poetry, though, until after 1965. He was Wallace Stevens. He has been described as the successor to Whitman and Dickinson. His published works appeared in the years 1923 to 1954, the year before he died. Late this week, I think it was on the last day of autumn, I began reading a collection of reviews of Stevens' poetry. For the most part they were uninspiring, tedious summaries of some aspect of Stevens' work, but the review by poetry critic Randall Jarrell, a review of Stevens' Collected Poems(1954), was truly a mind-opener. In the course of a few minutes the poetry of Wallace Stevens unfolded to my mind and heart. This book of reviews was published the year I began pioneering, 1962. Forty years later this American poet, sometimes called 'the intellectual's poet,' 'the poet of ideas,' a poet 'above economic and political squabbles,' had become part of my consciousness. He was a man, like myself, who turned to poetry in his early middle age.
To Stevens the poet who mattered was the person who could "synthesize the sum total of his experience, even if only momentarily." Such a poet's "mastery" may have "Left only the fragments found/in the grass/From his project, as finally magnified." These words come from Stevens' poem "Two Illustrations That the World Is What You Make Of It."1 Taking the world apart is an essential preliminary to seeing the world whole. Such is a very apt summary of my own poetic opus over the last decade. -Ron Price with thanks to Percy Hutchison, "Pure Poetry and Mr. Wallace Stevens," The New York Times on the Web, 9 August 1931.
So many of your poems, like mine,
are about poetry.
But I do not have quite the obsession
you have. I reveal much more about self.
I, too, seek the poem of the mind
in the act of finding what will suffice.
This was not always the case,
But has been since at least
That Holy Year1
Yes, the past became something
of a souvenir as the theatres
kept changing like some revolving door.
I had to construct a new stage
as I headed to the close of that
radiant twentieth century
with its darkest hours,
the great turning point
at this climacteric of history.
Yet another insatiable actor,
this one speaking words
in the delicatest ear of his mind
not always what it wanted to hear
but, yes, as an invisible audience listened
to him seeking some new satisfaction,
some rendezvous of his soul
with its Source amidst impurity
and a daily despair and, yes,
a celebratory joy:
it too in the act of the mind.2
1The year I began to write poetry in earnest was 1992 after a slow warm up of thirty years, with the heat getting turned up about 1980 and getting turned up a little higher in 1987 at the age of 43.
2This poem needs to be seen in the context of Stevens' poem "Of Modern Poetry."
2 June 2002
There are many mansions in Price’s poetic ediface and in them the poet, the preacher, the teacher, the scholar, the father, the husband, the member of the Baha’i community, the pioneer, the travel teacher, the idealist, the realist, the man depressed, the man filled with joy--one and all they occupy different places at different times. At first these mansions took the form of a humble cottage when only the occasional poem was produced(1962-1992). Then the mansions began to take shape upward and outward based on domestic, historical, philosophical, religious, psychological and sociological, inter alia, themes. Slowly, unobtrusively, insensibly, an epic poem emerged, a poem that, by its very nature, would never be finished. Its themes could not be exhausted. It could never have a definitive form and completion. The creative energies that were a gift of God and were marshalled over many years seemed to find, at last, a form best suited to their artistic expression. It was not a conventional form. Epigraph and prose-poem had for Price a certain magic and fascination, although this magic did not seem to carry over to publishers or to many readers, at least not yet.
Dealing as this poetry did with so many of the humanities and the social sciences, it brims over into a multi-an-interdisciplinary experience that possesses a shapelessness. It is like a river teeming with life, fragmented, in a state of incessant renewal The river flows on and on. The reader only visits a portion of the river. Occasionally he finds the enthusiasm to follow it along for a time, a long time. Each individual poem lives its own life, creates its own finish and flows rough-hewn down the river of life, like part of a long cataract here, part of a peaceful stream there, coming down out of the mountains here, flowing into the sea there. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 31 March 2002.
I believe in what I'm saying,
speak seriously what I'm describing,
am not into exaggerating,
trying to express a sense of measure.
The scenes that arise poetically
have wonderfully distinct characters,
as distinct as Homer's pantheon,1
only these came a hundred,
two hundred years ago
in tragedy and heroism,
unique in the annals
of our religious history,
close to us, as if we lived
among them ourselves,
just the other day,
over there in Shiraz
where women wore veils
and they had Shahs and stuff.
1Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
31 March 2002
FILLING MY SOUL, YET AGAIN?
There is a vitality in this poetry which is achieved, in part, by the dense interweaving of hundreds of themes and ideas without a fine architectural finish and tidiness. The reader may come across a tidy end in one poem and on the next page he is thrown into yet another theme. The overall effect on the readers is to give them a sense of coming across a river, incessantly in motion and flowing now in sight, now out of sight; or an estuary, flowing one way and then another, going around in circles in places and in other places flowing in quite indecipherable directions. The estuary, the river, of course, is Price’s society and his own life and religion. It might be said that Price is the Heraclitus among poets: everything is flux. -Ron Price with thanks to George Steiner, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Penguin, London, 1967, p.98.
Was it that quickening wind
renewing and amplifying my life--
just as I was bottoming out
yet again in the long run
over all those epochs
in this Formative Age?1
Some suddenness, a precipitateness,
some mysterious rampant force
got stuck into me that winter.
Was it the beginning of lustrous prizes
yet-to-be-won, dried out as I was,
yet again, on the long, stoney, tortuous
road through these early decades
of last stage of history?
It certainly was, for me,
a befitting demarcation
with consequences of
Perhaps it was from His retreat
of deathless splendour that
the Blessed Beauty began to
fill my soul yet again, yet again.
1The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan, 1992.
29 March 2002
TRYING TO PAINT THE COLOURS IN WORDS
Novelists and poets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries found a heightened sense of the dramatic fitness of their own times. The raw materials of their visions were conceived in this heightened sense and were molded, not as they had been in previous centuries, in mythology, in an ancient past, in classical culture or in the Christian religion. Rather, the new tempo of the times, of modern life, was found in the private experiences of men and women who were not special people on the historical stage and in the simple observations of what was all around them. Indeed, the realities of life pressed upon ordinary men and women with heightened colouring. Poets and novelists tried to paint that colouring in words. -Ron Price with thanks to George Steiner, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Penguin, London, 1967, pp.27-29.
Gradually, insensibly, in those
Seven and Six Year Plans1
a poetic sense of dramatic fitness
invaded my consciousness:
something in me caught fire.
So it was that I came to be
always adding a bit-here
or taking away a bit-there,
trying to say it right
and an epic slowly penetrated
my sensory emporium
with a feeling of religious
values and practice.2
My inner struggle could take form,
could express salient ideas,
could create its own mosaic,
its own portrait of myself,
my religion and my society
in the midst of a bustling,
jagged and complex realness,
a warp and woof of numerous
strands constantly interwoven
into a thick mesh of necessary
density in a space entitled:
Pioneering Over Four Epochs.
11979-1986 and 1986-1992
2Such was the nature of Virgil’s Aeneid. See ibid., p.78.
29 March 2002
A QUASI-FILIAL SORT
According to Harold Bloom's theory of poetry, what might be called a theory of poetic influence, a poet is engaged in a struggle with the poet who has gone before, whose presence exists in the legacy of that dead poet's works. There are many relations, mostly revisionary, of a quasi-filial sort which can prevail between a poet and a precursor. One sort of poetry completes the poems it follows, those poems in that legacy, sometimes by altering them, by rewriting them, by interpreting their subject matter differently. The poetry of a past, a previous, poet actively intervenes in the present and must be dealt with physically, as if in Oedipal revolt against 'the poetic father', that father symbolizing that poet, that precursor. Poetic creation, the animating force in poetry, writes Bloom, involves a desperate wrestling with one's forebears, one's fathers, one's poetic fathers. This is the core of Bloom's theory. If any body of poetry has a canonical status or quality, it derives that status from a strangeness and a certain idiosyncratic originality. White's poetry, for me, is canonical. His poetry is 'the poetic father' I struggle with. He is my major poetic inspiration and the poet I also write 'against' in Bloom's sense as outlined above briefly. -Ron Price with thanks to Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 1973.
I've been struggling with my father's,
my poetic forebears, for years,
putting together my own voice
which is not their voice,
some new, fresh, me
in the midst of their quasi-filial pasts
which have come into my present
with their animating force,
but never quite there, on it,
always some strangeness,
some idiosyncratic entity,
some otherness, not me at all.
For this is such a solitary act
and more now than ever,
for solitary readers
sitting within themselves.
And Roger, who lived
just the other day,
put together a poetry
that left a big part
right out of his life,
said it wasn't interesting.
So I put a different poetic spin
right in there from the start,
used his legacy and rewrote it
'cause I found the whole thing
so different, so very different.
I have my own strangeness,
my own idiosyncrasy.
13 November 2001
SINGING ONE'S SONG--WITH AN ITCH
American literary legend John Updike, creator of forty books, was pondering as to whether he had done his best, sung his song, had his say. As he approached sixty-five he said he felt a certain panicked awareness of what he hadn't put in his books: "almost everything" he mused. "Worlds are not in them. In the face of this vacuity arises the terrible itch to--what else?" he continued to ponder.1
I, too, am conscious that there is much that is not in my poetry. But, given its function, its purpose, what I am trying to do and say through these thousands of poems, I have no concern, no worry, about what is not in my poetic creations. I have sung my song, had my say, done my best, although only a small handful have read any of it. In fact, in some ways, my problem is the opposite to Updike's. I have written so much poetry that I feel the reader is faced with overload should he or she really want to try to take it all in. If I have any itch at all it is that the coterie that reads my poetry will be so small as to make both me and my poetry irrelevant to the general public. -Ron Price with thanks to Gail Sheehy, Passages for Men, Simon and Schuster, Sydney, 1998, p.217.
I've defined myself,
staked out some turf,
set out the happenings
of my life and connected
them with my religion,
my society and the several
landscapes of my days.
I consciously prepared
to replace what I have lost
in zest, energy and joy
through years of wearing down
at the edges in this abode of dust,
being consumed away,
for weary of life was I.
16 February 2002
INTERVIEW FOCUSING ON POETRY & PHENOMENOLOGY
I have written a great deal on my philosophy of poetry. It is a philosophy of organism, drawing on A.N. Whitehead, in which creativity is guided by purpose and is expressed by two capacities: loving and knowing. It is a philosophy which draws on many thinkers, writers, artists, sculptors, philosophers, historians, sociologists, psychologists, too many to list here or even attempt a brief summary of their influences. This interview, though, focuses on one particular philosophy which is a part of my approach to poetry. It is a complex one drawing as it does on concepts within the disciplines of philosophy and sociology. I give it special attention, special focus, in this interview, in this simulated interview which I conducted just before retiring from teaching in 1999, leaving Perth Western Australia and moving back to Tasmania, the home and birthplace of my wife, Chris.___________________________________________
Over the years you have been aware of the philosophy of phenomenology as an influence on your poetry but, more recently, it has become more obvious, more articulate, more specifically influential. Could you describe this development, this increasing focus on, and inspiration from, phenomenology?
I came across phenomenology when I was teaching sociological theory in the mid-1990s. I had just started working on a collection of poetry that came to be called The Terraces. The relationship between the poetry I was writing and the ideas in phenomenology did not really begin to come together, to connect, until after I had retired from teaching in 1999. It was then that I was able to focus on the philosophy of phenomenology and underpin my writing with a clear and articulate set of ideas. Anyone familiar with my work will know that many strands of philosophy make up the basis of my writing, but phenomenology has come into focus more recently, say, in 2000 and 2001.
I: The history of the philosophy of phenomenology goes back to the early years after the passing of Baha'u'llah. I understand you see an interesting parallel development between significant events in the history of this philosophy and the history of the Baha'i Faith and your own life.
P: Yes, phenomenology began as a movement, a strand, a field, in philosophy about three years after the passing of Baha'ullah and spread, like the Baha'i Faith did to many countries in the next few decades. One of the first major books in the field was published when 'Abdu'l-Baha was on His western tour, in 1913. It was called Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology by Edmund Husserl. A second major book by Martin Heidegger was translated into English and published the year I began my pioneering life, 1962. It was called Being and Time. Phenomenology is now in the first decade of its second century. I don't want to highlight or summarize this history here. The story is too long. The above will suffice for now.
I: I believe there are several tendencies or stages in this multidisciplinary movement called phenomenology. Your poetry seems to fit into two of them: existential phenomenology and hermeneutical phenomenology. The first focuses on the issues and questions of existence; the second on systems of interpretation. It draws on thinkers like: Heidegger, Marcel, Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. For the most part, their writings came after WW2. Do you see this as an accurate overview?
P: Yes, I don't have any trouble with that. But when you start to examine the details of the writings of these thinkers and how their ideas are expressions of the philosophy of existential phenomenology or hermeneutical phenomenology you get into a long and complex story. It is hard enough just saying the words, the basic terms. A poetry which is based on an existential phenomenology emphasizes the tension between existence and essence. It also emphasizes choice, responsibility, freedom and the joys and angst of existence. A poetry which draws on a hermeneutical phenomenology emphasizes the poet's interpretive systems, his flexible orienting frameworks, his own perpetual beginnings, the illumination of individual experience and a concern about virtually every aspect of existence.
Let me outline some core ideas, core concepts, in phenomenology: there is an emphasis on 'pure description.' In my poetry, therefore, I place a strong emphasis on 'the pure description of experience.' In phenomenology there should be an attempt to 'manifest what is hidden in ordinary, everyday existence.' In my poetry, then, I try to get at 'the structure of everydayness,' 'an interconnected system of things, ideas, roles and purposes,' and 'the introspective examination of my own intellectual processes as they experience phenomena.' That's enough of a mouthful for now.
I: There seems to me to be a very strong social construction to reality, what you might call a 'sociological phenomenology.' The means by which humans orient themselves to life situations through their stock of knowledge, their store of experience, their structure of experience, the historical patterns of life-experience, the landscape of judgements by which they fix their place in the world, the inner stream of consciousness--all these strands of thought seem to be involved in what phenomenology is all about.
P: You put it well. There are many ways of expressing phenomenological philosophy or sociology. Much of it seems to be useful in expressing what I am trying to do in my poetry. The process involves what it means to be human, to be alive, to find meaning within my life; it involves pursuing concepts; it involves the possibilities that flow from perceiving, believing and thinking. It involves truth as process and emerging as a person in the process of describing experience.________________
I: For Heidegger an intricate and mysterious connection existed between finding a sense of self and the natural world. He sought refuge from the pervasive hauntings of the idle chatter of town and group life. This was also true of Thoreau. There is an expression of phenomenology here. Tell us something about it from this perspective.
P: Yes, both Thoreau and Heidegger sought refuge in withdrawal from the social domain, into nature, into solitude, into silence, into reflection, into writing, into moments of vision. They concerned themselves with what it means to be human and they asked questions in order to situate themselves in the world, to pluck the finer fruits of life, to move beyond the factitious cares and the superfluously coarse labours of life, beyond the slumber, the mindless mechanical motions of living. They wanted to be part of the poetic, the divine life.
In a perpetual openness, like Thoreau and Heidegger, my life becomes my stage and I become both actor and audience. And involvement in what Horace Holley calls 'the social religion' requires the kind of solitude and silence Thoreau and Heidegger wrote about. Much of my poetic writing came at a time of conscious withdrawal from community after a period of intense involvement with people; it came during a phase of finding a different tempo, a more balance one between people and solitude.
I: So your life becomes your amusement, your novelty, a drama of many scenes with fresh prospects every hour. You become the artisan of your own reality in which you hear faint echos of simplicity winding their way through the paths of complexity in your everyday lives. Your poetic understandings revolve around the mystery, the simplicity and the complexity of being itself. This poetry also revolves around analysis and juxtaposition. Life itself becomes 'a poetic dwelling,' with its sometimes mundane and simplified moments, its sometimes etherial and complex moments, that sing and reverberate the meaning of our existence. That is how Timothy Riley describes the process in his article "Heidegger and Thoreau: Questing for the Authentic Translation of Da-sein." Does this come close to your way of experiencing it?
P: I like it; it's a little complex, but then phenomenology as a philosophy of poetry is not simple. Indeed, like itself has quite a complex aspect. Phenomenology provides for poetry a philosophic-poetic base which creates, as Heidegger puts it, a world space that sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. It also involves seeking our humanness, our mortality, in a relation to the immortals which in a Baha'i context is a relation to the Central Figures of the Cause and those who have been faithful to the Covenant and have passed on to the next life. They are the sources of inspiration for the poet who is a Baha'i. They are also the source of inspiration to Heidegger, although he would call them angels or muses. The poet occupies his private space only by simultaneously occupying the space of meaning belonging to the wider community. Community and privacy is a dichotomy that must be integrated in the life of the poet as well as anyone else. We all have to deal with this fundamental tension in our lives.
I: There is another aspect of poetry that has its roots in a philosophy or sociology of phenomenology and that is its subjective orientation. Subjective meaning in the interpretation of social action, of history, of life and of reflexivity is at the centre of this poetic philosophy. Would you agree?
P: There is no question about the essentially subjective nature of this poetry. The self which writes or is written about exists in an institutional system, a complex of relationships, dwells in a pattern of social control exerted by the poet, the person himself and by others. This self is defined and described through the centrality of language as the organizing medium of the lived-in-world. There is an essential precariousness, an ultimately symbolic aspect, to the definitions of reality, to the social worlds, described by the poet. Truthfulness lies in this mix, in this complex web.
I: Of course, there is much more to the philosophical underpinnings of your poetry. Could you comment briefly on these other bases?
P: I have written thousands of words on the philosophy behind my poetry. I seem to have developed a concern for writing poetry and an equal concern for commenting on its nature, its purpose, its philosophy, its direction, et cetera. I would encourage readers to dip into my poetry. I've got some two hundred thousand words at this website: poetry and prose. It explains a great deal of what I'm trying to do. Phenomenology is a key but, for me, there are many keys. The whole thing is far too complex to reduce it to one approach, no matter how big the word is and how subtle, intricate and useful its reach.
The bibliography that could be written here is extensive. The reader is advised, should he or she want to follow-up on the subject of phenomenology, to go to a good university library or look it up on the Internet.
23 December 2001
THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS
As the first few months of the Holy Year, 1992-1993, passed insensibly into history, the pace of my writing of poetry began to pick up. I had been writing about 15 poems a year for the previous dozen years. I was not conscious at first of this quickening but, by the end of the Holy Year, in May 1993, I had written a yearly total of 330 poems. The following year I wrote 550 and have written between 500 and 600 poems each year since then. In April 1992 the Universal House of Justice had written about a "quickening wind." as well as "some mysterious rampant force." Perhaps this quickening wind was what was underpinning this poetic development in my life. I don't know.
Perhaps, too, there were other underpinnings. I was beginning to experience another downturn in my psychological, emotional, social and intellectual life: the first signs of a fatigue with my job as a teacher had appeared; the first signs of an immense frustration with, an alienation from, Baha'i community life; I had tried to write a novel several times and had given up for the moment; getting my writing published in any form seemed to be impossible after four years of trying in Perth; my wife was still ill so much and my unrealistic sexual expectations had finally settled into an honest and disappointing realism; I had finally accepted my medication, lithium, after several efforts at non-compliance with the regimen in the years 1981-1991. Was this an Indian summer of the mid-life crisis I had already had but needed to finish off in its entirety? Was this a response to the feeling, the question: "is this as good as it gets?" -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 26 February 2002.
I did not put all of this together
in one cohesive framework
back then as April flowed
insensibly into September 1992.
I did not put all of this together
as these poems began to flow,
the first signs of a steady stream,
before the torrent of that Holy Year
and all the years since then.
I did not put all this together
at that auspicious juncture
in the history of the Cause,
with its sacred remembrances,
bestrewing those months
and serving as the basis
for my rendezvous with
the Source of my light
in His retreat of deathless splendour.1
The instruments of redemption
transmuted from His tribulations
were, perhaps, creating a new life,
stirring mysteriously in the world.2
1 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 1992.
2The Universal House of Justice, "A Tribute to Baha'u'llah," 28 May 1992.
26 February 2002.
A KIND OF SPONTANEITY
American poet W.S. Merwin regards writing as a kind of spontaneity which arises out of discipline and continual devotion to something. This certainly describes some of the basis of my poetry. Writing, he goes on, that is based on a romantic notion, a philosophy of chance, luck or some casual inclination, or an approach that derives its motivation from an essentially inspirational feeling lacks the directedness, the heightened awareness, the capacity to communicate experience with a sense of profound engagement, the joy of creation. Poetry for Merwin, as it has been for me, is a tribute of the current to the source. -Ron Price with thanks to "An Interview with W.S. Merwin," Internet, 5 February 2002.
I have been too convinced for years,
unchecked by any maybe,
in faithful self-abandonment
and cerebral consent:
the soul's glimpse of certitude,
inviting crimson astonishment
to leap onto my page,
although I keep my absolutes
couched in a language
of reciprocity and equivalence,
my unity in fluid, functional terms
as I strive for identity, complete agreement.
I encourage a climate of noncommitment;
indeed I must,
for I know that is where
my twilight generation lives and moves.
I know that I needed to be burned
by that flame.
I move toward that rightful heritage
of seers and watch the patterns
of our lives unfold
through the dazzling
mansions of our Lord.1
Through this poetry
I heap upon my readers
an accumulation of novelty
in my effort to seduce them
to accept this brilliant vision.
1 Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, "Artist, Seeker and Seer," Baha'i Studies, Vol.10, pp.5-6.
5 February 2002
NOURISHING MY MIND
One of the features of metaphysical poetry, writes 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, like that of the metaphysicals, is simple, pure, although the structure is, at times, complex. A thought, for some of the metaphysical poets, like John Donne, was an experience, an event. That is surely true for me and I like to think my poetry is a reflection of this personal reality. -Ron Price with thanks to T.S. Eliot, Selected Essays, Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1932, p.283.
Among the host of aims here
is an attempt to devour
what it is that has become
my experience1--in words,
to take it to the uttermost depths
and with an intricacy of relationship
producing fresh and unfamiliar
juxtapositions, complete perceptions
of 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.
1experience, for me, includes, thought and memory.
30 January 2002
AFTER A WHILE
In January 2001 American poet Charles Simic was interviewed. Today I read that interview on the Internet. In that interview Charles said that "after a while" he found writing poetry became an obsession, a passion. This frequent and intense poetic experience was fuelled, he felt, by his isolation and the isolation of poets in general from society, by the lack of understanding of the poet in society. He felt drawn to writing, to poetry, to this form of work. He could not help himself. For the last ten years, 1992-2002, I have found this same passion, this obsession, to be part of my life as well. The "after a while" for me was the twelve year period: 1980-1992.-Ron Price, "Interview with Charles Simic:1/10/01," Internet, 3/01/02.
Part of the essence
of what I'm all about
and I like to think
that it's good stuff--
my poetry--if it sounds
good when it's read.
It comes from a time when
the Kingdom of God on earth
was in its first half century1
and when I grew from a child
into what I often feel to be an old man
even now and not yet sixty.
It was an immensely fertile seed time2
and I trust when you read this
you will get a strong sense
of whom the poem belongs to,
a strong sense of the tree of my life
being clothed with the blossoms and fruits
of that consecrated joy,
while I sit in passive wonder
at who I was when I said
what I said that day
when I slipped and fell
onto those words on the page.
2Robert Pinsky, "Interview, October 1st, 1997." My seedtime has been the 2nd, 3rd and 4th epochs of the Formative Age.
3 January 2002
The difference between the poetry of Roger White and the poetry of Ron Price is not simply a difference of degree, of style, of content. It is something which happened to the mind of the Baha'i community during that "auspicious juncture in the history of the Cause"1 in the Baha'i Holy Year 1992-1993. For as White was writing his last poems in September and October of 1992, Price was experiencing what he thought may have been the first rigorous effects of that rampant force, that quickening, onrushing wind which was changing the world's society with phenomenal speed. At least that was one way Price saw of expressing a poetic unfoldment, a shift in sensibility, a constant but incremental amalgamation of a disparate experience, a ventilation of his own mode of thought, renewing, clarifying and amplifying his perspectives, an accumulated potential for further progress, his progress, his poetic progress. The poetry Price produced beginning in the last four months of 1992 and continuing for the next decade could be seen as one of the "consequences of unimaginable potency"2 of that Holy Year, at least Price liked this way of putting it. -Ron Price with thanks to The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1992, 1p.1; and 2p.6.
This stuff was a product
of inner reflection, part of
a rendezvous of my soul
with the Source of its light.
This stuff was a product
of a retreat to my innermost
being, an interior place.
These words were a product,
a revitalization, the result of
my supplication to His retreat
of deathless splendour,
His revivifying breath,
His sacred power.
28 January 2002
"Garden work," writes Robert Bly, "may begin unexpectedly." After thirty years of pioneering, 1962-1992, with a myriad pleasures and pains, I had been driven to the edge again by 1992. This time the edge was gentler, not anywhere near as traumatic as so many previous edge-games, end-games. But my need for a garden had grown unobtrusively, insensibly, throughout the nineties. Like Thoreau, I knew I had become a lover. Indeed, I had been a lover for some years. This condition of "lover" had grown, again insensibly and unobtrusively, in the late fifties and early sixties.
This time, with the tree of my longing having yielded "the fruit of despair and the fire of my hope" having fallen "to ashes," yet again, I slowly made a new garden, tightened up its boundaries to protect the shaded areas, the flower beds, the quiet rooms nearby, from invasion, intrusion, from the strangers, the people who had filled my life like a wall-to-wall carpet, with their enrichments, their enchantments and their exhausting chatter. By 1999, at the age of 55, I had established my garden in the place and, for the most part, with the conditions, I required. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Bly, Iron John, Element Books, Brisbane, 1990, p.134; and 2Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p.13.
The quality of a true warrior
is his service to a purpose
greater than himself,
a transcendent cause.
Since that warrior loves
the battlefield, he has to
change its locale occasionally
just to survive and continue
to serve that one precious thing,
that object of his adoration.
he is led to write his poem,
to his dance with those in other worlds.
It may be that he must create a garden
with the occasional, controlled,
skirmish and with the exuberant
excess of his subjective propensities,
his extravagant and endless turnings
to shape his many airy nothings,
giving them a local habitation
and a name, growing
some great constancy.1
1 Shakespeare, A Midsummer-Night's Dream, Act 5, Scene 1, lines 3-20.
27 January 2002
copyright: Marco Abrar
American poet and writer Robert Bly said in an interview in M.E.N. Magazine (Nov.'95) that: "Men and women have to talk out, and talk through, the pain and anger they feel in their ordinary mud-and-water lives" before they are ready, before they are able, to talk about being wise women or wise men. "Wisdom is only genuine if the anger is worked through, and we have not yet worked through the anger between men and women." In my two marriages, covering a period of thirty-five years, 1967 to 2002, I have done a lot of talking out, talking through, the pain and anger of our ordinary lives. Behind all the talk there was always risk. Slowly, it would appear, there is a getting of wisdom. Perhaps, at some time in the first half of this twenty-first century, we will find, we will acquire, that wisdom and our community will find the elders it has lost in the twentieth century.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 26 January 2002.
There's a psychic journey here.
I recorded it's geographical location,
its inner dimension, its imagination,
its inner solitude as I turn your gaze
inward to the dark recesses, the solemn,
the serious and the light of this new,
this unique and incomparable Revelation.
I trace that psychic journey
of a poet's mind as it travels
from one image to the next,
from one jarring shift or gap
exploring paths of association,
energy compacting and whirling
But, like jazz, you have to come to it;
it does not come to you and say:
enjoy, be entertained, dig it.
To express oneself always
involves some risk:1
poetry is my risk.
1From "Episode 9: Risk," Jazz, ABC TV: 9:30-10:30 pm, 24 January 2002.
26 January 2002
A POET AT LAST
Stephen Coote writes in his biography of John Keats that Keats "was battling to preserve the integrity of his vision, and what he described as the pride and egotism of the writer's solitary life formed as a protection against the intrusion of merely practical matters."1 Keats saw his development as an inward process, a long and patient observation of the rhythms of his consciousness. True poetry, he believed, came from this, not from manufacturing verse for the marketplace.
Ron Price had battled for years, at least until 1999, to acquire that solitary life which was protected from the intrusion of the endless and inevitable practical matters of life. For nearly three years now, April 1999 to Febuary 2002, he had been able to focus on that inward process of development for at least eight hours a day keeping practical intrusions to a limit. He felt he had written about that process as much as he had written poetry itself. Poetry, he had concluded, was impossible to define. At best, it served for him as a form in which he could deal with that first attribute of perfection which 'Abdu'l-Baha describes, and which it was his task to acquire, in The Secret of Divine Civilization: learning and the cultural attainments of the mind.2 -Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p.268; and 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p.35.
By the time I had arrived here
in this town by a river by the sea,
at the bottom of the Antipodes,
I had defined and refined
that inward process
and the rhythms
of my consciousness.
I had found the form
in which I could deal
with the vast tracts
of learning and cultural
attainments of the mind.
I occasionally toyed
with essays and novels
but, in the end, returned,
always returned to this form
and these processes which
enabled me, at last,
to declare myself a poet.
19 January 2002
Between late April and May 1819, six months before the birth of Baha'u'llah, John Keats wrote "three or four of the supreme lyric poems in English literature."1 As another writer put it: "Keats wrote a range of poetic masterpieces in a twenty month period, February 1818 to October 1819:" Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to a Grecian Urn, Ode on Indolence and Ode on Melancholy, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes, The Eve of St. Mark and Hyperion. At the time Keats had doubts about the worth of his poetry, worries about money and even hid one of the manuscripts away behind some books so lacking in confidence was he about his writing. His sense of self-abasement, his personal doubts and worries about writing, about sexuality and about money were draining him of the very confidence to write at all.
One hundred and eighty years later(1819-1999) I, too, had doubts about my poetry. I had no idea whether my poetry would ever acquire a readership beyond the smallest of coteries. I had all the worries Keats' mind was prey to, but they were not, for the most part, as intense as his concerns. I took great pleasure in my writing; I felt a confidence in the inspirational Source underpinning my poetry. Although I felt some of my poems were fine specimens, I had no idea of the overall quality and value of my work. I was psychologically prepared that all of my poetry might come to naught and, in the meantime, while this dead end pursued its possible course, its possible eventuation, I would continue to enjoy the process of poetic creation and its enriching pleasures for my mind and my emotions. -Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p.252.
I, too, began with a little,1
one here and one there,
short pieces for the occasion,
but habit has made me, like Keats,
a Leviathan. Half the day would not do
as he once said, only the whole of it.2
For inwardness and subjectivity
are the real subjects of the poet,
dark passages and glorious light
consumated in this vast opus.
The consolations are momentary,
but they are silently pervasive,
rich and calling forth,
the most intense desires of my soul.
1From 1980 to 1987 I wrote 40 poems
From 1988 to 1991 I wrote 135 poems
Then an avalanche: 1992-2002, inclusive: some 6000 poems.
2Since retiring from teaching in 1999 I spend on average eight hours a day reading and writing, about the same as Keats.
19 January 2002
ENAMOURED OF SOMETHING UNKNOWN
The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, sometimes we begin to form an impression that we could have created the poem, even that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. One could say that this is a case of expression creating being.1 For both poet and reader, though, there needs to be a feeling of "participation in a flowing onward, necessarily expressed in terms of time, and secondarily in terms of space."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places, Beacon Press, Boston, 1964, p.xxiii; and 2Eugene Minkowski, quoted in Bachelard, p.xvi.
There's a flare-up of being here,
a fleeting product of my mind,
partly accessible to investigation,
a direct product of the heart,
soul and being, definable
by a metaphysics of imagination.
There's some of my soul here,
at the centre, source and meaning,
keeping watch, calm, active;
it flickers and there's fire
and, if not fire, at least form,
and there it dwells with pleasure.
It yields bracing resonances,
secret and unobtrusive,
a felicity all its own,
in this poetic age
enamoured as it is
of something unknown.
10 December 2001
INSIDIOUS AS A SEED
We know Price the way we know the poet Roger White or Gerald Manley Hopkins and many others in life, not by the direct contact of what they tell us but by the way they speak or write, by their tone of voice. Robert Bernard Martin says of Hopkins "I have slowly come to feel that understanding (his) poems is far less difficult that getting to know the mysterious man who wrote them."1 Given the strongly, pervasively, autobiographical nature of my poetry I do not think this is true of me. I am not the mystery that White or Hopkins were. Indeed, when I became a Baha'i at fifteen, my personality, intellect and spiritual cast of mind were already I think, looking back, beginning to turn toward what they have become today. But the outlines of my poetic bent were, then, at best implicit. They certainly did not indicate the great rush to poetry that took place in my fifties. However much of that cast of mind had begun to be in evidence back in 1959, much of my development has surprised me. I could not have predicted most of it in that embryonic stage of adolescence. -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Bernard Martin, Gerald Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life, Harper Collins, London, 1991, p.xv.
I really had absolutely no idea
in those summers playing baseball,
striving for those high marks
and wishing Carol Ingram
or Susan Gregory could love me
that I'd spend my life half a world away
teaching everyone from Eskimos
to Aboriginals and reading more books
than you could shake a stick at.
I had absolutely no idea, at fifteen,
before that tempest blew in
stirring my emotions and depressing me
in the darkest hours before the dawn,
that my impulse to believe,
then laying quiet, unhurried
and insidious as a seed,
that that new song
I had just heard
up from the Siyah-Chal,
would captivate me.
I would sing it again and again
as the earth became flooded
with the felicity of its melody,
but oh so slowly, so very slowly.
5 December 2001
FIRING A POETRY INDUSTRY
My conception of poetry in my teens and twenties changed as I got into my thirties and when I came across the poetry of Roger White at the age of thirty-five I found something which I could completely connect with. It was a rejuvenating experience. I had known poetry which was so obscure as to be quite indecipherable; I had known poetry which bored me to death; I had known poetry that for many years seemed to have the ultimate effect of turning me right off the genre. I began writing poetry in my mid-thirties, but not until my late forties did the experience really come alive for me. Much of my poetic writing had the style of improvisation. I wrote with my voice; for the most part there was an ease, a flow. I was what Robert Pinsky called an improvisatory poet.
There was an intensity in my poetry, in my philosophy, a poetry based on the cauldron of experience and the search for vivid fragments that would open doors of perception and conception. Perhaps this intensity was born in the shadow of the bomb, the cold war, in the fifties and sixties: the beats, Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc. when I was growing up, part of those times, those decades; perhaps it came from belonging to a religion which was nothing if it was not intense; perhaps it came from my relatively peripatetic existence which collected towns and people, that fired the cauldron of experience with enough vivid fragments to fertilize a poetry industry. -Ron Price with thanks to John Tranter, "An Interview with C.K. Tower," Riding the Meridian, The Internet, 18 November 2001.
I remember those strange lines,
shorter than most of the others,
so often obscure, quite beyond
my figuring them out and then,
in high school, the wet arm pits
and the anxiety over what does
it all mean, whatever does it mean?
It seemed to be a world beyond,
strange, unattractive, completely
without purpose, at least any
purpose I could connect with.
And then, after my brain got
and Roger White's verse
came into my life,
the whole picture changed.
Gradually, slowly, poetry
became a dominant force
in my life, a conduit
for my thought, my emotions,
my religion and all that was my life.
20 November 2001
INTRODUCTION TO BOOKLET NUMBER 17
The title Emerald Green, the title of one of my 45 booklets of poetry, comes from the colour of the grass on the two larger planter beds in the inner areas of Terrace 9. This Terrace is larger than the other Lower Terraces and has emerald green grass of the Zoysia variety. The poetry in this folio was written in December and January 1995/6. It continues the autobiographical thrust and the concommitant celebration of the Project on Mt Carmel of the previous folios of poetry.
All the sub-categories of autobiography which I have been sending to the Baha’i World Centre Library since 1993: journal, poetry, narrative, essays, letters, are a telling and retelling of my personal past and present, directly or indirectly. This personal past, experiences in the present, reflection and feeling on self and society have become my stock-in-trade now after three years of forwarding autobiographical material to the BWCL. But this self is possible only in community. It is a self which is celebrated in the poetry herein by a facing up to deep, dark inwardness, my nature and my fate; by an examination of the most intimate of tensions and resistances that are inevitably part of heterogeneity in community; by scrutinising my everyday experience and all that is involved in It as well as the realm of the Thou and its massive relations of recognition and reverence. These things are all part of the ‘being happy’ that ‘Abdu’l-Baha exhorted us to achieve. The context for this happiness and joy, I have always found, is an acceptance that life is difficult. To be happy when it is, it could be argued, is our supreme achievement in this earthly life.
There are many things that have made, are making and will make this democratic theocracy work. This vast system, which has only recently stuck its head above the ground after a century and a half of slow, difficult and embryonic development, appears to be "the structure of freedom for our age."(1) One of the many contributors to the "mutuality of benefits", "the spirit of cooperation", "the initiative of individuals, the courage, the sense of responsibility", "conscience exercised in private in an attitude that invites communion with the Holy Spirit", an engendering of perspectives, "an acute exercise of judgement" is poetry. It offers many "insights into the dynamics of freedom of expression.". There is clearly an important contribution made by poetry to "the social utility of thought". It can also contribute to the important, profound and necessary "change in the standard of public discussion intended by Baha’u’llah for a mature society."(2)
There is clearly an attempt in this poetry to manifest the spirit of a true Baha’i, although I would make no claim to have achieved such maturity and distinction. I have avoided, because of its elemental importance, the "dreadful schismatic consequences" (3) of dissent, opposition and ill-directed criticism. I have tried to be conscious of motive, manner, mode, etiquette of expression; while at the same time I have aimed for a freedom of expression and the ironies of a Voltairian irreverence that counteract moralizing, melancholy, acidic individualism and fanaticism’s passionate intensity. Such a judicious exercise over the content, volume, style or body of poetry requires a discipline and vision, an effort and care over my expression that, again, I could scarcely lay any serious claim to exemplifying.
This poetry is a vital emblem of my own integrity and my own struggle to understand and achieve a sense of who I am, identity. It is my individual signature. In the Baha’i community the individual is not lost in the mass but is "the focus of primary development." Indeed, it is intended in Baha’i society that the "whole may benefit from the accumulated talents and abilities of the individuals composing it."(4) At the heart of this poetic expression is a desire to be of some source of social good. To be able to do so, ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, was the greatest bliss, the most complete delight. So right He was.
The making of a work of art, like poetry, represents a plunge into the abyss. The poet invites the reader to take the same plunge. Sometimes the plunge is into a world of light, or of humour. Hopefully, the reader is taken back into his own presence and he becomes more cognizant of his own life. In manipulating the world through words I experience an adventure in the land of self and others, a certain freshness and immediacy, an enchantment even, an affirmation of life. Harry Levin said that poetry was "the richest and most sensitive of human institutions...a rounded organism embracing the people by and for whom it was created."(5) The value of an institution lies in the degree to which, by massive or subtle interpenetration and vital relations, that institution combines with others to sustain and foster the individual in his various potentialities, even though any number of such beneficiaries may be unaware of the process. Sending this poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library is one form of such "interpenetration" to foster the individual in his various potentialities. I like to think I am performing a special ‘fostering’ of the pioneer, not only the clearly defined pioneer who has left his homeland, but everybody else who is pioneering this new way of life.
There is, on the world’s immediate horizon, a vast array of social and psychological problems. Indeed there has always been, as I understand history. Perhaps one which is beginning to linger hard and long is the mental and emotional stability of the great mass of humanity who, in one way or another, want to kill time, pass time, spend time, find free time. How to live life has always been a concern at the heart of the world’s great religions. There are so many more people than there were when I began my pioneering life in 1962. The domain of art in its many manifestations is an activity that the Baha’i Faith enjoins for its self-fulfilling nature and its contribution to community life. Gratuitous joy in the act of doing is one of the marks of poetic writing. The doer pursues the doing as a projection of his own nature upon the world in which he lives. In the process he discovers both himself and the nature of the medium of poetry itself. In a world in which passivity is fed by a progressively intense diet of sensation and novelty, a significance, a meaning in poetry which draws on the past and the future, is not given much significance by society. Millions are trapped in a cycle of futility and try to "get away from it all." They do not find themselves. They find escape.
These are the earliest years in which I am finding a richness in writing poetry. I seek out poetry and poetry comes to me. But there is a price for the independence of thought that it part of the poetry I write. Things which separate us from the great mass of humanity bring varying degrees of tension in the same way that spiritual exertion over habits that are long-standing brings some kind of pain. But we must avoid the dark towers of our personal tragedies as much as mass opinion, "affectation and imitation"(6) as the Guardian calls the loathsome odour of conformist thought and its repetitive and boring qualities. Poetry is an antidote to the passivity and the imitation of a mass society. Poetry demands participation as the poet imaginatively enacts his of her deepest recesses where life-will and values reside. I have discovered a deep solitude of will and spirit in writing poetry. There is no loneliness but much aloneness. I feel as if I have found a voice for my soul, a way of grasping reality and especially my own life. I feel as if I have begun to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears.
But this type of seeing involves with it a blurring and instability of the outer personality because of the responsiveness of the self to the forces of the present moment; it also involves a vagueness in the boundaries of the inner self. The autobiographical poet tells his story, both the surface and the depths, both the slow developments of life and the rapid passage of events and actions in the context of vulnerabilities, intensities, the personal and the trivial, the irrelevant and the egocentric. And then there is the belief in a transcending order, or should I say the transcending Order which has just stuck its head above the ground in the last several decades, the last four epochs that this poetry describes in its many ways.
In many ways I feel as if the experiences and events I describe in my poetry only become real in the process of writing about them. Their import seems more fully realized, recognized when I wrap them in 'the garment of words.' This is probably due to the element of reflection, of thought which 'Abdu'l-Baha says is itself 'the reality of man.' The enduring quality of memory extends the dimensions of the moment and builds up patterns of personal significance to which to anchor my life and secure it against 'the withered bloom', 'the mere cupful' and 'the inner land of unreality.'
(1) Universal House of Justice, December 1988.
(5) Robert Penn Warren, Democracy and Poetry, Harvard UP, London, 1975, p.77.
(6) Shoghi Effendi in Universal House of Justice letter, February 1980.
POETRY AS PRAYER
The roots of poetry are in religion and poetry for me never loses its sense of the religious, the sacred, never loses its holy air. For me poetry is most effective in solitude, in times of aloneness and only, on certain special occasions, in a public setting. It is like prayer in this regard. Poetry puts me in touch with something deep and mysterious, something quite beyond me, yet closer to me that my life's vein, as Baha'u'llah puts it. This is how the famous American poet Wallace Stevens put it and he echoes my experience of poetry's prayerful solitariness. And finally, in a similar theme, while Walt Whitman was writing his great epic charter of democracy, Leaves of Grass, he wrote the following. It finds an echo in the great epic charter of this democratic-theocracy I've been associated with for over forty years.
A Clear Midnight
This is thy hour O Soul,
thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art,
the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing,
pondering the themes thou lovest best.
Night, sleep, death, and the stars.
-Ron Price with thanks to Edward Hirsch in Borzoi Reader: Poets on Poetry, on The Internet, 18 November 2001.
A clear midnight
and, if awake,
a time for prayer,
a special moment for my soul,
a supplication He wrote
to help me open my eyes.
But, for me, books and art
are prized possessions.
When my day is erased
and I ponder the themes
on which my life is based
I see my life and its action
as vitally linked with a
special plan, not a faction.
19 November 2001
Poetry for Price was not a collection of separate poems; rather it represented the story of his spiritual adventure, an adventure that plunged deep into his mind and soul. Price combined the roles of critic and poet and this dual role helped to articulate that adventure in some detail. He felt he gained strength, for the exercise, from those souls he had once loved and from those whom he prayed for on a daily basis. He prayed for the grace to produce the few lines he did each day, perhaps an average of twenty to thirty lines a day for the last nine years. He needed his escape routes from life: his home, his study, the bush, the sea, music, the electronic media. He lost himself in the solitude of study, the vastness of nature and the fathomless depths of ideas. He found TV was a rest for his mind, like meditation, it seemed to involve an emptying of his mind. Sometimes he would grow lonely, sad and perhaps a little afraid. This was usually at night after waking up at 3 or 4, 5 or 6 pm. -Ron Price with thanks to Joanna Richardson, Baudelaire, John Murray, London, 1994, p.365.
Sometimes his prose-poems
were little more than possible
entries in his journal or part of
an essay. Melancholy or inertia
had not descended on him yet,
in fact, they seemed for the most
part to have been left far behind him,
quite periferal to his experience now.
He could get on with translating
that mysterious quality: the invisible,
the ineffable, the impalpable, the soul
of his world and of himself, for his story
was really quite unique, as all stories were.
Here was the solemn and the complicated,
the exceptional and the imitative,
but buried in the quotidian,
the ordinarily ordinary,
the humanly human
and hopefully what he wrote
might help to awaken in others
some of the sweet blossoms
and fruits of that consecrated joy.
25 December 2001
IT IS DONE
The world of the intellect, one of life's most luminous lights, is an emanation of the human mind. So many powerful associations are focused, for Price, in the theatre of his private study where the feeling of intellectual pleasure and joy returned again and again. This special place proved to be a resilient presence; it provided him with a breadth of interest; it catered to his many schemes and moods.1 This small room functioned for him like a small library where his historical, philosophical, sociological, psychological, biographical, autobiographical, cultural, poetic and literary work was able to access its various resources. It was a cabinet of curiosities, some collected as many as forty years ago, others as fresh as yesterday. It was a stage where he could watch dramas of which he was both spectator and critic, both participant and author. He could ponder the narratives thrown up by a multiplicity of highly-varied phenomena of the human mind, the complex and often muddled scenarios and chronologies of the past, the rise and fall of civilizations and the range of options associated with the interpretation of their events and the slow and secret poisons2 which were eating unobtrusively into society's bulwarks while harrowing up the souls of its inhabitants in these darkest hours of history. -Ron Price with thanks to 1John Dixon Hunt, The Wider Sea: A Life of John Ruskin, JM Dent and Sons Ltd., London, 1982, p.195; 2J.A.S. Evans, "The Legacy of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall," Lecture 1998/9, American School of Classical Studies in Athens; and 3Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, Baha'i Pub. Trust, India, 1976, p.1.
There is mystery here, enough,
and analysis, dazzling rays
of a strange and heavenly power.1
I am grateful that I am capable
of imaginative vision
and that, for the most part,
the darkness of depression
and the dangers of delusion
do not oppress my soul.
If you do not like my work,
all I can say is that you
might as well tell a painter
you don't like his use of red,
or a potter that you don't like
the tone of blue on his pot.
For it is done and unlikely
will I even ponder over it again
or change it into better poetry.
1'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p.1.
4 November 2001
THE GRAND TOUR
Some poets, and I am certainly one, find a ready acceptance of what seems the inevitable and necessary interconnectedness between the various phenomena in existence. The world and its history is to my imagination, a grand and infinite cabinet of curiosities. My poetry is a statement of what sometimes feels like exalted personal experience, a passionate affirmation of my perceptions, analysis and meaning. The thousands of poems I write attempt to convey the greatest number of the greatest ideas, hopefully stimulating and more fully occupying the faculty by which they are received. Readers, it is my hope, will find in my poetry apt occasions to exercise their own stored richness. While I, enjoying the sublimity of silence which reigns in this small town by a river, by the sea; and the stillness of a quiet house and garden, with its view of that river and with its nearness to the bush, after a lifetime of moving from place to place, can have my mind enlarged by a Grand Tour of the 'new and wonderful configurations'1 cast on the mirror of creation in these latter epochs. -Ron Price with thanks to John Dixon Hunt, The Wider Sea: A Life of John Ruskin, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., London, 1982; and 'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p.1.
I came to resent, after existing
with wall-to-wall social contact,
for so many years, requiring
responsibility, time and energy
which I did not want
to apportion and adjudicate.
Had it been a restlessness
that urged me on from place to place?
Was it some nomadic instinct?
Is this, then, the record of a soul,
of the meaning of his days.
Was this my essential pleasure:
an agitation and settling
of the spirit in its proper place?
This has been my Grand Tour,
these new and wonderful configurations,
this ever-varying splendour
in this mirror of creation
during these several epochs
of the Formative Age.
3 November 2001
A HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEARS ON A PAGE
Novelist, Kathy Keneally,1 discussed how she put together her latest novel Room Temperature. She said she had wanted it to reflect life, her experience of it and its fragmentary, broken-up, nature. Her novel, then, she described as a knitting together of bits of letters, conversation, close-up details of the day-to-day all over the place and stories into one whole, but the whole did not possess a sequential, a logical narrative structure. Keneally said that women tend to write this way because they live their lives this way: in bits and pieces, doing many things at once over many years. Men, on the other hand, driven by a goal and a direction, write a straight line narrative from A to Z. At least this was one tendency, one contrast, she noted between the writing of men and women.
I found this comment on the writing of a novel relevant to the way I go about the writing of my poetry. My poetry reflects the way Keneally, the way women, write, at least one of the patterns women have when writing. Each poem is a discrete entity, a bit-and-a-piece. Each day I write, on average, two poems. That's fourteen a week and that's fourteen different topics, although these topics are imbued with some of that male unidirectionality, some commonality of theme and content as well. Here is a 19 line poem, a vahid, that tells a little of what I try to do in my poetry. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Kathy Keneally on "Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 14 October 2001, 7:25-8:15 pm.
Before listening to you, Kathy,
Andrew O'Hagan, the Scottish
novelist,1 was telling us about
the importance of living
in your subject imaginatively,
about 'making that subject new,'
as Ezra Pound once put it.
You have to provide, he said,
some living detail, aspect,
feature for those who will be
the special recipients of the poem,
those whom the poem belongs to,
who one day may read it
to themselves or in public,
one of my thousands of
the new stories of this Cause,
slowed down and put on a page,
a hundred and fifty years on a page.2
150,000 or 150 million years on a page.
1discussing his latest novel "Our Fathers."
2David Malouf, "Interview with Helen Daniel," Internet, 14 August 2001.
15 October 2001
A MINUTE DISSECTION
In the year that 'Abdu'l-Baha's teaching Plan was put into operation, 1937, the now famous poet W.H. Auden wrote: The day of a self-contained national culture is over. In May, a few weeks after the inception of the Plan, Auden wrote 'a call to arms,' for the Spanish Civil War. In October he was preparing his eclectic The Oxford Book of Light Verse. He was moved by political faith, but not yet to religious faith which both he and Price believed a person must live out from day to day. Like Auden, Price felt no crude need for fame; like Auden he did feel a need for visionary experience to fertilize his poetry, to illuminate what was good in the world while not excluding the bad; like Auden, Price felt the primary function of poetry was to make us more aware of ourselves and our world; like Auden, Price's one subject was personal responsibility. He worries about his own and he leaves others alone, to work out their own sense of responsibility, for the most part; like Auden, Price felt a passionate concern for what he wrote about and an absolute confidence in the success of the commitment that his poetic enterprize represented, for it was a success that was intimately linked with the religion he had espoused for over forty years. -Ron Price with thanks to Patrick Davenport-Hines, "The Cold Controlled Ferocity of the Human Species," Auden, Minerva, NY, 1996, pp.146-181.
There's a most minute dissection
of the spiritual illness of our time;
there is both hushed reverence
before the artistic mystery and
my own cause, again and again.
While you and I gaze, slowly,
in the same direction and
at each other's mystery
we come to define love
and the direction
in which we are moving.1
And I, for I speak for myself,
put the pieces of direction,
over the last two decades,
to my most exalted home.
1Auden said he had no sense of directyion at the age of 37
10 October 2001
A TWENTY-FOUR HOUR CURIOSITY
When the teaching Plan began in 1937 the poet W.H. Auden was at the height of his powers.1 He received the King George Gold Medal for Poetry that year and published a verse play in 1938, On the Frontier. So much of what Auden was trying to do in his poetry is what I am trying to do. I like to think that I am, to some extent, continuing the Auden enterprize since our aims and goals are so very similar. He believed poetry should praise all it could for being and for happening; it should be a reflection of intensive and extensive reading and thinking; of understanding and an enjoyment, a zest, in living, it should reflect an active rather than a passive relation to experience. He also believed poets had a separate existence and meaning in the lives of their readers, that poetry was 'memorable speech,' that it was part of a person's effort to give coherence to life. For the poet language functioned to digest and express the world and to create emotions and attitudes in the reader. Being alone is crucial for Auden. The poet's best feelings go into their work. -Ron Price with thanks to Richard Davenport-Hines, Auden, Minerva, NY, 1996. 1 Edmund Wilson wrote in 1937 that Auden had arrested his development at the stage of adolescent schoolboy.(ibid.,p.135.) Views of poetry and poetic development are various.
You believed a poet had to devote
himself to the enterprise of poetry
and had to order his life and reading
to that end, to analyse, explain
and dominate life, history
and all that was in a great oneness
giving, as it did, humility
and self-confidence to his days,
rooted as they were in
twenty-four hour curiosity,
a visionary, oceanic, unity
which would burst into flame
part of the seriousness of a child
at play, totally absorbed,
a solemn consciousness
with joy and thankful gladness.
10 October 2001
FIRST TAKING FORM
What Anthony Burgess says of D.H. Lawrence's poetry could very well be said of my own, at least I like to think so. He seems to make poetry out of not caring a damn what poetry is supposed to be. We call them poems because of the intense sensibility they disclose and the emotive and descriptive daring of the language, but they could as well be fragments of essays, jottings in a notebook, digressions in a story or a novel. It is a charging of language with meaning that is the essence of his poetry. He is so very much there: pontific, self-doubtful, humble, raging, letting the free-verse lines rush out--units drawn from his own speech patterns--and impatienctly spending words as freely as seed in the search for an essence. -Ron Price with thanks to Anthony Burgess, Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H. Lawrence, Heinemann, London, 1985, pp.115-116.
They all come so unwatched from my pen
because they have been watched for so long.
They come aiming like an arrow
for a certain mental attitude,
a vantage point,
a divinely conceived arrangement,
for a motivating power,
an ampler manifestation
of human achievement,1
trying to make conclusions
from all that has happened,
from all of the particularities.
They all come as part of
some great belonging,
some organic Oneness,
part of the earth
and part of the sea.2
He3 felt it right at the start,
when that great System
was first taking form
and I see it now on Carmel
where His all-conquering
sovereignity is manifest.
in the midst of a great storm.
1The Universal House of Justice, Letter: 29 December 1988.
2Lawrence's concept of organic oneness is discussed by Burgess, op.cit., pp.124-125.
3D.H. Lawrence, wrote extensively from in the first three decades of the 20th century.
4 October 2001
PUTTING IT OUT THERE
There is absolutely no doubt that I have been obsessed by the Baha'i Faith since about 1965. I suppose it is a type, a variety of fanaticism, but 'obsession' seems to be the more appropriate word. It is the word Koestler uses when he talks about creativity. It is the word some writers, like Xavier Herbert, use when they talk about their passion for writing. Obsession seems to be an honorific word, for the most part, as opposed to the pejorative word 'fanaticism.' Explorers like James Cooke seem obsessed with their role as explorer-adventurer. They become men with missions; their lives have an intense, a sharp, focus. Now that I have come in recent years to write about this obsession in a satisfactory way, at least somewhat so, I am conscious of my idiosyncratic, my unique style. It took me twenty-five years to work out a form in which to place the vehicle of the written word, to channel my obsession. It was a slow and difficult evolution. To tell the story in the best way I could did not come easily. But the way did come and now I am faced with this idiosyncratically structured vehicle, a curious combination of forms: the prose-poem, the essay, the interview and a pot-pourri of material. Everything I write, I am quite aware, reveals something about me to those who have eyes to see. This revelation is quite a fascinating mystery to me. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 30 September 2001.
I feel curiously drawn to writers
who reflect something familiar:
similar socialisation processes,
topics or obsessions
that I myself possess,
as I express my unique,
my original writerly sensibility.
And I seem to find little bits of me
all over the place
as I try to synthesize the person,
the self that I am
from every several atoms in existence
and the essence of all created things:
and so I put it out there.
30 September 2001
ANOTHER WARLIKE AND TRAGIC AGE
Helen Vendler, in her analysis of the poetry of George Herbert(1593-1633), points out that Herbert "thrust his mind into whatever nourished it to find out the ingredients of the nourishment."1 I found this description of Herhert's intellectual appetite to be a very apt one to describe my own mental processes and predilections. I would like to think I possess Herbert's felicity in describing his most tenuous feelings; his poetic suggestiveness which acts like an aura around a bright clear centre, his unparalleled intellectual elegance, his fidelity to the experience which he sets out to describe, his ability to constantly reinvent and revise in the process of writing a poem, his ability to renounce and surrender the claims of the ego, his ability to delight the reader at least in some places with a poetry which was a mechanism for devouring experience. These qualities I would like to possess, but I'm inclined to think I fall far short. Vendler defines for me some of my goals, some of my poetic aims. -Ron Price with thanks to Helen Vendler, The Poetry of George Herbert, Harvard UP, London, 1975, p.6.
I want to bring so many things to life,
squeezing drops of their essence
to fall upon the page
from my fevered brain
or in its coolest moments
while I dwell in this small town
by the sea, its tides swelling
this way and that.
I want to indulge in nice speculation,
but not tax my readers with close-pack,
dense with meaning, requiring an axe.
I do not expect to be read by all and sundry
just to be understood by the small audience
for whom I write in my most personal style.
This is a variant of the metaphysicals1
four-hundred years after their start
and I provide deep thoughts
in common, not-necessarily-religious,
language for yet another warlike,
various and tragic age
with its essentially practical realism.
1A school of poetry begun in the 1590s which Helen Gardner says creates "for us particular situations out of which prayer and meditation arises."(in The Metaphysical Poets, Penguin, 1985(1957), p.27.
16 September 2001
A TOTAL VACCUUM
I don’t give my loyalty to any party; I’m totally apolitical. It’s difficult. That is how Scottish crime fiction writer Ian Rankin put it when interviewed on "Writers and Writing", ABC Radio, 10 September 1999, 7:15-8:00 pm. This apolitical position which Baha'is have been assuming for many a long year is now being espoused by millions who do not vote and millions who do.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 10 September 1999.
I’ve been apolitical
at least since 1962.
It’s become much easier
‘cause just about everyone is,
in this world of immense complexity.
You just can’t line yourself up
quite as easily, get off the fence
as simply as you used to do.
have all softened their edges.
Of course, there’s more noise,
so it sounds like there are differences,
but down in the everyday world
where I’ve been most of my life
its tweedledum and tweedledee,
indifference and a mentality of non-commitment
in what amounts to a total vaccuum.1
1 working with classes of Tafe students for in the 1980s and 1990s and mixing socially across Australia since 1971.
10 September 1999
Some professions as well as life in a Baha'i community offer us many clues, cues, as to what kind of people we are.1 Hundreds of students over thirty years of teaching gave me specific feedback on the type of person I was: organized, entertaining, humorous, knowledgeable, etc.; my first wife thought I was impulsive; my second wife knew my lack of interest in many of the practical things in life: gardening, cooking, fixing the car or other household items, things that could have been useful to the household; a female colleague back in the days I taught high school liked me because I was unpredictable; four female students in my entire career indicated, each in their unique ways, that they wanted to make love with me; a supervisor at a Tafe College saw me as disorganized and inefficient; another supervisor, for reasons still unknown to me, seemed to have a strong dislike, even hatred, for me. If I am good-tempered, perhaps it is the daily venting of words that makes me so. Perhaps the household that nurtured me from birth was over-indulgent and being good was just a means to getting what I wanted. I was frequently voted in as secretary or chairman in Baha'i communities. What clue, cue, does this give me? -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 14 July 2001; and William Hatcher, "The Concept of Spirituality," Baha'i Studies, Vol.11, p.25.
This massive datum that is my life,
this specimen piece,
in its odd uniqueness
of all the oddly unique lives
in the world,
has been tapped,
its veins have been touched
with a scientific dispassion
and curiosity, its load mined.
But so much is hidden from me
by merciful forgetfulness;
the raw material of my days
has been eroded into shapes
less imaginery and less final
than those of fiction.
And so, we have here,
things that are provisonal,
description that solidifies the past
and creates a gravitational body
that wasn't there before.
And so much background,
things not said, goes buzzing on.1
1 John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs, Andre Deutsch, London, 1989, p.ix.
14 July 2001
MAYBE ONE DAY..........
The Australian writer, Peter Carey, said that most of his stories were prompted by the questions: "Do people want to live the way they do? Do they have to live the way they do? And, what happens when they want to change? When they try to change, he says, they struggle ineffectually to escape meaningless jobs, predatory relationships, corrosive addictions and exploitative social environments. His stories celebrate a resilient human spirit in travail: in fear-haunted, corrupt and crumbling cultures, precariously balanced on the edge of a disaster-ridden, nightmarish, science-fiction futures.
Carey has a fierce emotional energy, a turbulent imagination and his stories are extraordinarily visual. They make good films. He writes in the idiom of the moment, a testimony to his advertising background. There is a jewelled concision, an emotional poignancy, to his richly poetic work. He writes in scrupulously realistic detail, with a strong sense of the existential anguish and of the personal and social diseases that ravish our fin de siecle lives in Australia.-Ron Price with appreciation to Anthony J. Hassall, Peter Carey’s Fiction: Dancing on Hot Macadam, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1994, pp.1-5.
Maybe one day I’ll write
some novel or sci-fi piece
that conveys some of my sense
of how things are.
I’ll write in rich detail,
tell of the anguish of people’s lives
and spin them a good yarn.
Then a film will be made;
I might even be rich and famous,
at least for a time.
More realistically, though,
I think I’d prefer to exist
a coterie of the population,
those working within Baha’i administration
and community life,
write of the experience of this emerging world religion
over the half century: 1951-2001
with the aim of helping those
who’d be doing the job in the next half century:
with understanding, humour and adventure.
We shall see!
12 January 1999
MR RILKE’S ADVICE
Try to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Seek themes from your own everyday life. Call forth the riches from your own life. Turn inward and out of an absorption in your own world let the verses flow. Let your poetry spring from the necessities of your own life, from the submerged sensations of your past, from a widening and deepening solitude, from a quiet and serious growth of your self and your inmost feelings.-R. M. Rilke, Letter, 17th February 1903.
I have followed your advice, Mr. Rilke,
in poem after poem.
I have turned inward
and let the verses flow
to tell of these days
at the beginning of
the Kingdom of God on Earth,
the first half century,
traces of gold,
footprints in snow,
in the hot dust,
from the immortal nest,
perhaps not worthy
of the immortal nest,
but clearly the recipient
of a draught of the soft flowing waters
of Thy sweet honied knowledge.
6 February 1999
THE EXPERIENCE OF CULTIVATED MEN
The great poet is more type than man, more passion than type. A poet always writes of his personal life and, in his finest work, out of his tragedy. Art springs from distress. For the poet there is always a phantasmagoria, a delirium, an intoxication, a chaos of ideas, often from reading. The process of creating out of deep personal feeling is one of rebirth. As the poet labours to complete his work he is reborn as an idea, something intended, complete. It is in this that the poet’s power lies. By the continuous exercise of his craftsmanship and inspiration, nature and society grows more intelligible. Part of the poet’s creative power becomes intelligible as well. In the process the poet touches the essence, the spirit, of humanity.-Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, W.B. Yeats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1997.
With no pretensions to being ‘great’,
I write so much of this for them,
for this community,
that has been so much of what I am,
in mind, body, soul and spirit,
that provides the compass of my imaginings.
Whether in love or in utter frustration,
in joy or in weariness,
or looking out from behind my mask,
for some aesthetic, artistic, completeness:
for all the world’s a stage
and all the men and women merely players
and we have the mask of our so many selves,
so many necessary, needed, selves.
With those desires for intoxication
and delight from the memory of old emotions,
with all the uncounted flavours of old experience,
emotions deepened by time and cultivated men,
constantly reanimating received images of delight
in my daily life.
24 May 1999
That’s enough for now!