28. POETRY IN PUBLIC
You will find below several poems that deal with this issue of ‘reading in public' and becoming 'a public poet'. There follows a short essay on 'reading poetry out loud' and a second essay on autobiographical poetry. This hyperlink ends with a selection of poetry on the subject of 'poetry in public.'
This afternoon I heard Russian poet Joseph Brodsky(1940-1996) read his poetry in both Russian and English. Brodsky won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and was poet laureate in the USA in 1992/3. His reading style was what you might call declamatory, resembling religious incantation or chanting. I thought, as I listened to his reading, that if I ever become a poet who entertains, who reads in public, I would like to draw on, emulate, Brodsky's style. He had a quality of intensity, of spirit, of voice, of love of language, of a limitless belief in poetry, of moral authority that combined to produce an effect which was spell-binding and so different from the average poetry reading I had heard over the years. Brodsky had been imprisoned in the 1960s in Siberia and this gave him the time and freedom from distraction to write poetry. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 12 October 2002. Joseph Brodsky on "Poetica," ABC Radio National, 12 October 2002, 3:00-4:00 pm.
This story is as intense as Brodsky's,
as rich and deep and profound
as anything he could and did say,
inspired as it is by an immense drama:
the most spectacular, most tragic,
most eventful in the world's long
And mine, now, is the duty,
as I strive to play my part,
resolutely and unreservedly,
to ponder, to widen my vision,
to hasten the realization
of that Wondrous Vision,
the brightest emanation
of His Mind,
the fairest fruit
of the fairest civilisation
the world has not yet seen.
12 October 2002
2Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha'u'llah
JUST LIKE TEACHING
In the first twelve years of my occasional poems, 1980 to 1992, I used to give a poem away to a friend or associate, or show it to someone for whom I had written the poem I did the same in the next ten years, 1992 to 2002. On special occasions I would even read one of my poems at a Feast, in a cafe or at a poetry reading. Sometimes, but again rarely, I ran a seminar or gave a talk on my poetry. On very rare occasions, one of these adventures in poetry proved to be a meaningful, a valuable, exercise. But by the time I approached the end of my fortieth year of pioneering and twenty-second year of writing poetry, in August 2002, I only gave a poem away on very special occasions and then only after much thought and decision-making. By then I had had several websites, outlets for my work, for more than a year. This was enough, at least along with the preparation of booklets of poetry that I gave to special groups. I did not feel the need to be more of a 'public poet' than that. In the main, though, poetry had become what it was at the start, a private experience of pleasure with the occasional foray into the public domain--very much like what the experience of being a Baha'i and directly and openly teaching the Cause had become. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 10 March 2002.
Twenty-two years of giving poems
to people had taught me
some important lessons:
to simplify my poems
as far as it is possible,
that some people,
found my poems difficult
to understand or were just
not to their interest, taste,
and that occasionally
a soul was really impressed
with one of my poems---
something spoke to their heart.
Such, too, was the nature
of teaching the Cause.
10 March 2002.
The writing of a poem locates the poet in, and in relation to, the world. This is equally, if not more, true when the poet reads his poem. There is a creative and regenerative property, a resonant plenitude, for both the reader and the listener; there is an empowering magic, at least potentially, in the voice, in the very vibrancy of the utterance, that projects worlds into being when a poem is read well. There is a restoring of continuity to a life, to a community, or to a self fragmented by time and memory. There is a void, too, which fuels the voice when a poem is read. A poem is a place, a place of habitation, a psychic space that places people in relation to all that is their world, that provides an emotional centeredness, a mental spaciousness. A poem is all of this or it can be nothing. -Ron Price with thanks to Eynel Wardi, "A Boy in the Listening: On Voice, Space and Rebirth in the Poetry of Dylan Thomas," Internet, 2 February 2002.
There is the wish for self-generation
here in this veiling of utterance.
There is some continuity
as I set out again in search
for my lost voice
muted as it has been
by life's endless words,
the endless churning
of the weightless air
with our questions
and our words.
Will I get in touch here
with the dead self in me,
in you, with our time-worn
faith, through this magic,
this vibration, this empowering
resonance which out of the void
springs into some space
in your head which has been
fragmented for so long
it knows nothing else.
6 February 2002
AN AWEFUL NECESSITY
Sometimes an event takes place in my day's travels that I want to celebrate with a poem. This is due to the fact that verse has a place in my home, my work, my interests, in the ordinary rituals of everyday. Poetry feels to me a little like "a gum which oozes." The action of a poem, like that oozing gum, is, as Shakespeare once wrote, "no stronger than a flower."1 Poetry, for me, contains within it the coordinates and contradictions of experience. It also contains within it the presence of the grand elementary principle of pleasure. But it all comes together when I want to make a poem through a "sort of energy, a transfusing, welding, unifying force."2 -Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations Selected Prose: 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, 1980; and ibid.,p.24.
I'd read my poems in public before
here in Tasmania: at that café,
in my home at a Feast,
heard someone else read them,
but here was my poetry going out
over the airwaves of northern Tasmania.1
This was an occasion
to celebrate deep in my heart:
no songs, no cheers, no festivities.
The silent wonder of an ordinary life,
unscripted, flawed and plausible,
the spiritual intellect's greatest work,
part of the creation of civilization
without establishing some notable presence
in the minds of my contemporaries,
just a quiet reading in a studio
and the question: is anyone listening?
There is an aweful necessity in the gift,
to keep going and its lovely wonder
tutored by instinctive cheer and courage?
1I read two poems played on 103.5 FM, City park Radio, 13 December 2001.
8 December 2001
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
THE SOUND OF THE WORD
The Greeks held the view that "the only genuine forces which could form the soul were words and sounds."(Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture,1939, p.xxvii). While the Baha’i teachings place some weight on memorizing and saying prayers "that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul"(Baha’i Prayers,USA, 1985, p.v.) these teachings do not make it the exclusive, or the only genuine forces that can form the soul. The poet to the Greek had a critical educational mission. To the Baha’i the poet traces the window into eternity that he or she glimpses fleetingly. Poets give contrete form to spiritual verities by freezing a moment’s vision into lasting images; they give permanence to the ephemeral. The poet is a co-creator fashioning God’s poem.(John Hatcher, The Arc of Ascent, p.23)
But the sound that is important to utter is not the poet’s poems, but the Great Poet Who helps bring our selves into being. In the beginning, the Baha’i Writings emphasize, was the Word. In the first twenty-five years of my Baha’i pioneering experience the sound of Baha’i prayers had a great quantitative importance. By the age of eighteen I had memorized the Long Obligatory Prayer and many others in the prayer book. I have been repeating them all my life. This has been essentially a private experience. I always liked the idea of "the scattering angels of the Almighty" scattering the fragrances of the words uttered by my mouth in "the privacy of my chamber." More recently, the Word has been a source of meditation, reflection, contemplation. The product of these thoughts are to be seen in many of my essays and poems.
My experience of poetry readings, where the words of the great mass of poets is read, is somewhat the way Helen Vendler puts it: "audiences are like lemmings moving in obedience to obscure compulsions."(In Poetries: Their Media and Ends, I.A. Richards, 1974, p.152.) Poetry needs to be read well by readers who are either trained or simply good at the job of reading." This is also true at Feasts where the words of the greatest Poet are read. It is not by accident that reading the Word is the centrepiece of the Feast. For the Greeks were right, in part; sound does have an educative effect.
I.A. Richards, on the other hand, states that "it will do no harm if some readers are what some judges will regard as bad."(ibid.,p.152) "Most listeners" he goes on "are still oddly insensitive and over-tolerant as to the handling of the reading voice." Faults in reading, paradoxically, can bring out, help the listener focus, on what was often unnoticed or unappreciated before. Although I have grown to prefer good readers to bad, as a teacher and as a Baha’i who tries to attend his Feasts out of a sense of duty or pleasure or both, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of Richards’ remarks. Readers who make mince-meat of the holy Word make me appreciate all the more the good reader. The words of a good reader seem to literally get soaked-up, like a pure spring source, after listening to a mish-mash.
I should say something about music since it has been an important part of my Baha’i experience with sound since Baha’i song sheets started to emerge in the early sixties. I have written about this elsewhere so I won’t expatiate on the topic here. I will say, though, that after thirty years(1962-1992) of playing and listening to a small repertoire of songs on the stages of the small Baha’i communities in which I lived, I listened with a great deal of pleasure to the songs of Greg and Melanie Parker in Western Australia, Parrish and Tappano distributed by EMI, Mary Davis of North Carolina and many others who produced CDs in the 1990s.
Seales and Crofts, of course, we had always had with us from the sixties onwards, but there was something unique, refreshing and live which brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart when I arrived in Perth in the late 1980s and heard a Baha'i choir, Baha'i musicians and, in the 1990s, Baha'i stage productions. I knew I could put my guitar away and that small repertoire I had lived with for over a quarter of a century with relief. The Baha’i world now had a wealth of musicians, music and talent. My guitar had helped for those days in which there was nothing else: the third and the start of the forth epoch. The "no-talent" evenings had at last come to an end.
13 October 1997
THIS AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL POETRY
Anyone who has examined seriously the literature on autobiography in recent decades, in the very years that this pioneering story has been taking place(1962-1995); anyone who has attempted to fathom the nature and meaning of both his Baha’i community experience and his inner life; any pioneers, and especially international pioneers, who have attempted to regulate their lives to the rhythms of crisis and victory and become the fundamentally assured and happy people that we would all like to become; will immediately recognise complexity at all levels: global, community and the inner person.
They will recognise the contradictions and paradoxes in their behaviour and the divergent identifications which barely ever fuse to make one coherent and continuous self. There is an ever-elusive and evanescent quality of experience that makes it difficult to grasp, apprehend, define and formulate.
Slowly one comes to understand the meaning and the secret intent of one’s personal myth, as Jung called the inner core of one’s life. One must be conscious of underlying and often unconscious tendencies to invent the story of one’s life, so that the reality gets lost in something the person would want their life to be but, in fact, is not. Seizing the authentic story of our lives should be at the heart of our essential, our autobiographical, goal and aim. That might be how the psychoanalytically oriented theorists would put the process.(1)
There is little doubt that what we experience we process, we elaborate, in unending sequences of images and acts. We call this thinking. New experience becomes ordered and integrated as part of this unending process. We try to fit it in without straining and disquieting the self. We also want to know who we are, how we should behave and how to achieve order, coherence and continuity in our lives. Autobiography deals with all of these processes, all of these fundamental questions. There is the ‘me’ and the model I am trying to emulate in the person of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and the extensive elaborations in the writings of the other legitimate successors to Baha’u’llah. Unity, consistency, aims and goals, degree of self-mastery, resistance to the telling of certain stories whose confessional nature makes resistance a normal and necessary event: are all part of our search for the authentic and idiosyncratic self at the centre of our lives.
There is an inevitable selective reporting; the true and indigenous autobiography is only a narrative inchoate(2) as Frederick Wyatt calls the fragment of our lives we have conveyed. Anecdotes are chosen for their illustrative power, to further a line of thought, for their narrative smoothing effect. That is why I have chosen poetry as my main autobiographical genre, essay as its companion piece, with the journal as the back up and narrative a distant, but critical, fourth. Narrative tends to evenly hover; it creeps in at many points in the preambles to my poems. Poetry tends to plunge and even to crash at points, at junctures, at thematic places in my life. It is difficult, even undesireable in some important ways, to make one's life story smooth, too smooth, too even. For life itself, in the raw, is far, far, from smooth.
Narratives, like those of biographies and autobiographies, which purport to tell the truth have had limited value in American psychology. Science has never been able to deal with their complexities, some writers argue. I would argue, as many do now, that hermeneutics and reconstruction both are useful tools in examining autobiography. They can bring out its meaning; delve into cultural-historical contexts or indeed a host of other contexts; examine inconsistencies, biases, textual distortions, dishonesties, basic assumptions, omissions and the power of perspective.
With well over over five thousand poems, hundreds of letters, hundreds of pages of journal, one hundred and fifty pages of narrative, some three hundred essays: perhaps two to three million words there is at the very least a base here for analysis and interpretation. More importantly, there is a solid foundation for future Baha’i historians to gain some clarity of insight into the third and fourth epochs of the Formative Age and especially the experience of one pioneer. There is a place, a resource, here for the future analyst.
(1) Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct, Theodore Sarbin, editor, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1986.
(2) Frederick Wyatt, "The Narrative in Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalytic Notes on Storytelling, Listening and Interpreting" in Narrative Psychology: The Storied Nature of Human Conduct, T. Sarbin, editor, Praeger Pub., NY, 1986, p.202.
Revised 9 August 2001
We cannot be relieved of life by merely looking away from it, but only by shaping and experiencing the sense and the forces of its deepest reality in the unreal and seemingly quite autonomous play of its forms. It is a play wherein all the tasks and all the seriousness of life are present in a sublimated and diluted form, a form in which the content-laden forces of reality reverberate only dimly. The gravity of these social forms we participate in all our life must evaporate, at least some of the time, at least at certain times, into mere attractiveness, an attractiveness that finds its base in humour, in sheer aesthetic delight, in sensory pleasure or in the play of the mind in the intersticies of existence where bright lights dance. Ron Price with thanks to George Simmel in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, trans. Kurt Wolff(ed.), Collier-MacMillan, NY, 1964, Chapter 3.
I’d like to think that it is due to Greatness,
that makes me ill at ease
in minor company.
But one can not say this for sure,
one knows not what one sees
in any company.
For society is like the stage
and so much is an act;
it’s not so much the lieing;
it’s more the fact of tact.
For sociability is artificial
in all our social worlds;
we must deal with aversions
and our mountains of reserve.
We must act as if the weaker
were much stronger than deserve.
And so, the key to interaction
and its attractive forms,
is to let the serious evaporate
and dilute all the heavy storms,
at least some of the time
in all our social forms.
4 January 1999
PAINTING THE BRIDGE
This afternoon a short radio program called Poetica took the listener through the poetry of San Francisco from the beginning of the second Seven Year Plan(1946-1953) through to the end of Ten Year Crusade in 1963. It was a very quick flick from the Berkeley Renaissance to Allen Ginsberg's and Gary Snyder's poetry into the early 1960s and the Beat generation. These were the years of my childhood, early contact with the Baha'i Faith and eventual pioneering in 1962. One can not summarize this entire period in one poem, but certain items of information from the program stand out; for example, they started to paint the Golden Gate bridge in 1937 and they are still painting it sixty-four years later. In the same way, the teaching Plans began to be put into place in 1937 and are still running strong. This poem is about 'painting the bridge' to a new age. -Ron Price with thanks to Make Ladd, "Poetica," ABC Radio National, 2:05-2:45 pm, 16 June 2001.
They started to paint
the Golden Gate bridge
in the same year
the Plan got launched;
a new poetry
started to flow
when the second Plan
was inaugurated in '46;1
and Kenneth Rexroth wrote
his Thou Shalt Not Kill in '53
before Ginsberg's Howl in '55
and Gary Snyder,
all performance poets
at the heart of that Crusade;
and book shops, like 'City Lights,'
at 261 Columbus Avenue,
getting its start in 1953
when the Kingdom of God
also got its kick start in Chicago.
But I was into baseball at the time
and my mother was writing
a different poetry
in southern Ontario,
inspired as she was
by a new spirit
just then spreading
its wings across the globe.2
1 The Berkley Renaissance in poetry beginning in 1946.
2the collection I have of my mother's poetry seems to begin about 1950, after twenty years of gathering the poetry of others. She joined the Cause in 1953, the year after it had just spread to over 100 new countries.
Ron Price 16 June 2001
Many writers regard the public as a non-nourishing entity. Certainly that has largely been my experience with various sectors of the public in the last decade. If this body of poetry is to be worthy of the eye of the literary critic, and it may one day, then it will by then have sufficiently moved someone(hopefully many). Such a person will feel the impact of my poetry in all its complexity and force. Such a person will be themselves someone of complexity and force; they will have the courage to say what they feel and they will know what they feel. This is what being emotionally alive, intellectually capable and morally honest means, at least partly. At the same time the critic must exercise a certain etiquette of expression, a mature and judicious faculty of speech and be as free of malice, passion and prejudice as is possible. In the end it is desireable that the critic be a source of social good.-Ron Price with appreciation to D.H. Lawrence in The Pelican Guide to English Literature: The Modern Age, 3rd edition, 1973, p.391; and The Universal House of Justice, Letter ‘To the Followers of Baha’u’llah in the USA’, 29 December 1988.
Receptivity is largely a question of timing/
the right person in the right place at the right
time/then you have the recipe for success/ and
you can’t force it/it seems to be a naturally occuring
substance/ like the rocks which warm to the sun and
are cold at night/or a tree growing so slowly that no
one ever sees it growing/ but one day you wake up
and see that it is grown/then you see it has grown
some more/if you wait around for enough years you
see an immense and beautiful specimen/no marketing/
no advertising/no sell jobs/ just the slow working of
the most natural process on earth/self-renewing/shaping
itself as it grows by some internal biological process.
31 December 1998
On leaving the poetry reading at the café, Sim’s Café in Launceston, on 12 September 1999 about 10:30 pm, I met a distinguished lady about my age or older. She complimented me on my reading and particularly my clear, easy-to-listen-to voice. She thought one poem was particularly funny and one was too serious for the crowd. She told me about her daughter who was on lithium and about another girl in a mental hospital in Hobart. We parted after talking for about two minutes.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
It was about entertainment and the social.
I’d left that world behind in Perth.
There would be little chance of teaching the Cause here,
although I might get a mention in occasionally
and I’ve had enough of that light salt and pepper stuff.
Lots of rhyming couplets,
that ever-present liberal language
with a political tinge-spice,
beer, smoke and people
trying, trying, trying,
while I read my four poems
to entertain and be social:
trying, trying, trying.
12 September 1999
AN INTANGIBLE FRAGRANCE
I try here in this timeless format of a poem to isolate quite profound feelings. In the process I blur the line between memory and present experience. Emotional memory and external physical reality and their associated perceptions combine to produce an internal personal reality. It is this reality which becomes the core of the poem below. --Ron Price with appreciation to Canadian artists from the 1960s and 1970s whose works in the Art Gallery of Ontario inspired the following poem.
It was very heaven
to be a youth in ’57,
although I can’t say
the same was true in ’67.
Those days were old and sweet:
baseball, hockey, school,
so simple and neat.
But now they’re long gone;
all that’s left is the song.
All that’s left is memory lane;
all that’s left is another world.
it’s not the same; it’s rich
with pictures of days gone by.
They mix with the new
making an intangible fragrance:
will it last ‘til the day I die?
30 May 2000
The process of writing poetry is the opposite of channel surfing which a person does with the remote button of a TV. Here the viewer gets a quick peak at a world, a surface, an image, an impression and then moves on to another until he has finished surfing. In writing poetry, the look, the peak, the stay in one place is not quick. The process takes time. One is after depth not surface, reality not impressions, detail not broad brush stroke, thought not sensation, contemplation and silence not speed and sound. There is a type of surfing, though, which is like writing poetry where the aim is to become one with the wave, to induce a mystical, a peak, experience, to have the self disappear and become one with the experience of writing, to demonstrate the best, the finest, of one’s skill, to practice and practice giving all of one’s effort and energy, devotion and enthusiasm, drive and peristence. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 6 October 2000.
There is no tool to move the world here,
although words change worlds
as fast as they go down.
The images can come fast in this world,
but with more control than with that button.
There is a wave here that I try to get on
and ride, lose myself and run with the water
as it rides across my life,
my religion and my world.
There is a being and becoming here and now.
There is a stepping in and stepping out,
a going down, a going in,
a going up, a travelling
sub specie aeternitatis.
6 October 2000
READING MY POEMS
Identity is fragile. Doubt, uncertainty and disharmony are, in the nature of things, and are the conditions in which one searches for a unified whole, a whole which always remains a desire, a faith, an act of mind, always an experience of jarring, discordant and incompatible parts. Consequently, my aim in writing poetry is to go beyond, to get beyond, the poetry to what it all aims at, some inner, quintessential quality, a quality which is partly the way the poem, the oevre, appears, partly the way it sounds, and partly something quite undefineable. -Ron Price with thanks to The Fire and the Rose: New Essays on T.S. Eliot, editors Vinod Sena and Rajiva Verma, Oxford UP, Delhi, 1992.
As you read, you listen,
no one way of interpreting this work
in your complex operation:
so to ask me what it means
is to ask for my meaning,
my individual view, one view,
sense of the underlying substratum,
the result of my probing,
a maturation, a penetration,
some insight, spirituality,
which grows more and more sensitive,
more and more profound
and appreciative of the life,
you, me and soul beneath the surface,
the worlds, that are my days of thought-feeling.
11 May 1998
READING POETRY IN PUBLIC
Bruce Dawe advised readers of poetry to believe in the "hidden life" of their poems. This belief would be, he said, "like blowing on the coals of a fire which once blazed....fed by some experience." Dawe emphasized "the fire" not "the stoker" and advised the poet not to get between the poem and the audience. The fire is the poem not the poet. The reader, the storyteller, the poet, should be "lost in the trackless forest of the tale" and his own footprints should be "swallowed up behind" the trackless forest of the poem. -Ron Price with thanks to Bruce Dawe in Mortal Instruments: Poems 1990-1995, Longman House, Melbourne, 1995, p.57.
How can one separate
the poem from the poet,
or the mother from the child?
Of course, we do, they do,
but there is always symbiosis,
that mystic intercourse
that ties a creation
to its creator.
Perhaps it is love
that fills the soul
with the spirit of life
and binds the two together,
15 October 1999
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
To be a really great letter-writer it is not enough to write the occasional excellent letter. It is necessary to write constantly, indefatigably with ever recurring zest. It is almost necessary to live to a ripe old age. What makes a correspondence fascinating is the accumulated effect of a slow, gradual, day-to-day development; and the long, leisurely unfolding of a character and a life. -Lytton Strackey in Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield: 1903-1917, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1984, p.xvii.
Well, Lytton, you’ve got
a fifteen year warm-up,1
and nearly twenty years
of a leisurely unfolding,
in the 3rd and 4th epochs.2
But, Lytton, you’ve got it
for a purpose:
not so much to tell you
about the past,
but what it promises to assist
with living the future.3
So, Lytton, you’ve got
a social consciousness
of the times here;
reality is constructed
in writing not reported on
and my life becomes private.....
even as I bring it
into the public domain.4
1 1967-1981: fifteen warm-up years of letters in-and-out.
21982-2001: nearly twenty years of extensive correspondence now kept in seventeen files
3Stephen Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989.
4Making collections of letters is still an activity of publishers, but as I write these words I can’t help but feel that making this extensive collection of letters has been a useless activity. Sometimes I get a ray of enthusiasm and confidence in the value of the process and the collection.
9 August 2001
POETRY READINGS AND WORKSHOPS
Until the 1980s and certainly the 1990s, at least in most places, poetry readings had been quite predictable activities, "serious affairs of artistic portent" and often "pained expression." Poets stumbled somewhat; often they read poorly, the audience tried to listen but were often bored to tears. It was really not entertaining. But a new wind began to blow; I sensed it was in the forth epoch(1986-2001). The whole thing became more entertaining. Poets rehearsed and organizers worried about background and setting. Readings became things to go to, desireable pastimes, part of a trend in club entertainment. Style became central. The style was the man and the content of his poems or the text was more enigmatic. To many poets readings were a sideline; to others the old poetry reading was still the same. Spoken poetry is "to drama as chamber music is to symphony." Sometimes the music goes on too long; sometimes the poet is just a poor 'actor;' sometimes the whole experience, the evening's readings, are not treated enough as a performance, as a piece of entertainment. -Ron Price with thanks to Peter Finch, "Poetry Readings and Workshops," The Poetry Kit, pp.1-4, on The Internet 12 August 2001.
Some need the readings pretty bad;
they'd fold up into nothing
if the stage was removed.
If it comes along, I'll play
the entertainer for all its worth,
really dig the whole thing
with all the theatrics,
the gesticulations, eccentricities,
the talents of delivery.
But I'm happy to leave to others
the driving, the parking and the cold night air
and all the words, the endless words.
12 August 2001
I find reading poetry in public an ambivalent act. Being the entertainer, mixing laughs and knowledge, I have enjoyed for years. It’s like classroom teaching, although the pleasure of the interaction is losing its dynamism after ten thousand appearances. There’s a certain range of human types you must deal with when working with an audience, in the classroom or a public place for reading poetry, if your emotions are to remain intact. There are the loud types who laugh immoderately in the wrong places, or talk to themselves or others in the middle of your oration; there are the people who buttonhole you with questions about every conceivable topic under the sun, with some thoroughly unappetising anecdotes along the way in which a certain fained interest is essential.
I enjoy reading poetry in public, although I don’t go out of my way now after all these years. But I do not enjoy going to poetry readings given by others. I get bored and listening, I find, is hard work. Occasionally, I go out of a sense of duty and solidarity. I prefer to read in private or get a poetry reading on video or cassette. With the great burgeoning in all fields, with the explosion in population, with the new channels of accessibility to poetry on the internet, there are more people today reading and writing poetry than ever before. We have before us, as in all fields, the greatest audience in history. -Ron Price with thanks to John Metcalf, Kicking Against the Pricks, ECW Press, Downsview, Ontario, 1982.
Most poetry is incomprehensibly
below the threshold of meaning,
or trivial, muddy words I cannot
quite connect with. Perhaps the
very act of writing a poem is so
artificial and irrelevant now that
it’s beyond resuscitation in this
world of commercial fashion,
technology and change. It can’t
compete with the on-off button on
the TV and stereo, McDonald’s, with
a generation of busy eyes and minds that
cannot follow ideas without pictures.
Some other muse tells me, John, it is not
as bleak as this: this is the age of the great
awakening, burgeoning. It has really only
just began. This renaissance may last for
decades, ages yet to come. But you must
take your eyes off the mass of yahoos,
barbarians; the mass is filled with coteries,
dozens of coteries with rich and fertile life. 30/8/ 97.
BEING DELIGHTED AND BRINGING DELIGHT
Writing is the best thing there is and writing poetry especially so. The poet slows things down and examines the moment with both care and fear. He locates the moment. The poet has been and still is at the pinnacle of culture, but he won’t be much longer. The serious poet is always working even when it looks like he is relaxing. Some poets, like Phillip Larkin, Kingsley and Martin Amis, among others, write to protect their solitude, to preserve a quiet life. Some nurture a melancholic disposition; others seem weighted, as William James puts it, on the side of cheer. I seem to possess a dual weighting: a quiet, serious, melancholic side and a sociable, light and quite cheerful disposition. In their extreme they are both undesireable, but moderated they are a useful mix. Part of me prefers solitude, is happy to go nowhere, to speak little and never to read my poetry in public; another part of me is gregarious, outgoing and happy to interact over a poem, a drink, food, some public function, or whatever. -Ron Price with thanks to Martin Amis in interview on Books and Writing, ABC Radio, 11 April 1999.
I people my solitude and
can be alone in a crowd,
but there is a happy and
not-so-happy middle ground
where a constant or inconstant heat,
a gentle, smooth, disturbing or rough
humanity, a poignancy of beauty of
mind, or soul or body, or some quality
tedious-in-the-extreme fills the space.
For any genuine friendship to grow here
depends on desire and enjoyment,
not simple acquaintance and familiarity.
For it is souls which must meet in this
middle ground and this I cherish as
some secret appointment made in heaven.
I have found hundreds of souls of delight
as I have passed along this ancient road.
The pleasure provided by some has been
intense, the eye so very agreeably pleased,
the mind charmed and stimulated,
the spirit comforted and engaged.
The delight was always sh ort-lived:
a few minutes or hours over a few years
and then on, always on, to yet another
lot of charms mixed with noxious fumes.
But, if the pioneer is to be successul,
he must bring delight to others,
seek out a home for this Revelation. --------Ron Price 12 April 1999
If poetry is an intellectual/intuitive act it is not a random indeterminate process, but is governed by a previsioned end....there must be a ruling conception by which it knows its quarry: some foresight of the work to be done, some seminal idea. -James McAuley, Meanjin, Summer, 1953, Vol. xii, No.4, p.433.
Don’t tell me about this extravagance!
Do you think it some kind of
embarrassing afterthought, a decoration?
A propensity for unnecessary embellishment?
This is no bedecking of some pretentious woman
with precious stones, Pericles-like, back then
in the name of an Athenian nationalism.
Or did he just want them to love Athens more?
Certainly an unusual and audacious exercise
by an unusual and audacious man who was
both powerful and unassuming as the earth.
Yes, you could call it ‘state art’ for a new
Order whose first stirrings are still a long
way off. This is no saviour-in-a hurry
like that Pericles of old or Augustus or
one of a host of modern isms that are
gradually and not-so-gradually burning
themselve up in the fires of a dieing old world.
This is not like those marble eccentricities
of old, big enough to be called vulgar--no way.
Big enough to be a vehicle for conveying the
powerful prestige of a spiritual message;
and small enough to be no threat,
to be the integral part of a future world civilization,
to preserve a beauty as old as our civilization,
and a religious message as far back as Adam.
No false starts here, no long delays like
some of those ancient temples.* The effect
here is as public as it was in Greece and Rome,
only we’re talking small beginnings for a
millennium and beyond. We’re talking
silent teachers, quiet messages, getting in
quietly like Augustus only straight, up-front
to anyone who will listen and no absolutism
embellished with some artificial divine afflatus:
this is democratic theocracy at its finest.
25 December 1995
*The Temple of Artemis at Sardis took 700 years to complete and was never really completed. It looked like a building site for most of this time. This fact would have helped make the Baha’is in Chicago more comfortable about their long-standing exercise with the Mother Temple of the West.
...Poetry of the kind that has been discovered by a growing number of modern writers, the poetry of self which surpasses fiction and revolutionizes it....you do not so much perceive relationships as experience them....I am eternally grateful for being forced to be a poet...without that method of escape from self I would never have known that there was another world...my respect for the act of creativity grew. -Karl Shapiro, To Abolish Children and Other Essays, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1968, p.237, p.267 and p.271.
Poetry should be zany. Not only should it frolic, as Camus says, it should cavort, stumble, trip, fall flat on its face, get up, slither, fly, soar, dazzle, gloom, lash out and all those other things we do in life. -With thanks to Karl Shapiro, To Abolish Children and Other Essays, Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1968, p.79.
That fatal tendency to sulk and melancholy,
pomposity, dreariness in these and past days
of often indestinguishable poetry and prose,
in which the world is in flight from values,
fight over values and nearly anarchic chaos
and anyone, artist, public person, gets
evaluated by the pawnbroker as near-saint,
failed saint, Shylock, minor or major: the
curator’s got his number, his place, the
goose and the golden egg....
this fatal tendency is slowly coming to
compete with a life-sized poetry, a real
people-in-situ, right there, here, it, out there,
looking at it, getting inside it, around it, in
as many dimensions as one can, ‘cause
we’re all in it now and where you are affects
how it is and what we call truth. The very
syllables and sounds, the very air we breath,
the highest sensitivity to speech, its crystal
waters and its frightening, deadly poison.
The great burgeoning of everything, every art,
every science: to be able to digest, capture
some part of it all, life, with profundity,
pervasively, without prolixity, flavoured
with the sacred, to give pleasure,
is no mean task as one putters around,
pastime, fulltime(?), we’re just talking
‘coterie’ here-- not everyone clutches poetry
to their hearts-- unless one defines it broadly:
and we do, we do!
12 October 1995
The realm of the imaginery is not a strange region situated beyond this world; it is the world itself...grasped and realized in its entirety...the literature of action is far more deceitful. -Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus and Other Literary Essays, P.A. Sitney, editor, Station Hill Press, 1981, p.36.
Why would I want to describe what I saw tonight
when you can see it on TV with a music background
and twice the intensity of visual acuity?
It was really quite an ordinary scene,
one I’d seen a thousand times in the night sky
and along the park where I walked leisurely.
Why would I bother writing it all down,
turning the visible into some kind of invisible,
inner smouldering around a breath of thought?
My essential precariousness, fragility, gentleness,
like a bee searching out the honey of an invisibility
and storing it in a golden hive where temporary
perishables are imprinted on my soul quietly,
with my personal stamp, where an essence is
resurrected in me, perhaps forever; where a
silent inwardness aspires, searches and recalls,
transmuting past into present. For a time,
truth palpitates and time is reborn from its ashes
in mysterious flashes of luminosity and a deep,
dense vastness motions in an intermittent simultaneity.
For this brief moment poetry condenses out of
the flying vapours of the world; a private sphere
forms, is ordered, out of the public chaos of airy
nothing: shape, habitation and a name is given
to the frenzied and frenetic dashing of the eye.
And all that world comes in the door forever:
invisible, inaudible, mysterium tremendum.
23 September 1995
It is the function of art by its intensity to penetrate these incongruities, to perceive some aspect of order in the chaos of living..and so to distil experience that we are made partakers of its essence...and to renew ourselves.(1) After a certain point in the evening, usually around midnight, I get to such a point of emotional and intellectual exhaustion that I begin to contemplate this renewal in death. By the morning this feeling is gone and, if I go to bed early enough, the feeling does not arise.(2)
-(1) Charles Morgan, , Liberties of the Mind, 1951.
-(2) Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Journal Section, Unpublished Manuscript, 20/9/95, 12:15 am.
Death is not something to fear. Here one can find the home of oneness, the place of a myriad mystic tongues and the mysteries concealed in melodies. It is clearly that messenger of joy. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Journal Section, Unpublished Manuscipt.
I do not put into my poetry what people might want
but what I must say, as well as I can,
to please myself, following my own aspirations,
but after finishing I am not indifferent to public
estimation; I respect the public in all its ignorance,
its commonality, its finer and inner needs, its
crude and basic springs of laughter. As I go about
my labyrinth I know the public has the clue to
my obligation to men and to the humankind in me.
This labyrinth, like an alert mental energy, an
electricity, is given to me, a mood, a residue,
a balanced remainder, of an acute manic-depression
and it absorbs my being to the exclusion of all else.
Imposing itself on me like a vision with force and intensity,
it finds imagination and inspiration. Mysteriously, a will
is produced, meteoric, and I go to bed gently singed and
seeking the sweet and silent arms of death.
19 September 1995
DEFINING ONESELF AND HEARING ONE’S SOUL
I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of rereading and remembering than for taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective. -Thomas Mann in Thomas Mann: Diaries 1918-1939, Andre Deutsche, 1983, London, p.vi.
Of the sheer bulk of the extant diaries, the indiscriminate agglomeration of everyday details and personal reactions....Mann wrote that these diaries were without literary value. -ibid.,p.vii.
You, who constantly repeated
physical and psychological details
for twenty-five years with unassuming
ordinariness, with unusual self-exposure,
self-revelation, for your time, so rare,
unique, from the smallesrt, most trivial
details of everyday life, was this prayer-like
communion with your diary a protection?
This getting yourself down on paper,
following oneself around, giving us
the whole map in all its grand confusion,
variety and imperfection; this defining
oneself close, near, deep-down-thing,
this rugged, rambling, uncertain road;
this penetrating dark profundities,
intricate internal windings and little
nimble notions to be yourself, too,
both the within and the without.
So complex, so indefinite, vague,
so little of what does duty in that
public domain: so little is the little
that we know of it-the soul-in some
domestic simplicity, an inner chamber,
freed from fame, honour and office,
centred on a controlled freedom
with ‘perhaps’ a key word in the
lexicon for the habit of tentative
thought and calm conversation
so that we may talk with delight
to all who pass our way and
hear, at least faintly, the very
pulse and rhythm of the soul.
28 September 1995
THESE ESCHATOLOGICAL TIMES
In April 1742, about a year before the birth of Shaykh Ahmad, George Frederick Handel's Messiah was first put on in public in Dublin. Handel had been working on oratorios for two years, oratorios based on Old Testament stories. He wrote that, while composing this most famous, most frequently sung, oratorio in history, he saw visions and heaven opened. The host of heaven, he went on, he could see worshipping the Glory of God. It has now been sung by choirs for over 250 years and has been interpreted in many ways. The Baha'is who listen to this piece of music are inspired by what they see as obvious references to the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, the Glory of God. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 11 March 2001.
These eschatological times,
filled as they are with visions
and an explosion of knowledge
that simply staggers the imagination
and leaves us all dancing on the head
of this pin in bemused and bubbled wonder,
often in a chaotic, dizzying whirl.
My thoughts make their own architecture
from some living, passionate, milieux
where there is even an ecstatic substance1
and a detachment, an aloofness, from other men
and here I dwell alone, waiting for innumerable
doors to open where worlds I will see
and the Glory of God will energize me.2
1 Ralph Waldo Emerson
2Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.244.
11 March 2001
WORKING OUT A NEW AGENDA
In a speech delivered to a special conference on communication at St. Thomas More College in 1986, Gerald R. Miller, Professor of Communication at Michigan State University, dated the beginning of the social scientific study of interpersonal communication as occurring between the years 1967 and 1975 (Miller, 1986). The publication of The Pragmatics of Human Communication in 1967 by Paul Watzlawick, Janet Beavin & Don Jackson gave impetus to a revision of the discipline. Based on their seminal work, David Berlo began a redefinition of interpersonal communication in an address to the students of the Department of Communication at Michigan State University in 1970. In 1975, several publications by Miller and associates, along with work by John Stewart at the University of Washington, completed this redefinition of the field. -"The Beginnings of Communication Studies in Canada: Remembering and Narrating the Past," Eugene D. Tate (University of Saskatchewan), Andrew Osler (University of Western Ontario), Gregory Fouts (University of Calgary) & Arthur Siegel (York University), Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 25, No.1.
Communication studies began
for me, too, in these years:
1967-1974.1 But, by 1999,
I had had enough of the process
of teaching in this field.
I had been there at the start,
but after a quarter-century
I wanted to think about
something else in my life
beside giving and receiving
verbal messages to and from others.
I had been in the game
since 1949--some fifty years.2
Now I would move on
and work out a new agenda
dedicated to writing
at a critical juncture
in the evolution of
a society in the throes
of a turbulent transition,
of stellar proportions
for making giant strides
in advancing the interests
of this glorious Cause.
1I taught one of the first, if not the first, human relations courses at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education in 1974. 2I began school, as a student, in 1949.
Ron Price 30 September 2003
APPROPRIATING THE LITERARY
From the mid-1930s, at the start of the Seven Year Plan, the Shell Oil Co published a series of Country Guides written by authors and poets with an interest in topography. They were aimed at promoting the touring car on the open road, at encouraging motorists to explore the countryside and historic towns. Car ownership, of course, had begun in the years before WW1. Car ownership became available to a much wider public in the next several decades. Citizen motorists began to travel on national motorway networks constructed from the 1950s to the 1970s, the years I was growing up and reacing maturity. -Ron Price with thanks to C. Aitchison, N. MacLeod and S. Shaw, Leisure and Tourism Landscapes: Social and Cultural Geographies, Routledge, London, 2000, pp. 45-46.
An essential restlessness,
a lack of anchorage
novelty, change, adventure,
of the last forty years
that was I, me and mine.
Then came the writing it down,
creating some of the first images
of my days, strong links
between living and the poetic,
artistic, reciprocal relations.
Appropriating the literary
to give shape, form, direction,
to my cultural aspirations,
my religious ethos.
One poet for information,
another for sentiment,
as this predilection
for literary pioneering,
a literary way of seeing
has defined my days,
given them a particular potency
in the collective imagination,
finally taking off
in that fin de siecle
and new millennium.
1 November 2002