I would like to open this section, a section which focuses on "individuals," with a poetic appreciation to Roger White who passed away nine years ago, in April 1993, and who helped start me off on my journey in poetry. White was, without doubt one of the primary influences, most significant individuals, to come into my life.
I feel the same way about the poetry of Roger White as Matthew Arnold did about the poetry of Newman: the more inward qualities and excellences of the Poems remind me how much I, like so many others, owe to your influence and writings; the impression is so profound, and so mixed up with all that is most essential in what I do and say, that I can never cease to be conscious of it and to have an inexpressible sense of gratitude and attachment to its author.1-Ron Price with thanks to Henry Tristram "Newman and Matthew Arnold," The Cornhill, N.S. IX (March 1926), 309-319.
No matter how reverential,
filial, my tones I can not
express my indebtedness
for the most comprehensive
interpretation of our age
through the most energetic
and harmonious activity
of the powers of a mind
and its expansion, enlargement.
For what is culture but:
religion and the critical intellect.1
For what is mind but
the most luminous light
in this world and the next.2
1 Fergal McGrath, Newman's University: Idea and Reality, London, Longman's, Green, 1951, et al.
2 'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization,p.1.
11 March 2002
The following interivew brings into focus some of the influence of individuals in my life on my writing. This interview is one of some two dozen now, interviews which I have simulated.
A SECOND INTERVIEW WITH RON PRICE
This is the second of a series of some two dozen interviews. It was an interview conducted when I lived in Perth Western Australia. The first interview took place in January 1996 on a certain literary stage, at my home. Interviews like this are part of an ongoing dialogue that helps the writer of poetry to define the act, the process, the experience whereby poems seem to come from somewhere, from things that have happened, are happening and might happen and become available on a page.
The interview also allows the reader to have a better understanding of just what the poet is trying to do and why he is trying at all. Writing poetry helps define, express, shape the prayer of the human soul. Rilke said this is the essence of poetry. Writing poetry is like a personal experience of deepening because it enables the poet to sustain his capacity for contemplation, a useful skill in a world of increasing velocity. There have been a total of twenty three interviews as of the present date occupying about 30,000 words.--Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 6 September 2008.
Questioner(Q): I’d like to continue our examination of just why you write poetry.
Price: We examined a number of reasons in that first interview, but one thing that I did not talk about sufficiently is the simple pleasure of writing and that it is an essentially democratic activity. So many people think of the act of writing poetry as distant or above them, as if it belongs in the territory of some elite group. This may have been true through most of history when so few people could read or write. But as education is spreading to more and more of the population of the globe, poetry is becoming more and more popular. It is a part of people’s lives, their souls, their pleasures. It is about their inner lives. We all have inner lives and we all need to put words around what happens there. Writing about our inner life allows us to get hold of this world, grasp who we are inside, at least to some extent. Also poetry is about saying the truth no matter what. It is difficult to be absolutely truthful in the public place where tact and a kindly tongue are crucial in building community.
You need some place where you can call a spade a spade. One does not write poetry for money, but to say what you might never say in everyday discourse. Poetry can strike through like lightening to plumb the depths of private or institutional life. There is a kind of heightened speech in poetic utterance. I find it keeps my thoughts and my experience fresh, like fresh fruit or vegetables. The world is more vivid, vital, alive. For me this is important because much of the world is also tiresome at the external, lived, level. Poetry is like a booster, a step-up transformer, to take me to my inner world and make it articulate. It combines and compresses the complexity and helps me understand it. You can see yourself having a conversation with yourself. It seems to create a special energy in the act of writing.
Q: Do you find something about the writing process that pulls you away from people?
Price: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that writing pulls me into a quiet space, a space that the first African American poet laureate, Rita Dove, said is part of my connectedness with my own history and the world’s. This quiet space is inhabited by me with fibers that lead everywhere in a multi-dimensional hookup. In this space I have total control and there’s an influence of souls, of spirits in ways that are essentially undefineable. But this process requires a withdrawal from the public space. It involves a savouring of experience, a tasting, a slowing down, a going down, a going in, into. Sometimes the writing, the experience, is quick and jazzy, sometimes slow and very simple. Poetry is something that comes, like an orgasm; you can only control the process to a point and then biology, or sociology, or some other ‘ology takes over. In the embroidery of poetry I define my life, my culture; the process is not a social experience, except tangentially. I explain myself to myself and, although this can be done in company and is, it can also be done by writing poems. And I do.
Q: There are some things which the garment of words can never clothe, as Baha’u’llah says. Does poetry have anything to say about this world of the unsayable?
Price: Carl Jung says there are some problems which are better left unsolved because they are at the core of life and give you the tests which keep you fine-tuned, so to speak. And as you say, life is full of things which words can not express. There are some longings, some loves that can’t be put into words. It’s like a divine discontent. But you try. You try to put words to the many paradoxes in life, the joy at the centre of grief for example. Laughter sometimes comes close; irony gets close to the bone and poetry can bring out both. I have not really developed these talents yet. They may not be in me. Life is pervasive, complex, inexhaustible. I’m a little like the ant which the poet, Coleman Barks, talks about. I don’t know what the anthill is doing but I plod away everyday with my job of writing poetry. The plodding gives me enough joy and pleasure to keep going and, when it doesn’t, I put it away and do something else. The ant can’t do this, victim of instinct that he is. But I certainly can, given my free choice. And I do.
Also, our culture is very noisey: TV, radio, hi-fis, cassette-tapes, talk-talk-talk, electronic and print media, a million poets with a billion things to say, et cetera, et cetera. It is a culture of doing things: exercise, sport, gardening, shopping, running here and there, busy-busy-busy-go-go-go. Poetry is more of a stop-stop-stop, find some inner person, if you can, listen to the quiet voices if they’re audible above the din of channel 5 and those irritation commericials. I’m rather of the opinion that many people, if they looked within for the Real Me, would get lost, would not know where to begin the exploration. Is the Real Me in some unconscious zone, in the id, in my hormones, in reflexes, in golf and gardening, in David Reisman’s other-directed personality, in some Protean-man whose convictions change with the seaons? I find writing is, among other things, a process of inner sorting.
Q: Poetry can contribute to the withdrawal of a poet; can it contribute to his community participation?
Price: Yes, unquestionably. As Barks also points out poetry can be a way of being with your friends. It was for the poet Rumi. Poetry for him had something to do with community. And it has for me. All of my poetry I have sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library primarily because what I write is quintessentially community poetry. I define myself within the context of community. I don’t give poetry readings very often for several reasons, some of which I have already explained. But poetry does not have to be read outloud. If there was no Baha’i community I doubt very much if I would bother writing at all. For my whole identity is wrapt up with this community. If I did not have to earn a living I would probably write at least four or five poems a day.1 I don’t think I could keep the pace that Rumi did of twelve to fourteen poems a day. Stanley Kunitz says that poets are solitaries with a heightened sense of community. I like that way of putting it. Right now I am having personal difficulties with aspects of my Baha’i community life and it is causing me inner turmoil because this community is important to me. From time to time over what is nearly forty years of Baha’i community life I have had to withdraw from active involvement. I have always found aspects of this withdrawal uncomfortable, unhappy. But some of our keenest pain and grief, as Baha'is, arises out of our relationship with the Baha’i community itself. In many ways the Baha’i community represents one, or many, of the significant others in our lives.
The support and challenges I get from those around me: poets, non-poets, artists, a great tradition of writers and thinkers is an inspiration which carries me away from solitariness. Although I am often alone in a room, I have the company of a vast host of those who have passed on and those not yet born. It is very important for each of us to define that degree of sociability that is consistent with our needs and wants. Some are loners and some seem to need others around them more. I always liked Baudelaire's systhesis of these two tendencies: he talked about peopling his solitude and being alone in a busy crowd. The poet, the writer, the creative person, all of us, must make decisions here. Although the Baha’i Cause provides broad parameters that help us decide we each must work them out individually. I am part of a great stream, a river, of life; a river that is full of meaning, richness and life. The stream, the river, is the same for all of us but we are each different parts of that stream: the young, middle aged and old river, the meandering river, the river in fast-flow, the river that flows to the sea or dries out in the desert, et cetera.
Q: I’d like to talk a little bit more about your moving from place to place, your pioneer and travel teaching as you call it. I believe you have lived in some 37 houses in some 25 towns since you were born and then began your pioneering life?
Price: The Baha’i community has been engaged in an international and organized plan of expansion since 1937 and before that for over 40 years of a less systematized program of teaching and consolidation of the community. I came on the scene as a pioneer in Canada in 1962 and on the international stage in 1971. In some ways my whole life and all my poetry should be seen under this great umbrella of an international teaching crusade. I don’t go around telling people I’m engaged in this crusade. I wear a much quieter umbrella of words. But the moving is about the extension of this Cause to the remotest and fairest regions of the earth. I have alluded to this before, but it needs reiterating to drive the point home with crystal clarity. At this stage of the operation-nearly sixty years on-the game is largely unobtrusive and the Baha’i Faith is no threat to anyone. But these are the early days and my story, my poems, are about these early days, days before the Lesser Peace. Part of me feels very strongly that this account and all the poems are part of the greatest drama in the world’s religious history, how large a part, or how small, does not concern me. It is one piece in the great puzzle. That is enough. I feel I just must write. It’s like an inner compulsion.
The Texan poet, Kenneth Irby, talks about the centrality of place in his poetry. He calls this type of poetry pastoral. He says pastoral poetry feeds us. In this broad sense all of my poetry, I like to think, feeds us, feeds me, feeds some of those who might read what I write. I have lived in many places and a little bit of my soul is scattered around two continents now. Most of my memories are located in specific places, geographical regions. I like to think that together they make up a universal man, but this is a complex topic going back to the Renaissance.
Q: We talked in that first interview about your writing prose and poetry. Could you tell us something about how you experience both these forms?
Price: What makes poetry is the simultaneity of ideas, the greater density of language. There is some attempt at linearity and the sequential in poetry, but these are the chief features of prose. Much of my poetry is very much like prose and this is because of the sequence and the linearity in my poetry. I do this partly to make it readable. I’m after simplicity and communication, not obscurity and complexity. But these goals can’t be reached all the time. I write quickly in both forms, but the length of novels puts me off. I don’t have the energy and enthusiasm, the persistence and the imagination for fifty to one hundred thousand words with characters, story-line, etc. Also I don’t like writing dialogue so most story forms are out of my league. And reworking pieces of writing is also something that does not interest me, although occasionally I rewrite a prose-poem on the internet to suit the context at that site. Usually I write a piece and move on: poetry or prose. When I read it later on it feels like the work of someone else. It feels fresh, new. I make the occasional alteration, but few major alterations. This is not true of my memoir now in its second edtion.
Q: Tell us about how much time you devote to writing poetry. What do you do beside writing poetry?
Price: For the last four years I’d guesstimate averaging two hours of writing a day. I try to spend two hours per evening. On the weekends I usually spend an average of six hours per day reading and writing. This has been the basic pattern since about 1992. In the years 1980 to 1992 poetry writing was episodic. But reading has seen a long term involvement since 1974, perhaps back to 1962. I’d guess, say, two hours of reading a day every day for the last thirty-five years. That would be the absolute minimum and it might be as high as three hours on average. Job, family and community responsibilities keep me away from my books and from writing more time than I care to think. I’ve talked about quantities of hours before and the data I gave on those occasions maybe a little different than the data I give here. I don’t sit around tabulating and averaging; these figures are somewhat off-the-cuff, so to speak.1
I don’t do much else beside my work, forty to fifty hours a week over the last ten years; family and Baha’i community work at a number of hours that is difficult to determine on average--maybe twenty to thirty a week. I sleep eight hours a night; twenty five hours a week on reading and writing and a dozen doing an assortment of things: ‘other’. I don’t like gardening, fixing things, cooking, the general domestic side of life; I wash alot of dishes, do alot of laundry. I talk more with my wife than I used to; in fact we are starting to do more things together than we have in all our twenty years of marriage: bike-riding, going to the beach, walking in parks, even making love. My son is eighteen and I’m waiting to have my first conversation with him. We laugh alot together like a playful bear and his cub; I think talking will come later.
copyright Marco Abrar
Q: Tell us about your first poem.
Price: The first poem I wrote, that I kept, was written in August 1980. I wrote poems in my late teens and occasionally in my twenties and thirties, but I did not keep any of them. I wrote a poem to my son Daniel on his third birthday, on 19 August 1980. I was living in Zeehan at the time and working in a tin mine. I had just started taking lithium and, after three months on this mood stabilizer, you could say "I was stabilized." I have often wondered how much my writing of poetry has had to do with the onset of this chemotherapy.
Q: Are there any mystical influences in your poetry?
Price: All religions are essentially mystical in the sense that there is a strong element of contemplation and self-surrender aimed at oneness with God. It is a mysterious process, awe-inspiring, often hidden. This is what I mean by the mystic. My religion is quintessentially mystic. I have been praying for the mediating influence of souls who have gone on to the next life for nearly twenty years. I do not have any extrasensory experiences, nor am I looking for them. But I often feel as if some secret, hidden, strength has helped me in writing my poetry. I find it difficult to account for the amazing rapidity with which I write: 2500 poems in less than four years amazes me when I think about it. Most of the time I don’t think about it; I just write and I enjoy--love--the process, although it is often quite tiring.
Love is a much abused word but when I talk about it in relation to writing poems I’m talking about many things at once: an openness to life and experience, a self-discipline, a concentration-the kinds of things Eric Fromm talked about years ago in his book The Art of Loving-a melody of eternity, a rhythm of creation itself, solitude, some mystic intercourse between myself and people I have never seen or met in the past and present, some kind of vibration, and much more. It is, again, a mystery; it is part of the mystic. It is scarcely capable of being clothed in words. It is a connection with the great ocean of the past, the great souls and with the future at the great linking point of now, the present.
The work, then, of writing a poem, is the whole of your life; it is what precedes the sitting down to write. There is the work. The poem becomes a kind of supplication, an openness to one’s past, to the world of creative thought, to some higher vibration. I don’t find I have any special talent or receptivity, no extra-sensory experience, but I believe in what Baha’u’llah calls a vibration of utterance which He says produces a spiritual result. Again, I can not define it, but it is part of a dance, a delight, that makes the writing of poetry a pleasure. It is addictive; time will tell how long I’m going to need a daily fix. Ultimately, I think there are a myriad influences on each poem. Most of them you are unaware of.
Q: You mentioned in that first interview about your manic-depressive illness. Do you think it has any relationship with your poetry?
Price: My manic-depression was successfully treated over fifteen years ago now. If there are any residual affects in my life now it is an exhaustion between ten and eleven in the evening, an early morning blues and a general fatigue with many aspects of human existence: my job, much of Baha’i community life and many human relationships. This is the depressive side of things. At the manic end, I can work for six to eight hours a day with great energy and application to writing and reading and even teaching classes. There is a new sensory excitement in the air for me as well as a great weariness. These are symptomatic of manic-depression, but not the genuine article, nothing in extremis, no incapacitating experiences like sleeplessness, paranoia, intense depression. Actually, I think much of my experience of poetry in recent years is a result of having my manic-depression sorted out.
Q: Many poets place great stress on reading poetry aloud. You have talked of this before. Could you extend your comments here?
Price: I don’t write poetry to have it read out loud, but when I do read it aloud (which I have done here in Perth both in the classroom and at a cafe in Fremantle where poetry is read publicly), the whole experience of a poem is different. As I said before, you become an actor when you read. The history of poetry has a strong oral centre, but that is partly because until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most of humanity could not read. The pendulum has shifted now and we have a much more literate culture. Poetry has many functions, many artistic features, of which being read is just one. Reading successfully requires a number of interrelated skills. Using silences, absences of sound, voice tone, pitch, pace, stress, volume, a good voice, eye contact, body language, among other features, the reader enhances his delivery. If you give your poem, or someone’s poem, to others to read, they usually can not get the rhythm, the flow, the inflection, the tonality. Effort to get these things right must be put into the process. It is a skill and in the voice of a trained reader poetry can be a delight. But many in this audio-visual age need pictures or music to enjoy sound. The rock culture needs a certain kind of sound; the poet needs a certain kind of mental receptivity.
Gary Snyder informs us that In October of 1955, two years after the temple in Chicago was completed and 'a thrilling motion' became part of human existence, reading poetry got a shot in the arm in San Francisco. I've often wondered about the relationship between this 'wonderful motion' and the new importance that reading poetry out loud came to have in the 1950s. We have never looked back these past forty years, although in many towns and cities there are quiescent periods where poetry reading wanes. Poetry reading is a sign of community life and it needs to be cultivated, as does community life.
Q: What are the essential disciplines, skills, abilities for writing poetry?
Price: I think each person brings a particular set of assets that makes his or her poetry unique. I’ll tell you one or two things about my particular mix of assets. I brought thirty years of great quantities of reading to the poetic experience when I got started at poetry writing in a big way at the age of 48. I also brought my own share of suffering, the dark nights of my soul, to the writing of poetry. I had to seek the inner world because the outside world had exhausted me in different ways. If I had not been able to go inward I’m not sure if I could have continued living. I don’t know, but I think writing poetry is like a ‘salvation experience’ that people talk about in religious circles. Part of this ‘salvation’ is a plunging into the waters of your own life to come up with a freshness, a delicacy in your own past. You need to be ready, receptive, to the sounds, the pulses, the wilderness, of your own history, especially the pivotal points in your own story. For most of history, as I’ve said before, poetry writing and reading was done by an elite, but in the last half of the twentieth century there has been a great burgeoning. There are more poets alive now than ever before. I think what they are trying to do is work out a whole complex of issues and if you read interviews like this one you get a sense of what those issues are for each poet; you get a map, some of that poet’s geography, sociology, psychology, philosophy.
Q: The famous American poet Stanley Kunitz said that "poetry is the most difficult, the most solitary and the most life-enhancing thing that one can do in the world". Would you like to comment?
Price: There is certainly a solitariness to the writing of poetry. I need privacy and silence, perhaps a little quiet music in the background. I find writing poetry gives life greater meaning, but I don’t find it a particularly difficult process. I have found my greatest tests and battles out in the world in relationships, in community, with my health. Poetry is a therapy in helping me cope with my tests but it does not solve them. The sharpest edges of life’s challenges serve as part of the mix within which poetry gets written, but the writing of poetry itself is more pleasure than problem, more dance than difficulty. There is an exhausting side of my own particular approach to poetry and that is the amount of reading I do. As I may have indicated in that first interview, I read a great deal: perhaps fifteen books a week, or ten a week when averaged out over the last twenty-two years. I push myself to read by an insatiable curiosity, by habit, by a sort of orgy of acquisitiveness, perhaps a certain obsessive-compulsiveness. And the process of reading, hour after hour, makes me very tired, utterly exhausted. That is the worst part of the process. But the answer to this exhaustion is simple: I go to bed and sleep like a baby.
Writers have different work capacities: Jane Kenyon, the American poet, goes for two or three hours; Xavier Herbert, the Australian novelist, could go for thirty-six hours straight. I drive in a middle range: six to ten hours a day when I don’t have to go to work. I find the process quite ‘life-enhancing’ to use Kunitz’s phrase.
Q: Whom do you write for?
Price: I’m not sure I really write ‘for’ somebody or some group, or even for me. I write for the pleasure of the experience, the exercise of the intellect, the feelings, the power of thought. I believe Mozart composed to work things out. I like that way of putting it. It’s not really for anyone. It’s like some inner whelling up, working toward, out, in. I write especially with the Baha’i community in mind and the great souls who have gone on, as I have indicated before. There’s a certain excitement and mystery in this. So much of my inspiration comes from my religion. But let me say a little more on this subject. The Baha’i community shares my values and beliefs, but much of my poetry is what I might call experiential, non-denominational, non-sectarian, neutral as far as labels are concerned.
Tomorrow I am going to be giving a twenty-minute poetry reading at the cafe I mentioned earlier. I will read poems that please, that I hope everyone understands and that touch people’s minds and hearts. Hopefully the listeners will laugh occasionally and a necessary entertainment function, at least here in Australia, will be supplied. The audience is part of an enormously expanding one around the world. The whole process of participating in a way of life, of creating a way of life that will give us all respect and a little joy, if not a lot, need not be a burden. At the moment in many places it is. That is probably why my own poetry is, as yet, not read much in the public place, especially the Baha’i community. We have not yet quite learned how to make community life a joy. But we will and we are, slowly.
Also, as I have indicated before, getting poetry published is difficult, or costly, or both. Given this reality I have to content myself with writing the poetry, with communicating with myself, with the great unseen souls of history and the future. I feel, I think, my poetry will one day occupy a place in Baha’i history. I may be wrong. I’m not arrogant about this intimation. Writers like to be read, the more readers the better.
Q: What do you think is the first lesson, the key, to understanding poetry?
Price: We need to know to whom the poet is listening. In my inner life I have been listening to the central figures of the Baha’i Faith most of my life. I have also read a great mass of other material: perhaps Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon have had the most influence on me from the world of books. My parents, grandfather, my first and second wife, my son, my two step-daughters: have all been seminal influences. There have also been a host of other influences from the twenty-seven towns, the thousands of Baha’is and students I have known and talked to over the last thirty-four years since leaving my home town. If we know something of these primary influences, we know something about the person who writes the poetry and thus we understand the poetry more than we ever could. We need to focus on the poetry, not the poet, the words, not the personality. The reality of man is his thought, his poetry if you will, not the shape of his face and the length of his hair.
As a writer of poetry, not the reader, I think the first thing you need to be aware of in understanding poetry is that in writing free-verse you slowly feel your way into the poem. A writer also needs to know a great deal; at least I feel this is important to me. These two qualities are important in my understanding of poetry.
Q: Do you think poetry has any use?
Price: Poetry’s purposes should be expressed in terms of the true and the beautiful, not the useful. It’s like religion. The religion I have been associated with now for nearly forty years should be evaluated in terms of whether it is true not whether it is useful. People use religion and they use poetry, but I think this emphasis, this approach, is secondary, or tertiary. It is inevitable that both poetry and religion have uses, that they have utilitarian functions, but their core is spiritual, mystic.
Q: The American poet Diane Wakowski says that good writers have problems as they approach middle age; as their lives become less eventful, less tense, their writing loses energy and shape.
Price: If one defines middle age as the ‘middle adulthood’ period of human development(40 to 60), then I began to overcome the major battles of my early life and early adulthood, as Diane described. But I had enough to keep me busy until my mid-forties, so that tension and difficulties continued to face me. By my late forties life was for the first time more peaceful and a period of relative tranquillity, like a kind of golden years, entered my experience. It is this relative ease of life that has been the backdrop for this poetry. But even here there is enough tension, struggle, activity, to provide some base for a creative edge.
By my late forties I had been a teacher for nearly twenty-five years, a pioneer for nearly thirty. I had been as popular as a teacher can get for many years. Popularity held no buzz. I had never aspired after wealth. The major problems of life had been sorted out to all intents and purposes. Overt interest in my religion seemed to have reached a point where no matter what I did only seeds got planted. The world of action simply did not yield great fruit, or at least any different fruit than it had already done for at least two decades. I think writing often takes over when human action can not go any place else. And so writing began to fill the spaces of my life where living had reached a dead end, where it repeated what I had seen a million times, a million. My writing has given me enormous satisfaction. It is action, as satisfying as an overseas trip, a stimulating conversation, a good meal, even an erotic experience.
Q: Thank you again for your time; we look forward to a third interview one day.
Price: Thank you, I do too. Would you like a final cup of tea?
18 May 1996
1 Five years after this interview and two years into retirement I am finding that a little less than two poems a day has continued to be my average; and eight hours a day the maximum of 'reading and writing' that my constitution and my inclination can withstand.
A LARGER CONTEXT
There is a common moral vocabulary in much of Western society and that vocabulary could be summarized in one word: individualism. Some analysts have concluded that there is something quite arbitrary in the goals of the good life that are commonly enunciated by the proponents of what has long been a popular and seemingly universal individualism. These analysts believe that a basic and characteristic problem of Western culture is revealed in the difficulty many people have in justifying the goals of their 'good life,' moral and otherwise. This difficulty, not due just to inarticulateness or lack of a cultivated introspection, is displayed by many of society's proponents of individualism. The idea of a life course, of a life-trajectory-line, of a good life, of a moral life, that individuals describe or define in their lives must be set in a larger generational, historical, religious and philosophical context if it is to provide any richness of meaning. A radical individualism has achieved hegemony in universities and middle class life throughout Western society in the last century or more, based on and supported by inadequate social science, impoverished philosophy and vacuous theology. But so many of our activities go on in relationships, groups, associations and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning. The result is a tension between the individual and the group which is complex, subtle, ambiguous and largely unresolved in our world. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 14 November 2002.
A poem is like an axe or an iceberg
that breaks-up and sometimes melts
some of the frozen sea beneath
the surface of our lives.1
A poem is also like an opera,
however much we try
to make the intensies
something for everyday.
A poem is an exercise
however much we try
not to posture……….
I find I come at a poem
like a hawk or a pidgeon
in a dive and sometimes
I come up with nothing--
1Thanks to Serene Anderson who sent me a photo of an iceberg, including the part beneath the surface and to Franz Kafka in Poets at Work: the Paris Review Interview, editor, George Plimpton, Viking Press, 1989, p.41.
15 November 2002.
A DIFFERENT SMOKE AND NIGHT
Michael Montaigne says in his essay On Friendship(ca 1580) that he passed his time in life quite pleasantly and at ease, "in great tranquillity of mind." But after a special close friend died, he found his remaining days as "nothing but smoke, an obscure and tedious night." My experience of life was quite different to that of Montaigne. The depressions and hypomanic episodes which I experienced periodically from the age of 18 to 36 coloured my life so darkly, so intensely, so confusedly, from time to time in early adulthood, that tranquillity of mind was a bi-product of the successful treatment of my bi-polar tendency. In addition, as a teacher for thirty years in the humanities and social sciences, I came to experience so many quite intimate and lengthy conversations, that I also came to associate friendship with the sense of appreciation that many students had for my teaching efforts. I liked many of my students: beautiful young women and open and receptive people from so many walks of life that, by the time I retired at 55, I felt as if I had had hundreds of friends and felt no need for additional friendships, beyond those I would get from the small Baha'i communities I was part of in my late middle adulthood, say, 55 to 60. Perhaps I had experienced a surfeit of speech which Baha'u'llah says is "a deadly poison.' -Ron Price with thanks to Michael Montaigne, Essays and Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 29 September 2001.
We all have such different stories
that make up our long life-days
and friendship wanders
into our lives with its sweetening ways.
For years I wandered in search
of a friend, always wondering
just what the term meant.
Insensibly, with the years,
I found more than I had imagined.
Friendship was not remote,
not a rarity; I did not despair
of finding ardent affections.
I did not feel stuck,
set in long conversations
with the sense that they
would always be preliminary,
with their inevitable precautions,
with just acquaintances, the familiar.
I found some universal mixture,
some inexplicable and fated power
that brought each of us together,
in such infinitely varied ways,
secret appointments of heaven
that might just continue there.
Such varying intensities, degrees,
intimacies, for, in fact, everyone
had become in their own way--friend.
29 September 2001
CAUTIOUS RELAXATION OF RESTRAINT
In 1937, at the beginning of the Baha’i teaching Plan, Richard Cordell published a critical work on Somerset Maugham’s writing. In 1959, the year I became a Baha’i, Cordell published his Somerset Maugham: A Biographical and Critical Study. Maugham wrote to Cordell saying he had a pathological defect that he was unable to read anything about himself. Karl Pfeiffer published W. Somerset Maugham: A Candid Portrait in that same year. Maugham was enraged because he did not want the truth told about his life. Maugham’s productivity was enormous. One way into Maugham’s inner life was through his work, another was through his deeds and misdeeds. Those that have great qualities may also have great weaknesses. The defects of famous men should not be ignored but they should be treated in a way that this poem below suggests. -Ron Price with thanks to Ted Morgan, Maugham: A Biography, Simon and Schuster, NY, 1980, Preface.
They were starting to publish books
about you1 at the start of this Plan
and the industry really got going
when I, too, became part of the stand.
Of course, he was right.
You can’t tell it all,
not the whole thing:
defects and weaknesses,
sins of omission and commission
can not be stated in all their cold detail.
A judicious exercise in words
an etiquette of expression must be present.
A cautious relaxation of restraint is better.
A sensitivity to human tenderness
must characterize the work.
A rigorous discipline must exist.2
It must exist now as much as then,
although one day standards may change.
16 June 1999
2Universal House of Justice, Letter to NSA of USA, 29 December 1988.
The vividness of the life with which dead, buried and in some cases entirely forgotten civilizations were endowed in the consciousness of a latter-day Western Society that had succeeded in recapturing them was piquantly illustrated by the vitality of Ikhanaton's and Nefrititi's ghost, which, after the passing of thirty-two centuries, aroused the same feelings that the Egyptiac records testified to their having aroused in the flesh of Egyptiac circles when they were living, reigning and innovating in the fourteenth century BC.-Ron Price with thanks to Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol.9, (1963)1954, p.118.
The vividness of the life with which dead, buried and often significant historical personages were endowed in the consciousness of a Baha'i community---in these early years of the twenty-first century and the fifth epoch of its Formative Age---that had succeeded in recapturing them was piquantly illustrated by the vitality of the spirit of the Purest Branch and the Greatest Holy Leaf which, after the passing of a little more than a century in the case of the former and the passing of a little less than a century in the case of the latter, aroused the same feelings now, in our time, as they aroused when they lived and moved and had their being.
Indeed these early generations of this Formative Age have reared for them "in the innermost recesses of our hearts"1 a shining mansion which the hand of time would never undermine, an alter whereon the fire of their consuming love would "burn forever."1-Ron Price with thanks to 1Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, Wilmette, 1968, p. 196.
They're going back and digging them up,1
and checking them out and finding them out,
who did what and when and about whom.
They like going back to those old, old tombs
and passing on a fascination for an evening
to a mass too busy to really get stuck in,
prefer to watch a movie
or go to bed after a long day,
except perhaps a coterie,
it's a coterie for everything these days.
They're going back now on those archeological digs
and checking out those dead tissues,
gold pieces, pouring over them for minutiae,
Nefrititi, the Pharaohs and a venomous conflict
We go back, too, to our tombs
in a garden on a hill,
on the breast of Carmel,
a resting place among others3
of three holy souls,
for their way has become our way;
they lead us on,
on a wave of tenderness and pathos
to our own private and public destinations.
1Egyptologists in 1922 and again from 1987 onwards for the first time since the 3rd to 5th century excavated the tombs of the Pharoahs.
2circa 1370-1353 B.C.: Ikhnaton, could not impose his vision of monotheism on the priests.
3there are a number of resting places/tombs to visit in Haifa for Baha'is.
4 June 2001
SOME NEW V.I.P.s
Elizabeth Taylor’s stardom was firmly established by 1944. She stared in the film National Velvet that year at the age of twelve and this film secured her leap to stardom and fame’s seductive and difficult embrace. As the Baha’i Era turned into its second century the star, arguably the second half of the twentieth century’s most famous, Elizabeth Taylor, had been born. I, too, was born in that year 1944, mirabile dictu, and much else occurred which this prose-poem is centered upon. -Ron Price with thanks to Donald Spoto, A Passion for Life: The Biographyof Elizabeth Taylor, Harper Collins, NY, 1995, p.39.
Actress of the first half of the
BE’s second century: movie
after movie, one after another,
all my life, from before my birth
until, it seems, just the other day.
For so long, freewheeling and
self-indulgent, immensely talented
and provocatively beautful,
especially in her hey-day of
the ‘60s and ‘70s when I was
coming of age in this turbulent
era in a dark heart of transition.
Her extravagent love of luxury,
expensive addictions to trappings
of wealth and her unquenchable
thirst for excitement, all part of her
fear, perhaps, of boredom,
especially in those halcyon days,
especially in that year 1963 when
she filmed The V.I.P.s1 in her stunningly
photogenic body and the Universal House
of Justice was elected for the first time in
history in an event of stunning but far-from
appreciated or understood magnitude.
8 June 1999
1 Donald Spoto, A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor, Harper Collins, NY, 1995, p.207.
A COLLOQUY OF THE SOUL WITH ITSELF
There was once a woman who had one hundred faces.
She showed one face to each person, and so:
it took one hundred men to write her biography.
-Anais Nin, 20 April 1931, The Early Diary of Anais Nin, Vol.4.
He pierceth the veils of plurality...He looketh on
all things with the eye of oneness...One must, then
read the book of his own self........bequeath a part
of (his) possessions to the one who would put (him)
to death.-Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, pp.17-56.
This portrait, this construct,
is the picture of my own self,
but no image can contain it all,
say it all, be it all, only what I
portray, preserve, record and
what, pray, can this moving form
of dust spread on a lot of paper,
turn into sentences and words?
There is a certain invention here,
a superimposition of judgements
on earlier experience, a transformation
of a life into an art form, but not doctored
poetic; selected, yes, perhaps a hiding,
a camouflage, as we all do in life to avoid
a baring of the soul, of a fault, a narcissist
whose task is a voiceless colloquy of the soul
with itself 1 giving my writing meaning, shoring up
my shifting, complex and subjective reality with
words as I proceed from my dream, the dream,
outward, my record, of a developing consciousness,
of an inner life, a life and a Faith, a path within a path,
of something which became more real as I wrote:
I became the poem.
11 June 1999
1 Plato in: Martin Buber, Between Man and Man, Fontana, London, 1961(1947), p.45.
In the last two, perhaps, three years I have frequently run into an Englishman, about fifty, who has lived in Australia for many years. He is a very fast talker with an immense vitality and sense of humour. He is irrepressible and makes the experience of the sauna bath a stimulating conversational roller-coaster. I have met many fast talkers in my life. It is not so much his speed, his repartee, as it is his combination of light volubility and seriousness, his changes of pace, of topic and narrative in a short space of time, never too long on one subject. In some ways he represents the best of the English tradition of wit when it is on a high. And he is always, it would seem, at least in the sauna bath, on a high. Both he and I, in some companies, might be ‘a pain’. Our endless play with words and ideas would come to dominate the social setting. In the sana bath, where often no one talks, our conversation seems, for the most part, appropriate and many seeds got spread.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Narrative.
Now there are natterers and natterers
and, by God, when this guy and I get
into the sauna-bath we natter away
and away and away,
from the meaning of the universe,
to the latest movie,
to the price of a certain dung,
or was it nun, or none, in Nairobi.
I’ve slipped in the Pearl of Great Price,
that Trumpet-call, that Thrilling Voice
just enough to make it clear that
the Great Ocean Spoke and then
I’ve dropped it and gone
soul to soul on his terms,
kept it light, cheerful, gay,1
until some fitting juncture when
He will speak from the deeps
again and this fellow natterer’s response
will be heard down the halls to all eternity.
13 February 1999
1 my model here for teaching is Ismu’llahu’l-Asdaq in Memorials of the Faithful, p.6.
WINDING UP THE CLOCK
You said a few words to a neighbour or an acquaintance, but it was merely for the sake of making a sound of some sort. Just a sound. There was nothing really to be said. The vast continent was really void of speech....Richard found he never wanted to talk to anybody, never wanted to be with anybody....And the rest of the people either were the same, or they herded together in a promiscuous fashion. But this speechless, aimless solitariness was in the air. It was natural to the country. The people left you alone. ...The profound Australian indifference...The disintegration of the social...Rudimentary individuals with no desire of communication....it felt like a clock that was running down. -D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo, Angus and Robertson, 1982(1923), pp.386-387.
So much of the land was unapproachable;
even the cities had an unreality about them,
as if they were sprinkled onto a darkness into
which it never penetrated. In places the endless
grey-green iron foliage; in other places the empty
bush and all of it waiting, always waiting with a
presence, a wonderful presence, a spirituality.
Now, D.H. Lawrence, the car takes me around
when I want to go, which is not often any more,
except to the beach: sand, wind, sea and sun, or
to a meeting or anywhere that necessity or desire
requires. I can feel that spirituality here, a presence,
while lots of people have no desire to communicate,
just to make sounds with nothing really said.
Now, D.H., there is an endless chatter, on and on
and , if I let it, I could drown in words, words, words.
It’s much more complex now with half the population
migrated here or descended from migrants. Rarely, do
I want to talk to somebody, but others want to talk to me
and in this there is more than an adequate sufficiency.
Now, D.H., the great mass leave you alone, but there is
a determined core who get through to my solitariness
with their needs, their gregariousness, their love, their
kindness and their endless ability to talk, it seems, forever.
I could not be a hermit here; getting the balance right
has become an art that I take a certain pride in maintaining.
Now D.H., that profound indifference, that lack of caring
is still here, but lots of good people have lots of convictions,
too many of them; many of the worst are full of passionate
intensity; a tiresome and exhausting anarchy is loosed upon
the land, but much of which is subtle, complex and utterly confusing.
We seem to accept the absense of a centre not knowing what it means.
Now D.H., the inner life is awakening and the sense
of the tragic is finally finding a voice beneath a brain
full of laughs, for this is a country of laughs,
and that holding back is starting to move up
and tell of an inner life that no one knew, gentle,
soft, tentative, searching, often inarticulate and scared,
but started on the journey that is winding up that clock.
29 January 1996
Political stability and the survival of civilization depended on an effective autocracy. This truth was not accepted by the senatorial class until the reign of Trajan in the late first century AD. -Ronald Martin, Tacitus, Bristol Classical Press, 1994, London, p.242.
And as we head through the centre of
this great maelstrom of history
a Voice speaks to help us survive
by the skin of our teeth1.
It spoke, then, at the beginning of Empire2 ,
as It speaks now at the start of global Order,
in the midst of tempest,
in our darkest incoherence this ocean speaks,
winning its way into the hearts of people
who go about, quietly and obscurely,
to bring about a new Kingdom everywhere
as governments collapse, anarchy increases,
complexity bites into the acid tendrils
of the mind and individuals are easily overwhelmed
by incomprehensible mysteries and boredom.
Our days have long been troublesome,
as they were then in those early days of Empire
when He spoke; our great body has been invaded
by open violence and slow decay while a pure and
humble religion, yet again, insinuates itself into the
minds of men, lowly erects a place of honour on a
mountain square, its handiwork and wisdom to adore.
17 November 1996
1Kenneth Clark, Civilization, Penguin, 1969, p.28.
2the Roman Empire began in 31 BC with the emperor Octavian.
A SENSE OF SELF
When autobiography is concluded it immediately becomes suspect; coherence collapses in the face of paradox and disturbing reality; experience is ordered and shaped into a form that cannot be understood by a continuous sequence. Indeed, all descriptions of experience are unreliable. The theological mirror deforms by exploiting faults without kindness. Modern mirrors which try to satisfy the impulse toward self-representation often exaggerate the importance of the individual, or threaten the permance and coherence of the self. -Barbara Leah Harman, Costly Monuments: Representations of the Self in the Poetry of George Herbert’s Poetry, Harvard UP, Cambridge, 1982, pp. 103-105.
Weaving myself into this space, this sense, this
act of writing, this microcosm and macrocosm
of endless grandeur in time and space, I become
as nothing, perhaps, some pipes through which
the music of the universe, thy remembrance, can flow.
For I am nothing, hardly a vapour in the desert, an
illusion and the claim to anything more, sheer blasphemy.*
These words, some attempt at identity, definition, of a
transient form, evanescent day, self, far, far from permanence,
whose boundaries are soon and forever gone,
this body of death, whose beginnings and endings
fold in upon each other, in transitions, this
mysterium tremendum filled with contradictions,
connections and a warp and woof striving for unity.
29 March 1996
*There is a strong strain in Baha’u’llah’s writings underpinning a definite sense of our utter nothingness as individuals when brought before the infinite wonders of Thy Revelation.(Prayers and Meditations, USA, 1969, p.133). Any autobiographical material, when seen in such a perspective, defines a definite view of self. This poem is an expression of this view of self.
SOME SECRET OF BLOSSOMS
I operate in the zone between the world as idea and the idea as world. I do not apologize in my poems for my own experience, or the experience of others, my own or borrowed ideas. Many poets have played with their lives and the world in words before I came along. Few have played with the particular mix I attempt as homo ludens.. Few drift a poetry like snowflakes, over and over, instance after instance, melting as it does on the page. Few weave the dark and the cold into a texture of loss, the light and the hot into a texture of victory. Few show sorrow leading to achievement, to a solemn consciousness, to emptiness, to nothingness, to an exquisite celebratory joy. Few show individuals, institutions and community all evolving slowly as part of a new World Order. -Ron Price with appreciation to Richard Howard, Alone With America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950, Atheneum, NY, 1980.
Margins and centres,
edges and spaces,
contiguities and distances,
all part of a journey home,
close to our garden, alive in
a country, a nation, a multiple
perspective, deeply identified
with what happens , some secret
of blossoms, attempting coherence
in these few words, telling of ecstacy
beyond desire, beyond these poems,
standing outside these phrases in
people’s lives arrayed as they are
with the fruits of a consecrated joy.
18 February 1996
GRIEF AND GRACE’S EFFUSIONS
Couples find ageing more difficult than solitary individuals, because the emotional relations between husband and wife grow more complex with age...Separation may indeed be a mortal blow to those who literally cannot do without each other. But living together brings them more torment than happiness. -Simone de Beauvoir, Old Age, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1972, pp. 351-352.
Is this why we argue more now, in these
middle years of middle age, before old age
creeps on its petty pace? My heart strings
tense again, thin, like a violin out of tune,
not wanting, even, to sing. Just put me in
a box and give me to some other player:
young, fresh and new. Here I am wanting
to hide away, leave, frightened like that bird,
as He, too, was afraid, that giant of a man; and
me, some pebble, dwarf, am crushed by this fear,
this loneliness, this sense of persecution, after all
these years of prayer, of belief! What is this sparse
nourishment of slow years? Is this the death of love,
or passing grief, before effusions of celestial grace?
22 March 1997
Many writers and thinkers, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, have felt that society has been undergoing a stage of transition and moral mediocrity in which the old gods were dead or dying and the new ones had not yet been born. It is a process that has been repeated throughout history; like individualism it has been a feature of the historical process in one form or another within the different forms of community at least since the neolithic revolution. -Ron Price, An attempt to summarize a core idea in: Durkheim and Postmodern Culture, S. Mestrovic, Aldine de Gruyter, NY, 1992.
The Baha’i community and the individuals within it will play a crucial role in defining a unifying vision of the nature of man and society and laying the foundations for a global society to which the mass of humankind can commit themselves. -Ron Price, a paraphrase of some of the opening paragraph of "Baha’u’llah", A Statement of the Baha’i International Community, Office of Public Information, 1991, p.1.
As we internationalize our world
and seek to bond ourselves together
emotionally with Disney World, Mc
Donald’s and olympic games, souvenir
spoons, greeting cards, nostalgia channels,
synthetic flowers and other faint-and-not-so
faint-embodiments of human sentiment,
a new version of community is emerging,
a new collective morality, beyond left and
right infighting, emerging from a common
experience in one world culture, humanity,
social unity and congruence and we are
just at the beginning of the process, the
enormous task of resacralizing our world.
26 December 1997
SCATTERED LIKE STAR-DUST
As Sir Ernest Barker has so illuminatingly emphasized, the whole secular theory of natural law from 1500 to 1800 was engaged in working out little else but a theory of society....Man was primary and relationships secondary. In this new Order, rising out of the ashes of shattered loyalties and the multiplicity of saviours-in-a-hurry, with their inorganic and fixed frameworks, an organically conceived Administration would serve as the nucleus and pattern for a future World Order. Relationships, groups, what came to be called Assemblies were primary and individuals secondary.-Ron Price with thanks to Robert Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition, Heinemann, London, 1970(1966), p. 48.
The old order had ended long before
this new one was born, back then.1
Brilliant sprays of diamonds and gold
‘rose out of the depths of His mysterious
purpose with enough wealth to save the
world, at least by the skin of its teeth, and
other sprays of ideas so fine, scattered like
star-dust from those magnetic poles to tropic
lands, that would save the world: more than
enough divine Tablets, Kitabi this’s and that’s
and the zeal of the Lord, institutionalized in a
new Order spraying us with Its breath-taking
emerald energy and its brilliant inventiveness.
8 January 1997
1Many theorists, including Nisbet, refer to the old order as the one which fell with the French revolution in 1789.
If Price's poetry and its form achieves a permanence, it will not be by virtue of its stability, its lack of fragmentation or its poetic solidity; nor will it prove to be lasting in quality due to its insight or commentary on the age in which he lived. Its enduring character will be the result of its primary and essential association with a Movement which claimed to be the emerging religion on the planet, the essential mechanism for the unity of the children of men in this and successive centuries. If the Baha’i Faith comes to be at the centre of some new heaven and some new earth as prophesized in the Book of Revelation; if it turns out in those centuries ahead that Price had been a member of such Movement during all of the epochs of this Baha’i Faith’s Formative Age, except the first epoch when his parents and grandparents prepared the soil for his life—then all of his poetic-prose might indeed become of some lasting value.
Price’s prose-poetry served as a commentary on and analysis of both this Formative Age as well as the Heroic Age of Baha'i history(1844-1921) and the century before(1744-1844) when its two chief precurors arose in the Middle East. Price’s writing, though, was especially and quintessentially connected with the second to the fifth epochs of the first century of the Formative Age during which he was an active participant in this Faith’s several Plans. Time would, of course, tell and by such a time Price would have long gone into a land of lights, a fair and shining place, a mysterious realm, an everlasting garden—such was his hope, his aspiration for some refreshment, some sweet scent of holiness that he had not yet tasted in this darksome and narrow world. -Ron Price with thanks to Carlos Williams in Hints and Disguises: Marianne Moore and Her Contemporaries, Celeste Goodridge, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1989, p.25.
This was one he dangled for, what,
three years? They had talked about
everything imaginable, built up one
of those close relationships, you know
the way people do who rarely or never
see each other except in some particular
public or private place on some regular
or even irregular basis-friendship???
Today, after this interminable length
of time of fishing, yes, fishing is what
he called it, he finally tried to pull him
in; no that's putting it too strongly: he
gave him a very big bit to bite off, yes.
Now, when you've been fishing like
Price had for over well-nigh fifty years,
you know from sheer experience and
literally thousands of baitings, bitings
and bringing-them-ins, that giving a
fish a bit to bite guarantees nothing at
all, except perhaps a good chat-and by
God he’d learned how to do that with
just about anyone now. But he caught
few fish, at least since '72-'73 & '69-'70
when fish where he’d lived were biting
left and right. He still went fishing often;
it was a very subtle skill and in his blood:
these were the oceans of God, habitations
of the souls of men and this place was but
one of the myriads of waters for fishing.
30 October 1997
(updated on: 6/9/’08)
Enf of Story....For Now....Ron