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Abstract:
Interested readers will find a series of 29 interviews held in the 20 years between 1996 and 2015. These interviews are essentially about my poetry and prose. The interviews, 1.4/year, concerned what I wrote during the years 1992 to 2015.
Notes:
After reading interviews, listening to them on radio, and seeing them on TV for 40 years, 1956 to 1996, I became aware of how useful the interview was as a technique for personal evaluation in the public domain of whatever an artist wants to assess. It is obviously a useful means of conveying to the public what an artist is trying to do with his art, his personal activity and his life. Poetry and prose about the interview process, interviews with me and interviews with others are also included here.

Part 1:

May 1992 to May 1993, the 2nd Baha'i Holy Year in forty years, was a special time for inner reflection. It was in that year that I began to write poetry seriously, and extensively. Three years later, in 1996, after writing several 1000 prose-poems, I began a series of what has become 29 interviews, from 1996 to 2015. These interviews became, over this 20 year period, part of an inner reflection, part of an attempt to understand my life, my society and the significance of the religion I had been associated with by 1996 for more than 40 years.

The Baha'i Faith claims to be the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions and, as it moves toward the end of the first century of its Formative Age(1921-2021), after a bloody and indeed Heroic and Apostolic Age(1844 to 1921), it is slowly moving from the obscurity in which it had been enshrouded for a century and a half to the glaring light of public recognition. The history and the implications of this new world Faith, whose origins arguably go back for the last two and a half centuries, to the middle of the 18th century, are only slowly becoming known by the world's peoples.

Part 2:

This exercise of mine, this interviewing and literary analysis has been built, as I say above, on more than 40 years of reflection, as part of my association with the Baha'i community(1953-1996), and my association with many other communities and groups in my life as far back as the 1940s. I am now 70, and I feel that this interview process, even after 20 years, has only just begun. It will continue as I live through my 70s and my 80s, into old-age, if I last that long.

Part 3:

As I also say, I find the interview a useful form of art, as Jim Morrison, the lead singer of The Doors once said back in the 1960s. It is my hope, although I can not guarantee, that readers will find here at BLO, in the following thread or post, some thoughts and words of personal value to them as they take on life's tests, as they follow their own stars, and as they create using whatever gifts and potentials with which they are endowed.

As this series of interviews moves through its third decade, I look forward to continuing my own reflections on decades of my writing and on more decades of my living, as well as on centuries, indeed, millennia of the great tapestry of human experience that is the recorded history of humanity.


Interviews With Ron Price About Poetry:
Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section VIII

by Ron Price

published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study in Autobiography, Poetry: Section VIII
2005
Preamble:

An Interview with Ron Price

Ron Price was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1944. He received his primary and secondary education in Burlington Ontario, went to McMaster and Windsor Universities where he got a BA and a B.Ed.in 1966 and 1967, respectively. In 1971, at the age of 27, he went to live in Australia with his first wife after teaching for three years in primary schools in Canada. He continued his education in Australia in several post-graduate studies programs. He also continued teaching: first at primary, then secondary, and then at several post-secondary educational institutions. At the age of 39, while living in Australia's Northern Territory and working as an Adult Educator, he started to write more extensively than he had been doing in his 20s and 30s for a wider public. By the time he was fifty, in 1994, he was writing during the time he had available after his responsibilities as a teacher, a parent, a husband and a volunteer in community groups. He wrote mostly prose-poetry. In the years from 1999, when he took an early retirement, to 2015 he acquired a readership of millions in cyberspace with his: prose-poems, his essays, his books and ebooks, his articles and internet posts, his autobiographical and memoristic writing.

When this series of interviews began in 1996 he was living in Perth Western Australia, and working as a lecturer in what is now Polytechnic-West. The year 1996 was right at the start of a new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth, a new Bahá'í paradigm as it is sometimes called, and Ron was the secretary of his local Bahá'í community in the suburb of Belmont. In 1999 he and his wife moved to Tasmania where, as he indicated above, he took an early retirement, a sea-change, at the age of 55.

Ron's second wife is a Tasmanian. They have raised three children and, by the first years of the 21st century, they had each left the parental nest. In the years from 1999 to 2015, Ron reinvented himself as: a writer and author, poet and publisher, online blogger and journalist, reader and scholar, editer and researcher. In these new roles he filled his retirement years, retired from FT, PT and most volunteer work.

Ron became a member of the Baha’i Faith in 1959 after 6 years of association with the Bahá'í community in southern Ontario during his childhood & early to mid-adolescence. He gave his first interview in Perth Western Australia after he had been writing seriously for four years(1992 to 1996), and publishing in the print and electronic media for more than a dozen years(1983 to 1996). The first interview below, like all the interviews, is a simulated one. It is an interview he has been working on for several years. When we caught up with him or, more accurately, when he caught-up with himself and decided to reflect, using the interview form, on his writing activity over the years, he had just finished his twenty-fifth year working as a teacher/lecturer. He was enjoying his summer holiday at his home in Perth.

Readers may find, as they approach these interviews, that they are already overloaded with information, with magazines that claim to improve their readers' minds and with more books than they can possibly ever read. Often readers, in these days of print and image glut, have too much information already and they have great difficulty seeing the forest for the trees. That is, though, a challenge that faces us all in these early years of the 21st century. One could be, it is Ron's view, informed, knowledgeable, and hip all at once--though clogging one's mind with much useless information could be, and often is, a strain. It would be difficult, though, to be all three things and cultivated into the bargain. To be cultivated is, of the four possibilities, the most desirable. Ron emphasized before this interview that he has had, and now has, a few friends who have achieved this elevated status; alas they have either long gone from this mortal coil or they are people whom he has never met and will never meet. The cultivated not only know a great deal but, more importantly, they know what is significant. They know, not to put too fine a point on it, what is really worth knowing. In saying this, Ron concluded, he was only too well aware that what is seen as significant to each person on the planet is an idiosyncratic and highly subjective entity. Keeping all of this in mind, he trusts readers here find these interviews of some subjective value and, if not significant, at least a source of some reading pleasure.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Preamble-Part 1:

I began to put the following sequence of questions and answers together as I was about to retire from full-time employment as a teacher and lecturer after 32 years in the classroom, and another 18 as a student. In the first 15 years of the reinvention of myself as a writer and author, editor and researcher, a poet and publisher, an online journalist and blogger, an independent scholar and reader, the years from 1999 to 2014, I added more material to what you could call this simulated interview.

This is the 26th, the most recent, simulated interview in 19 years, 1996 to 2015. There is no attempt in this particular series of Qs & As to be sequential, to follow themes in some logical pattern, or simulate a normal interview. I have attempted a more logical-sequential pattern in my other 25 interviews over those 19 years.

I have posted literally millions of words on the internet at 100s, indeed 1000s now, of sites. Readers who come across this particular interview of more than 15,000 words and more than 38 A-4 font-14 pages, will gain some idea of the person who writes the stuff they read at whatever sites on the world-wide-web where they come across my literary effusions. Readers wanting access to these sites and my work at these sites, need to simply Google my name RonPrice followed by any one of dozens of other words like: forums, blogs, poetry, history, literature, philosophy, religion, cinema, popular culture, inter alia.

There are now more than 5000 other Ron Prices in cyberspace. Readers need to ensure they are accessing my posts and my writing, and not those of some other chap with the same name as mine. I have posted this interview for the interest of what has become an extensive readership, my constituency of readers, and others who come across my work for the first time, or for whatever number of times, and for whatever particular reason.

Preamble-Part 2:

2.1 The questionnaire concept which I utilize below was originated, so I am informed, by French television personality Bernard Pivot after what was called the Proust Questionnaire. The Proust Questionnaire is about one's personality. Its name and modern popularity as a form of interview is owed to the responses given by Marcel Proust(1871-1922), the French novelist, critic, and essayist. At the end of the nineteenth century, when Proust was still in his teens, he answered a questionnaire in an English-language confession magazine belonging to his friend Antoinette, daughter of future French President Félix Faure. The magazine was entitled "A Place to Record Your Thoughts and Feelings." At that time, it was popular among English families to answer such a list of questions that revealed the tastes and aspirations of the talker.

2.2 James Lipton (b.1926) an American writer, poet, composer, actor, and dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York City, utilized the following questionnaire in his series of interviews entitled Inside the Actors Studio. The series premiered in 1994 and has been broadcast in 125 countries around the world reaching 89,000,000 homes, so I was informed several years ago on Wikipedia.

2.2.1 Lipton asked the following ten questions:
1.       What is your favorite word?
2.       What is your least favorite word?
3.       What turns you on?
4.       What turns you off?
5.       What sound or noise do you love?
6.       What sound or noise do you hate?
7.       What is your favorite curse word?
8.       What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9.       What profession would you not like to do?
10.       If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
2.2.2 My answers were/are:

1.       God
2.       Fuck
3.       My instinctual and human needs for: food and drink, silence and sounds, sensory and especially sexual stimulation, oxygen and physical comfort, shelter and work, love and kindness, as well as the pleasures that come from the satisfaction of these instinctual and human needs.
4.       Noise, loud and aggressive people, conversation after one to two hours; most of the TV currently available to me, a great deal of printed matter. When the needs referred to in #3 above are not satisfied.
5.       Some classical, jazz and popular music, some human voices and silence.
6.       Any loud sounds, some human voices.
7.       Fuck
8.       I was a student and scholar, teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator from 1949 to 1999. Now I am enjoying new roles: poet and publisher, writer and author, editor and research, online journalist and blogger.
9.       Law and medicine, work in the biological and physical sciences as well as the trades.
10.       Well done and now tell me about your troubles in life while trying to serve Me.

Preamble-Part 3:

Below readers will find my own 35 questions, questions I began to ask and answer back in 1998 and 1999, as I was about to retire from FT teaching, and a teaching-student life going back to 1949, half a century. These questions and answers were last updated on 29 March 2015.

1. Do you have a favourite place to visit? I’ve lived in 25 cities and towns and visited over 100. I have lived in 37 houses and would enjoy visiting both the houses and the towns again for their memory, their nostalgia, their mnemonic, value. When writing about these places as I do from time to time, I would benefit from such visits, but it is not likely that I will visit any of them now in the evening of my life for many reasons not the least of which is my lack of funds and my disinclination to travel any more.

There are dozens of other places I’d enjoy going as a tourist or travel-teacher, circumstances permitting, circumstances like: plenty of money, good health, lots of energy and if I could be of some use to the people in those places. My health, my new medications for bipolar disorder, medications I’ve now had for over five years, prevents me from travelling.

1.1       Tell us a little more about your health both before your writing began in earnest in the 1990s and before. Rather than go into detail here I will simply refer you to my 90,000 word and 200 page(font-14) account of my experience of bipolar 1 disorder as well as the section of my website on the same subject. You can google “Ron Price BPD”.

2. Who are your favourite writers? The historians Edward Gibbon and Arnold Toynbee, Manning Clark and Peter Gay, among a long list of historians I keep in my notebooks; the philosophers Ortega y Gasset and Nietzsche, Buber and Spinoza, among another long list I keep in my notebooks; the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith and Their successors Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice; the poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth and Roger White; the psychologists Rollo May and Alfred Adler, and a host of others notes about whom I keep in my notebooks, as well as writers from many other disciplines.

3. Who are your favorite artists?

Part 1:

There are several dozen art movements and hundreds, if not thousands, of artists that can be accessed in both libraries and now, with a click or two, on the internet. I will name two famous artists whose work I like, and two whom I have known personally: Cezanne and Van Gogh, and Chelinay and Drew Gates. I find it just about impossible to answer a question like this given my eclectic tastes. In question #2 above I named several of the many writers who were and are "my favorites", but I found there were too many names. That is also the case here, and so I do not intend to make a long list.

Part 2:

As my years of retirement from the world of jobs and family commitments, community and volunteer work, the nose to the grindstone stuff, so to speak, lengthen as they have since 1999 to 2005--by which time I had relieved myself of most of the activity that had kept me busy for decades, I find there are more and more artists in the history of art whose work I am just finding out about and learning to appreciate. I did not feel, and I do not feel now, as some writers and poets felt after completing their major life-work: ‘The work that I was born to do is done.’

George Chapman said repeatedly that the publication of the final volume on Homer left him nothing more to do; he would now (at 71) ‘do nothing forever and ever’. After 15 years of my retirement from FT work, I felt, in some ways, that my learning about artists, and all sorts of other people in other fields, had just begun.

4. Who are your favorite composers, musicians, vocalists and singer/songwriters? How can one choose from the thousands in these categories? It is the same problem as in the previous two questions. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Hayden come to mind as composers but, goodness, there are simply too many to list. I placed a list of my favourites at several sites in cyberspace. The list had more than 100 people and 100s of their works. Over the years, I’ve had at least a dozen different favorite composers including: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky, Dvorak and Rachmaninoff. My favorite composer seems to be the one whose musical world I’ve been immersed in most deeply at any given time.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a master of translating melancholy and nostalgia into a musical language. He was cured of a profound writer’s block through hypnosis, and he dedicated his beloved Second Piano Concerto to his psychiatrist, Dr Nikolai Dahl. I dedicate my love for music to my mother and father both of whom played the piano in our home as I was growing-up.

5. Who are your heroes? The Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, Beethoven, Emily Dickinson, a large number of men described in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Memorials of the Faithful(1970, 1927) and many more that I come across in reading history and other social sciences, the humanities as well as the physical and biological sciences. Again, the list is too long and its getting longer with the years as I head with what seems the speed of light to the age of 70 in 2014.

6. Who has been your greatest inspirations? Roger White and John Hatcher in my middle age, Jameson Bond and Douglas Martin when I was a young man in my teens and twenties as well as a host of others, too many to list, in these years of my late adulthood, 60 to 70. Now in my late adulthood, the years after 60 in the lifespan according to some human development psychologists some new inspirations include: the essayist Joseph Epstein, the writers Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and Udo Schaefer, a number of poets and writers whose works I had never had time to read or did not know even existed---again the list is getting longer since reading and research, writing and editing have become much more central to my life, to my daily activities than during my years of employment: 1961 to 2001.

7. If you could invite several people for dinner from any period in history, who would you choose and why? I would not invite anyone because I don’t like to talk while I’m eating. After dinner these days I like to watch TV for a few minutes and then go to bed. I’d chose the following people to have a chat with at some other time during the day, but I would not have them all come at once. I would take them as follows:

7.1 Pericles: I’d like to know what went on in Athens in the Golden Age, as he saw it. I’ve come to know a great deal about Athens in the 5th century BC since I taught ancient history and I have many questions which, of course, I could answer by reading. But there are so many views of the man and the times.

7.2 Roger White: I’d like to simply enjoy his gentle humor and observe that real kindness which I could see in his letters and in his rare interviews.

7.3 My mother and father and my maternal grandparents: The pleasure of seeing them again(except for my grandmother whom I never saw since she died five years before I was born) after all these years would, I think, be just overwhelming.

7.4.1 Douglas and Elizabeth Martin, 7.4.2 Jameson and Gale Bond and 7.4.3 Michael and Elizabeth Rochester. These people were all university academics or the wives of academics who had a seminal influence on my developing values in the formative period of my late teens and early twenties.

7.5 There are many others in another list too long to include here.

8. What are you reading? In 1998, my last year of full-time employment, when I began to list these questions and provide the answers, I had fourteen books on the go: eight biographies, four literary criticisms, one book of philosophy and one of psychology. Now in these early years on two old age pensions, 2009 to 2012, I am reading mostly material on the internet and that reading list is too extensive to list here. I never go to libraries any more and, due to a lack of money, I never buy any books, although my wife does occasionally and I browse through what she buys. The internet is overflowing with enough print to keep me happily occupied until I die. My son bought me David Womersley’s 3-volume edition(1994) of Gibbon’s famous work in 2010 and after 3 years I’m up to page 140 underlining as I go the passages that I may use one day in my own writing.

9. What do you enjoy listening to in the world of music? I listened mainly to classical music on the classical FM station while living in Perth in the last dozen years of my FT employment(1988-1999) as well as some from the folk, pop and rock worlds. Now that I live in George Town northern Tasmania in these years of the early evening of my life(1999 to 2012) this is also true only hardly any pop, rock and folk and much more jazz and classical. I have written about my tastes and interests in music since my adolescence in other places and I refer readers here to the section of my website on music for the kind of detail that would lead to prolixity if I included it here.

10. What food could you not live without? I would miss my wife’s cooking and Persian and Mexican food if I was cut off from them. It must be said, though,(answering this question 14 years after beginning to answer it) now that I live in northern Tasmania I rarely eat Persian and Mexican food. Now that I am retired I hardly miss these foods. I enjoy the food I get, that my wife and I prepare and only eat a Persian meal or a Mexican meal perhaps once a year now. Do I miss it? Yes and no. I enjoy eating when I am hungry; hunger is the driving force and I enjoy many, many foods when I am hungry. If I could not have some of these foods I’d be happy with many others.

11. What do you do when you feel a poem coming on? I get a piece of paper and pen or go to my computer/word processor and start writing. Most of my poems take less than half an hour. My latest booklet of poetry comes from my poetry factory, as I have occasionally come to call this location for my production of poetry in George Town Tasmania, Australia where I write these pieces. I have also calculated the number of poems I have written per day over the last 32 years after a hiatus of 18 years(1962-1980) in my pioneering life in which no record was kept even though I was writing poetry very occasionally, very rarely, at the time.

In the first years of my life, 1943 to 1962, the influences on my writing of poetry included: my mother and grandfather, the primary and secondary school system in Ontario and the university I attended. The Baha’i Faith after 1953 was also a poetic force. All these poetic influences were completely unrecognized as poetic influences at the time since my interests were mainly sport, getting high marks at school, having fun, and dealing with life’s quotidian and sometimes anxious events.

A.       From 1 August 1980 to 22 September 2012 there have been 11,734 days(circa).
B.       The number of poems written per day is calculated using the following data: 7075(circa) poems in 11,734 (circa) days to 22 September 2012. That works out to: 1 poem in 1.65 days or 4.3 poems/week.
C.       The maths: 11,734(days) divided by 7075(poems)

11.       How important is life-style and freedom from the demands of employment and other people to your creative life?

Part 1:

These things became absolutely crucial by my mid fifties. The Canadian poet, anarchist, literary critic and historian George Woodcock (1912-1995), once said in an interview that it was very important for his literary work that he could live as he wished to live. If a job was oppressing him, he said, he had to leave it. Both Woodcock and I have done this on several occasions, but I did not leave the jobs I did in order to write—except for the last job in 1999 when I was 55.

Woodcock broke with a university and I broke with three Tafe colleges. It's a derogatory thing to say it's a form of evasion, of avoidance or cowardice, said Woodcock, but you have to evade those situations in life in which you become insubordinate to others or situations in which others offend your dignity.

Part 2:

Woodcock went on to say in that same interview that when one acts dramatically or precipitately—like resigning from a job or losing one’s temper--it often has consequences that are very negative. He gave examples from his own life and I could give examples here; I could expand on this important theme but this is enough for now. Readers who are keen to follow-up on this aspect of my life can read my memoirs. Everything in my memoirs is true, but it has been "filtered and worked on". Readers tend to think a memoir is a chronicle or record of a life but, as the memoirist Kate Holden says, “it's a much more subtle form. You're compressing, eliding, using your craft.” She uses her craft to present a good story and I use it to present what I hope is a good analysis, some accurate and honest, useful and helpful reflections on life to those who read them.

For the poet T.S. Eliot, the failure to live, the failure of emotion to find its proper expression, is an obsessive theme of his work. This emphasis is so repetitive that it amounts to a compulsion. ‘The Buried Life, the idea of a life not fully lived, is the central, animating idea of Eliot’s poetry.’ So writes Denis Donoghue in the London Review of Books, Vol. 29 No. 2, January 2007 in his review of T.S. Eliot by Craig Raine(Oxford, 200 pages, 2007) I quote these words from Donoghue because, as I reflect on my life thus-far, to the age of 70, the freedom I have found since taking a sea-change at the age of 55 has enabled my emotions to find "their proper and full expression." This has taken-place in ways I had not known in the more than five decades of experience that were in my memory-bank: 1948 to 1999.

12. Were you popular at school, in your primary, secondary and university days?

Part 1:

I certainly was in primary and secondary school, but not at matriculation or university. I did not have the experience many writers and intellectuals have who received early wounds from the English school system among other influences in life. It wasn't merely the discipline at these schools; it was the ways in which boys got what was called the school spirit. In most English schools it is a brutal kind of pro-sporty spirit that militates against the intellectual who is looked on as a weakling. I was popular at school because I was good at sport and I got on with everyone.

I certainly was not seen as, and I was not, an intellectual. I was good at memorizing and that is why I did so well, but at university I could not simply memorize; I had to think and write my own thoughts and my grades went from ‘A’s’ to ‘C’s. This was also due to the beginnings of episodes of bipolar I disorder which has afflicted me off and on all my life.

Part 2:

As far as popularity now in the evening of my life is concerned, I have become my own publicist and marketer of my writing. I do not have a craving to be famous, nor do I have 'a horror of being known to like being known’ – as the classicist A.E. Housman once wrote. In the course of his life Housman turned down everything from the OM to the poet laureateship, not to speak of many honorary doctorates. And he refused all invitations to give lectures except for the ones that he conceived to be part of his job. I have never had nor will I ever have this problem as I begin the last decade(70-80) of my late adulthood and old-age(80+), if I last that long. In my years as a teacher and lecturer I had enough popularity to last me a lifetime.

14. 1 You did not flower early as a writer. Tell us something about the origins of your prose and poetic writing.

Part 1:

Many writers flower early. Many of them become largely forgotten; whereas, I have a different type of creativity which seems to be growing in meaning and personal significance, in power and vitality, literally decade by decade, again, like the Canadian George Woodcock. This kind of creativity over the lifespan is actually quite abnormal, atypical. I seem to have been the tortoise or the bull if you're going to use the Taurean symbol. I have been marching forward slowly. I think what I am writing now is better than anything I’ve ever written in my life. Who knows what lies ahead.

Just at the beginning of my retirement after a 50 year student-and-employment life(1949-1999) I was asked how I saw the years ahead. I quoted Denis Diderot(1713 -1784) the French philosopher, art critic and writer who said: ‘We erect a statue in our own image inside ourselves, idealised, you know, but still recognisable. Then we spend our lives engaged in the effort to make ourselves into its likeness." I quoted Diderot back then because it helped provide a perspective on how I saw the years ahead, my writing life after retiring and reinventing myself as an author.

Back around 1998/9 I wrote: "My writing in the years ahead, being so very autobiographical, will be a process of erecting some likeness of myself, an ever-changing statue, partly idealized, partly the real me as I see the 'me,' and partly an exercise in social construction."

Part 2:

Some years ago a reporter from Musician magazine asked jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim a question about when his interest in music began. Ibrahim said he understood the logic of the question but that he couldn't answer it because music had always been part of his day to day living. I feel in a similar way about my relationship to writing. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a deep investment in writing. From 1949 to 1967, the age of 5 to 23, writing was the very source of my success and survival in school. If I had not developed the capacity to write well I would never have got good grades and gone up the academic ladder—but I had to work at the process back then. Any significant literary success, any published work, did not come, really, until I was nearly forty.

The poet Geoffrey Hill(1932-) is a useful poet to bring-in here to help me answer this question. Hill is an English poet, professor emeritus of English literature and religion, and former co-director of the Editorial Institute, at Boston University. Hill has been considered to be among the most distinguished poets of his generation and to some he was the "greatest living poet in the English language". In June 2010 he was elected Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford. I am not in his league, the league of the prestigious, but there is a hermetic obscurity in his later work.

Part 3:

Like myself, Hill wrote great quantities of verse in his late adulthood and old-age: his sixties, seventies and eighties, and only a relatively small number of poems before the age of 50, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The asymmetrical volume of his output is one of the more obviously remarkable things about a remarkable collection of his poems published between 1959 and 1995. His earlier work occupies only about 150 of its 940 pages, while the work of Hill’s later years fills the remaining five-sixths of the book.1 At the age of 50, like Hill, I was just getting air-born in my poetic life, although I wrote far, far, less than Hill did from the age of 20 to 50. (See 1the London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 4, 2014, "Rancorous Old Sod", Colin Burrow, a review of Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952-2012 by Geoffrey Hill( Oxford, 1000 pages, 2013)

14.2 You did not flower early as a writer. Tell us something about the development of your prose and poetic writing in cyberspace which surely has been, in many ways, a flowering.

I have had a website now for 18 years. I have also been writing at 100s of internet sites. In the first dozen years or so of the 21st century, 2001 to 2014, I slowly acquired literally millions of readers. For decades I had to be content with teaching ten to twenty-five undergraduates at one time, perhaps a 100 in one term. I also had to be content with writing for a fairly limited readership of some local newspaper, a small circulation magazine, a newsletter or journal. The internet has given me the chance of addressing millions of people. As the historian A.J. P. Taylor once put it: "ought I to take fright at the shade of Joad and turn it down?"1 It is a difficult job; it has taken me a long time to learn the ropes of the world-wide-web; I daresay I have made and will make lots of mistakes before I get my second and third wind, so to speak, publishing in cyberspace.

I've been refining my skills and approaches for two decades: 1994 to 2014. For my own part, I’m content to publicize the Bahá'í Faith in as many ways as I can across the interstices of the internet. If every once in a while I can get in a piece advocating more international dialogue, a stronger United Nations, a greater role for moderate and liberal religious perspectives, or any one of a number of other points of view, social positions, and forms of advocacy, that is a source of more than a little satisfaction.(See: The London Review of Books, Vol. 12 No. 9, May 1990, "Letters to an Editor : written by his contributor, A.J.P. Taylor, to Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman at various times from 1951 to 1964."

15. What sort of personal relationships do you have these days? I was reading about the Canadian writer George Woodcock whom I have already mentioned in this series of questions and answers. He said that he did not have all that many friends who were writers. He knew their problems, but he did not know the problems of painters. He said that he liked to move among painters, mathematicians, psychologists and people who could tell him something. By my mid-fifties I had had enough of people telling me about things, any things. I had been both a listening post, a reader, and a talker for so many years I was a bit of a burnt-out case and wanted to shut my ears to the endless chatter of life by the age of 55 in 1999.

If I wanted to know about stuff, about any particular person, I could read, watch TV, listen to the radio or google. If I wanted some social life I could visit a small circle of people in the little town I live in, that I took a sea-change to near the mouth of a river by the sea. After an hour or so of conversation and various forms of social interaction I usually had enough and looked forward to my return to solitude.

Due to my medications by the age of 65 and perhaps due to being in my middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80) I found more than two hours with people in any form took me to the edge of my psychological stamina, patience, my coping capacity. It was better for me to seek out solitude after two hours to preserve the quality of my relationships and not to “blot-my-copybook,” as my wife often put it when I indulged in some emotional excess, some verbal criticism of others or gave vent to some kind of spleen which often resulted after that two hours---due to my mental illness, my bipolar disorder. In the 13 years since I retired I have been on a series of medication shifts which have altered my psycho-emotional life. Now I spend 12 hours a day in bed for an 8 to 9 hour sleep and work at literary activity for 6 to 8 hours a day.

16. How would you describe the social outreach in your poetry?

Part 1:

I rarely point a finger directly at some guilty party, organization, person or movement; sometimes there is a subtle psychological base to a poem that hints at, or implies, some evil in someone’s court. My poetry is quite explicitly non-partisan. I have dealt with this issue of my non-partisan poetry several times in my series of 26 interviews. It is an important question because the wider world often judges a person by the extent to which they engage with, or in, the quixotic tournament of social and partisan-political issues in our global community. I don’t shout at any multinational or rave for some environmental group.

When I do shout and rave it is about other things and there's nothing subtle about my shouting and raving. In the process and on such occasions, though, there is probably little depth in such emotive prose-poems of mine. With millions of readers now in cyberspace I’d say I now have a social outreach wider, more extensive, than any I’ve had in my life.

Part 2:

The subjects that interest some poets, some of the metaphysical poets, and some moderns like Gerald Manley Hopkins, among others, were and are chiefly intellectual ones; even their sensuous responses to the natural world are immediately referred to the intellect, which, in the poetry, meant referral to philosophical or theological thought. Although that is not always the case with my poetry, it often is.

Although it has seemed regrettable to some of my readers, as it has to some readers of Hopkins and various religious poets, that we often graft religious themes onto other themes dealing with nature or personal experience of some kind, it must be acknowledged that if any such poet had led a different life, their sense-perceptions would even so have had to be presented to, and mediated by, their intellectual, philosophical and/or religious preoccupations. In any case, the two aspects--the senses and the intellect--have to struggle into stand-offs, reconciliations, suspensions--the very things that happen in religious poems.

If there is nothing in the way of work, health, social obligation, or any one of a myriad intellectual curiosities getting in my sensory/spiritual way, I am able to see as Hopkins did, ‘innocently’ without scruples or anxiety. I am able to feel an easily presented natural beauty. It is a scene that I can even allegorise quite easily; for example, perhaps referring to some source of light entangled with darkness. I can also experience the pure joy of some sensuous reality with its spiritual implications. But this does not happen often.

Part 3:

I hope it will as I go through my 70s and 80s in the years ahead as it only occasionally has done in the last 20 years of my serious poetic activity. I can but hope; perhaps I can even make efforts in that direction in my daily life. It is unlikely, though, that my poetic efforts will possess the cadences and rhythms, the rhymes and beats of poets like Hopkins. Moments of peace, joy and happiness for Hopkins, though, were not frequent. Hopkins' letters reveal increasing depression, probably uni-polar depression and/or bipolar illness. Thanks to pharmacology I think my package of moods is, and has been, much better than Hopkins' moods.

In one of his letters he refers to his 'disease': "The melancholy that I have all my life been subject to has become of late years not so much more intense in its fits, but rather more distributed, constant and crippling. One, the lightest but a very inconvenient form of it, is daily anxiety about work to be done, which makes me break off or never finish all that lies outside that work … when I am at the worst, though my judgment is never affected, my state is much like madness."1

Vendler writes in her review as follows: "If one chooses to characterise Hopkins by manner rather than by subject matter, he belongs among the poets of extremes: Blake, Shelley, Hart Crane. In Hopkins, we find embodied the highest euphoria and the wildest despair, both extremes finding eloquent expression." His suffering began at 23 and continued until his death at 44. I have certainly experienced these same extremes; I leave it to readers to assess just how they have been expressed on my poetry enjoying as I have done the anodynes of medications, and many years in the middle ground between the highs and the lows.

Part 4:

Hopkins is a useful poet to reveal comparisons and contrasts to my own life and work. Vendler goes on: " For all his ecstatic wonder, Hopkins is by no means an untutored child of the earth. In fact, he is an exceptionally interesting example of the intersection of four very strong influences: visual impressions, compulsive verse-writing, classical higher education and Roman Catholicism (superimposed on his residual family Anglicanism)." My own strong influences have been: visual/sensory impressions, a certain compulsiveness in both writing and in my daily life, especially in my late adulthood, decades of formal education and reading, and the Bahá'í Faith superimposed on a residual religious eclecticism.

"He came to adulthood in the throes of the Oxford Movement, and nothing seemed of more consequence to him and his closest friends – as the youthful letters demonstrate – than the choice between England and Rome." I came to adulthood in the 1960s in the throes of the Bahá'í Faith. For me, the choice was between the Bahá'í Faith and a broad secular humanism. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 the London Review of Books(Vol. 36 No. 7 • 3 April 2014), Helen Vendler, "I have not lived up to it," a review of The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkin , Vols I-II: Correspondence, edited by R.K.R. Thorton and Catherine Phillips (Oxford, 1200 pages, 2013)

17. Some poets see their work as a form of social criticism and, like the Canadian poet Irving Layton, for example, they rage against society and some of what they see as society’s illnesses and injustices. Where does your poetry fit into this picture?

Many of Layton's more than forty published volumes of poetry are prefaced by scathing attacks on those who would shackle a poet's imagination; over the years he has used the media and the lecture hall to passionately and publicly decry social injustice. But perhaps his loudest and most sustained protest has been against a restrictive puritanism that inhibits the celebration and expression of human sexuality. My poetry is not an expression of scathing attacks on anything; nor is it a passionate and public poetic vis-à-vis that quixotic tournament of social issues that are paraded in front of me day after day in the print and electronic media.

I see my poetry as an extension of the whole Bahá'í approach to social issues and individual engagement with these issues. There are several Bahá'í books which explore this quite complex subject. One of the best was published 25 years ago. It is entitled Circle of Unity: Bahá'í Approaches to Current Social Issues. I encourage readers to have a look at it if they would like a more complete answer to this question, a question that I cannot answer in a small paragraph.

As far as the imagination is concerned it is not, in my view, the opposite of facts or the enemy of facts. The imagination depends upon facts; it feeds on them in order to produce beauty or invention, or discovery. The true enemy of the imagination is laziness and habit, as well as an ineffective use of leisure-time. The enemy of imagination is the idleness that provides fancy. I am not concerned, as Layton was, with a restrictive puritanism that inhibits the celebration and expression of human sexuality. I have many concerns in the process of writing poetry and journals, essays and narrative autobiography. I would like to emphasize here that authentic historical documents, mine and those of others, are products of the human mind and language; this is reality itself. Reality could be seen as a white light which each person sees on a spectrum of colour. Insofar as reality is thought, I deal in human reality all the time when I am writing and reading.

17. Do you think travelling has been crucial to your writing?

The Canadian poet Al Purdy(1918-2000) admitted quite clearly that if he hadn't travelled he wouldn't have written very much. He felt that he had to go further out in the world and experience place in order to write. He was one of the most popular and important Canadian poets of the 20th century. Purdy's writing career spanned more than fifty years. His works include over thirty books of poetry, a novel, two volumes of memoirs and four books of correspondence. He has been called Canada’s "unofficial poet laureate" and, "a national poet in a way that you only find occasionally in the life of a culture."

I did not travel the way Purdy did. I just kept moving to new towns, some two dozen. For a great many reasons largely associated with my bipolar disorder as well as some inexplicable fatigue with talking and listening, I became too tired, perhaps too old, too worn-out, too sick, too poor----goodness---what a sad tale, eh? Now I travel in my head and through the print and electronic media. And yes, travel in both these forms has been absolutely crucial to my productivity, but it ways that are difficult to explain since they span several decades.

18. Do you like talking about poetry?

Gary Geddes tells(In It’s Still Winter: A WEB JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN POETRY AND POETICS, Vol. 2 No. 1 Fall 1997) a great story of Douglas Dunn who was writer in residence at Hull. Dunn wanted to meet the famous British poet Larkin. But Larkin was a curmudgeon. He hated poets! Douglas Dunn was told by friends who knew Larkin that, if he wanted to meet Larkin then he had to make sure he didn't ever talk about poetry. He could talk about jazz and anything else, but not poetry. So these friends arranged this meeting and left the two of them in the pub. Finally, after a few beers, Larkin leaned across the table and said, "there are too many poets in this university. Your job as writer in residence is to get rid of them."

I don’t feel like this at all, although I can appreciate Larkin’s sentiments. If I want some congenial poetic spirits I read their poetry or I read about them, but I have no strong desire to meet and have a chat. But I like to write about poetry and that is why I’ve simulated these 26 interviews. I am fascinated by the development of poetry in my life and seek to understand how and why both my interest and my writing have arisen.

19. Do you like reading poetry?

Gary Geddes says in the same interview I quoted above that when he was translating a book of Chinese poetry with a George Leong, George would often bring him the most depressing and melancholic poems in Chinese to translate. Geddes would say: "George you gotta give me something else, I can't bear all of this stuff.” I feel that same way about a lot of poetry, indeed, most contemporary, classical and poetry from any period of history. I just don’t connect with it. My mind and heart do not engage in its content or style, or both. Often I just don’t understand what the poets are saying. The poets I do engage with hit home quite deeply, but they are relatively few. They are also people I am only now discovering since my retirement, since I have the time to read and not engage in a 60 to 80 hour a week filled with people and responsibilities.

20. Do you use metaphor in your poetry to any extent?

Not anywhere near as much as I’d like, as much as exists in its poetic potential. Aristotle once wrote that the ability to see relationships between things is the mark of poetic genius. I would not want to make the claim to be a poetic genius; how could one ever make such a presumptuous, preposterous, claim. But I see relationships between things all over the place. It’s one of the great motivators in why I write. I want to develop my use of metaphor in my poetry. I don’t think I’ve really taken off yet in my effective use of metaphor.

The philosopher Paul Ricoeur(1913-2005) sees mood and metaphor as the basis of the unity of a poem, of poetry itself. Writing poetry is certainly a mood thing for me and I’d like to make it much more of a metaphor thing as well. When emotion and intellect converge in imaginative writing, writing for example that draws on metaphor, readers can be transported to another life-world, a type of Gestalt, a Lebenswelt, to use the philosopher Edmund Husserl’s(1859-1938) term. Any transcendence that results for me and the reader of my work is not due to being taken to another realm at least not consciously.

Any sense of transcendence that does take place is due to seeing meaning, hidden meaning, meaning that did not exist before, in my or my reader’s experience, in the things and thoughts themselves. One goes beyond the familiar and finds fleeting moments rich in imaginative detail. There is a world outside language as the Canadian poet Don McKay(1942- ) asserts. It is very difficult to translate that world but some poetry can do this, can make this translation, with conviction and delight. I’d like to come back to this question several years from now when I’m in my 70s or even 80s.

21. What do you see as the function of a poet?

A poet has many functions, but two functions of this poet that interest me, to answer this question off the cuff so to speak, is: (a) to discover and distil the labour and the genius of the Bahá'í experience and (b) to give expression to the delight and the love that are at the heart of writing. The Canadian poet A.J. M. Smith wrote this in 1954. Smith had a preoccupation with death as I have, although not as intense and not in the same way as Smith’s. Out of his preoccupation with death he made poetry. I have made my poetry out of this and other preoccupations. The medications I’ve taken in the last decade or so have softened my interest in the subject of death.

From a Bahá'í perspective, of course, the arts and sciences in general, and poetry in particular, should “result in advantage to man,” “ensure his progress,” and “elevate his rank” ; that music is a ladder for our souls, “a means whereby they may be lifted up into the realm on high” ; that the art of drama will become “a great educational power” ; that when a painter takes up her paint brush, it is as if she were “at prayer in the Temple” ; that the arts fulfil “their highest purpose when showing forth the praise of God”; and that “music, art and literature...are to represent and inspire the noblest sentiments and highest aspirations.” The leader of the Baha’i cause from 1921-1957 saw such spiritual power in the arts that he predicted they would eventually do much to help it spread the spirit of love and unity. The poet, as I say, has those two functions and many others that I write about in the millions of words readers will find if they get into my oeuvre.

22. When you talk about art and the arts what do you mean?

When I say “art” or “the arts,” I mainly have in mind those that are commonly referred to as “fine arts” such as poetry, painting, sculpture, theatrical drama, film, music, dance and others. But I also have in mind the “design arts,” such as architecture and urban design as well as the crafts, such as pottery and rug-weaving because these arts operate on a spiritual as well as a material plane. Readers can now google the subject at locations in cyberspace like Wikipedia for answers to factual questions like this one.

23. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I have a photo which I post at many internet sites. The caption, the descriptive comment on this photo, reads: “This full-frontal facial view-photo, taken in 2004 when I was 60 in Hobart Tasmania, has a light side and a dark side. It is an appropriate photo to symbolize my lower and higher natures. These are natures that reach for spiritual, for intellectual and cultural attainment on the one hand and reach for and get caught-up in/with the world of mire and clay and its shadowy and ephemeral attachments.

Of course, when I look in the mirror there is not this clear dichotomy of light and shadow. When I look in the mirror I see an external self, a face which bears a relationship with my real self, a self which is not my body. My real self is an unknown quantity and my face really tells me very little about this real self. And so, to answer your question, I see what nearly everyone else sees: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, cheeks, etc. I also see that: I need a shave; I need to put some ointment on my skin; I need to comb my hair or cut my moustache.

24. What would you bring to this interview to ‘show-and-tell’ if you could bring only one item? And what would you say about that item.

My mother-in-law, who is now 93(i.e. 2012) and lives in a little town called Beauty Point in northern Tasmania across the Tamar River from where I live, has a little figure in her lounge-room. It is a small figure of three monkeys. It has a label on it: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. It always reminds me of a quotation from Bahá'u'lláh’s book Hidden Words. The quotation goers like this and it is this of which I wish to tell:

“O COMPANION OF MY THRONE! Hear no evil, and see no evil, abase not thyself, neither sigh and weep. Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed. Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content, thou mayest put away this mortal frame, and repair unto the mystic paradise and abide in the eternal kingdom for evermore.”
-Bahá'u'lláh, Persian Hidden Words, p. 44.

25.1 Talk a little bit about the types of poetry written and read today? 25.2 Do you do any performance poetry?

25.1 Part 1:

The famous American essayist Joseph Epstein wrote over 20 years ago that: “Sometimes it seems as if there isn’t a poem written in this nation that isn’t subsidized or underwritten by a grant either from a foundation or the government or a teaching salary or a fellowship of one kind or another.” Dana Gioia wrote that “the first question one poet now asks another upon being introduced is ‘Where do you teach?’” Dana Gioia, “Can Poetry Matter?,” Atlantic Monthly, May 1991.

Gioia himself acknowledges a heritage of a commentary of concern for the health of poetry extending from Edmund Wilson’s “Is Verse a Dying Technique?”(1934) through to Joseph Epstein’s “Who Killed Poetry?” (1988). But performance poetry is alive and well and, in contrast, is based in speech. Walter J. Ong so eloquently demonstrated that this poetry is fundamentally other than writing. Sound, he writes, “is not simply perishable but essentially evanescent, and it is sensed as evanescent.” These are performances of poetry, some now call mic-poetry, that practice a poetics of openness and engagement, and in doing so inherently refuse official, institutional surveillance. This mic-poetry and its venues utilize space not constructed for cultural displays, spaces such as bars and coffeehouses.

I will draw on the words of Rollo May, the man who introduced existential psychology to the USA and whose writings influenced me back in the 1970s and still do. “If you do not express your own original ideas,” wrote May, “if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”

Part 2:

“A chief characteristic of this courage,” he went on to say, “is that it requires a centeredness within one’s own being. This is why we must always base our commitment in the centre of our own being, or else no commitment will be ultimately authentic.” Unconscious insights or answers to problems that come in reverie do not come hit or miss. They may indeed occur at times of relaxation or in fantasy, or at other times when we alternate play with work. But what is entirely clear to me is that they pertain to those areas in which a person consciously has worked laboriously and with dedication.

The Dionysian principle of ecstasy is often the result: a magnificent summit of creativity which achieves a union of form and passion with order and vitality. I encourage readers to read May’s books. They were and are an intellectual and spiritual delight for me and they answer much more fully these topics for which you wanted a comment.

Count Basie's great drummer Jo Jones once said his job was not so much to play the drums as it was to get himself into the kind of condition where he could play the things he could imagine. I think that's my job too, but imagination is only part of the story and perspiration, effort and work, is the other 99 per cent.

25.2.1 I did some performance poetry back in the 1990s both in my classroom as a teacher and in 1 or 2 places around Perth. In reading poetry one is into the world of entertainment. After more than 30 years in a classroom as a teacher, a place where I was an entertainer among other roles, I tired of the process. One can tire even of popularity. When I retired I had no desire to read my poetry in public.

Public readings by Russian writers including Voznesensky and Yevtushenko grew to the point that huge stadiums could hardly contain the audiences clamouring to hear the new poetry. When Voznesensky reads his voice is equal to every music his language offers, and he whips his poems toward the audience with a right arm like a tweed cobra; he delivers his lines with a passionate, almost frightening intensity.

During performances, crowds have been known to rush the podium to touch the cuffs of his trousers; after them, poetry groupies seek the kind of backstage benediction the Irish poet Dylan Thomas used to like to give. His name shows up in literary journals while his face appears in fashion magazines. He is a legend in Russia. With as many as 14,000 in a stadium, reading poetry was like a sport. Voznesensky said that this experience was a little boring because it was impossible for 14,000 people in a soccer stadium to hear you. It’s impossible to speak intimately. He also said that before his generation of Russian poets there had never been that level of public interest and response.

Reading poetry here in Australia, as I did back in the 1990s, was not that much of a pleasure for me. Poetry can’t compete with TV, the movies, having fun, and the entertainment ethos of our culture. Perhaps after having a good rest from teaching I may want to be the entertainer again. The problem now is that with the new meds for my bipolar disorder I don’t have much social stamina and reading my poetry in public would be too exhausting.

25.2.2 American poetry in these early years of the 21st century is enjoying a renaissance in the public sphere. Whereas in the late 1970s and 1980s poetry was declared “dead” to the public because it was largely practiced within the academy, poetry events can now command mainstream and even commercial audiences, particularly among US youth. This popularity has been achieved in great part through performances of poetry in public venues, including those of readings, recitations, and poetry slams.

Another example can be found in the emerging commercial genre of spoken word poetry. Although a wide variety of verse—from Beat poetry to the warbled musings of William Shatner—falls under spoken word’s purview, in contemporary parlance the term most often denotes urban street lyrics using the jazz or hip-hop idiom. In its connection with African American music and culture, spoken word poetry has achieved a new sense of materiality, proving through various media projects both popular and profitable.

27. Popular and mass culture on the one hand and intellectual-elitist educated-high culture on the other are both evidenced in the many millions of words in your poems, essays and books. Could you comment on this dichotomy in your life and writings?

Part 1:

In recent years, since my early retirement from FT and PT work in my late fifties---in the late 1990s—and as we entered the 3rd millennium and even more so now that I am 68, on two old age pensions and have immersed myself totally in reading and writing, research, editing and publishing, I have come to understand more clearly how my investments in these two cultures were shaped as far back as my childhood.

My father became an adult in 1911 before the Great War and my mother during that war in 1917. I was a child of a working class immigrant father and a mother who was also the child of a working class immigrant father. They viewed education, ideas, and culture with reverence. This was especially true of my mother. My mother, her brother, her sister and her father read books, lots of books. They listened to classical music and were interested in the arts generally. They became reasonably knowledgeable about the arts, although not academically so. Their formal education was never beyond high school. They were what we call autodidacts.

This background created in them a disposition against popular culture to some extent. Perhaps they had a fear that common tastes might make them appear undiscerning and unworthy. I don’t know. They have been for more than 30 years. My father had a number of working class jobs, was a passionate gardener and read the newspaper more than books. He was no elitist. They both listened and danced to popular music, loved motion pictures, and played and followed sports.

Part 2:

The years after World War II transformed popular culture in important ways. The enormous expansion of consumer spending, the rise of new communications media especially TV, and the incorporation of distinct European American ethnic cultures and communities into a more generalized white identity left me with a different view of culture than the one that made sense to my parents. The comfortable lower middle class home, community, and culture in which I grew up was a happy one.

Before the age of 18 in 1962, I imagined that professional athletes inhabited a world I wanted to be a part of. In my late childhood and teens I lost myself in a Canadian culture defined by my small hometown: its baseball, hockey and football players; pictures printed on the backs of cards that I collected, and its trinity of orthodoxy: Catholic, Protestant and Jew. I was drawn to rock and roll radio programs, movies, and that world of sport. My little world was defined by the "down home" music and humor of disc jockeys, by the quiet theatricality, festivity, and sensuality of mass mediated working class culture and family, school and a little circle of friends.

Part 3:

I had my first symptoms of bi-polar disorder at the age of 18 and went on to university: 1963-1967 still battling the disorder. While I was studying the social sciences at university in the working class, ‘ lunch-pail’ city of Hamilton, I began to see my culture like a kind of suffocating tyranny. It was during these years that my interests in the Bahá'í Faith developed and these interests helped to give me a balance between the intellectual-high culture and the more populist aspects of culture. And the rest is history as they say. I have now had half a century since then(1962-2012) of an interest in both popular and high culture and am very, very far from being an authority on either.

Part 4:

The Canadian poet Archibald Lampman, who championed the idea of variety of subjects and styles as a poetic virtue wrote in his essay on “Poetic Interpretation” (c. 1895), that: “the perfect poet would have no set style. He would have a different one for everything he would write, a manner exactly suited to the subject.” It seems to me, as I now survey the last two decades of an enormous poetic output, that I have come to acquire a certain style, although the content is immensely varied from elitist to popular culture.

28. What do you think readers can learn from your prose that they can’t from your poetry?

To answer this question, allow me to begin with the words of a leading American critic of poetry Helen Vendler. She notes in her review of American poet Robert Hass’s 500 page series of essays entitled What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World in The New York Review of Books 27/9/’12---that: “Poets’ prose is in a category all its own. It enlarges for readers the idea of a writer’s mind and also demonstrates aspects of his character. To a reader knowing only the poetry there can be surprises, for example:
Emerson’s aphoristic journals, Whitman’s fact-filled memoranda of the Civil War, or Thoreau’s memories of his dead brother in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Poets’ prose can be formal and reticent, as is the case in T.S. Eliot’s writing; or it can be intimately painful as in Robert Lowell’s account of his time in Payne Whitney (“From the Unbalanced Aquarium”). What Light Can Do collects the poet Robert Hass’s essays of the last twenty years, in which we hear a disarming voice speaking as if to friends. His prose has an unusually wide range: he has written not only on other poets but also on photographers (Robert Adams, Robert Buelteman, Laura McPhee) and fiction writers (Jack London, Chekhov, Cormac McCarthy, Maxine Hong Kingston).”

Vendler continues: “Hass’s first instinct in writing prose is to take on the manner of a born storyteller, transporting us to a well-described setting—biographical, ecological, or personal—and naturalizing us, so to speak, into an imaginative atmosphere. In other hands, an essay called “Wallace Stevens in the World” might not begin: “My nineteenth birthday was also the birthday of one of my college friends.” Nor might a piece on the First Epistle of Saint John open with: “In my grade-school classroom in Northern California, there were pictures pinned to the bulletin boards representing the Last Supper.” Other essays begin more straightforwardly, but not without a deliberate will to surprise. The intriguing “Chekhov’s Anger” invites us in with a blunt and unsettling opening: “In his journals Chekhov notes two reasons why he doesn’t like a lawyer of his acquaintance. One is that he is very stupid; the other is that he is a reptile.”
In my case, readers will find my prose exists in my poetry as well as in my essays and autobiography. To make a long story short, I think I could go so far as to say my prose and poetry are virtually indistinguishable. That is why I call it prose-poetry.

28.1 Tell us a little more about your prose-poetry since that seems to be your main type, or form, of poetry?

Part 1:
For many readers calling something poetry that is so very unlike any poem they have ever loved or read, is not just preposterous, but an insult against their very love of poetry, and their sense of the literary. To express the above idea more moderately: "some poetry is just too unconventional for words, for the literary proclivities of some people."

Not only do the “poems” of some poets and writers not look like anything their readers have ever read as poetry, but these poems often seem just too peculiar. If they are not peculiar, such poems are often either indecipherable, or they are collections of words which your average reader would never approach and, if and when approached, he or she would quickly walk away after their first visual hit, their reading of only a few lines.

Part 1.1:
The poet Russell Edson (1935–2014) said that he wanted to write without debt or obligation to any literary form or idea, a poetry free from the definition of poetry. He also wanted to write a prose free of the necessities of fiction, free even of their author and his own expectations. What made Edson fond of the kind of prose poems which he wrote, he said, was their clumsiness, their lack of ambition, and their sense of the funny. If the finished product turned out to be a work of literature, this was quite incidental to his intentions. In other words, he thought of poetry as a cast-iron airplane that sporadically flies, chiefly because its pilot doesn’t seem to care if it does or does not. The real surprise comes when we realize that what we are reading is not the work of a jokester, but of a satirist and a serious thinker.1

Edson's prose poems deliberately fail to meet the expectations that readers have of prose. The disjunction between prose and prose-poetry, at least Edson's, arises from his prose-poems saying too much, saying not enough, or saying the wrong thing altogether. They just could never succeed as conventional prose. In the prose poetry that Edson writes the prose form does not necessarily give rise to a linear accumulation of meaning. While co-opting prose’s verbal structures, Edson's prose-poems imitate prose incompletely or incorrectly. They promise prose, but they botch the delivery. Instead of a gradual accumulation of meaning, they offer an aggregation of meaning. In other words, different discursive threads may run alongside one another in the text of a prose poem, beginning and ending and connecting in unconventional places, or failing to connect altogether.2 I'll leave it to readers with the interest to check-out some of Edson's many peculiar prose-poems.

Part 2:

My prose poems, on the other hand and unlike Edson's, do not fail to become prose due to some inappropriately timed turn-of-phrase, some understatement or omission, some timid loquacity, overstatement or overwriting, moments of unconventional, illogical, or incorrect reasoning. My prose-poems tend to uphold prose’s tacit promise to accumulate sense, at least such is my aim. My prose-poetic techniques encompass the ways in which prose-poems are, in fact, prose. Still, for me, they succeed at being poems, although I'm sure this is not always the way all those who read my poems see them.

In general, my poems yield both aggregate and accumulated sense. My little pieces of writing do not begin at some position of mystery, or obscurity, and gradually attempt to yield sense. I try not to make of them a pastiche which vacillates between sense and obscurity as the poem unfolds. The physical end of one of my prose-poems is often not the physical locus which makes the most sense to some hypothetical reader. Neither is the physical beginning of one of my little gems the locus of some obscurity. I see my prose-poems as anti-prosaic prose.2

Part 3:

I write many of my prose-poems as if I am trying to summarize the whole of a person's life, or some part of that person's life, or some part of history, or an event that might take several hundred pages in a good biography or history. I select, rather than invent, images and ideas from the often great, the massive, number available. I try to use simple, familiar words but, often, the result, far from being easy, is a challenge to the information-base, the knowledge-base, of readers. The result, at least such is my aim, is to bring about a new kind of sense, a new meaning, something fresh and original, if not to all those who read my literary efforts, at least to some, to as many as possible.

Although the imagination and the interest inventory of my readers is often challenged, reading my prose-poetry is not necessarily an intellectual activity, an activity requiring great efforts to make out what I am trying to say. My prose-poems should have, for that is my aim, "an easy-to-write look"; I don’t have to deal in rhyme, lineation, counting syllables, nor do I have to worry about length of a piece or the rhythm of the words, beyond a certain minimum of literary concern. They’re easy to fake, should I want to get into fakery, but I'm into being genuine, transparent and simple, even if what I'm writing about challenges a reader. -My poetry is also characterized by a synchronicity of ideas and events, a highly autobiographical context, and Bahá'í themes.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Chales Simic, The Poets in the Distance, The New York Review of Books, 28/5/'14; and 2 Sarah Manguso, Why the Reader of Good Prose Poems is Never Sad: An Appreciation of Russell Edson, Believer, March 2004.

29. To what extent is your prose and poetry confessional?

Jack Kerouac was asked once in an interview(Jack Kerouac, The Art of Fiction No. 41,Interviewed by Ted Berrigan in the Paris Review where he got his spontaneous style for his book On the Road.
Kerouac said that he: “got the idea for the spontaneous style of On the Road from seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however since they were letters. I remembered also Goethe's admonition, well, Goethe's prophecy that the future literature of the West would be confessional in nature; also Dostoyevsky prophesied as much and might have started in on that if he'd lived long enough to do his projected masterwork, The Life of a Great Sinner. Cassady also began his early youthful writing with attempts at slow, painstaking, and all-that-crap craft business, but got sick of it like I did, seeing it wasn't getting out his guts and heart the way it felt coming out”.

That’s too free and loose for my liking and whatever confessionalism there is in my writing is what I have come to call “a moderate confessionalism”. I don’t tell all from the rag-and-bone shop of my life. The general Baha’i teaching on confession guides me here.

30. What are your views on plagiarism and, on the internet, spam?

30.1 I rather like the poet Milton’s view of piracy or plagiarism of a work. Milton had the view that: "if what is borrowed is not bettered by the borrower, then it is plagiarism". Stravinsky added the right of possession to Milton's distinction when he said: "A good composer does not imitate, he steals." An example of this better borrowing is Jim Tenney's "Collage 1" (1961) in which Elvis Presley's hit record "Blue Suede Shoes" (itself borrowed from Carl Perkins) is transformed by means of multi-speed tape recorders and razor blade. Tenney took an everyday piece of music and allowed us to hear it differently. At the same time, all that was inherently Elvis radically influenced our perception of Jim's piece.(1) Marilyn Randall, “Recycling, Recycling or plus ça change...”in Other Voices, May 2007, Vol.3.1. For an excellent overview of this subject go to this link: http://www.othervoices.org/3.1/mrandall/index.php

30.2 I have written a brief essay on spam since I have often been accused of ‘spamming in cyberspace’. The piece is probably too long to include here, but I’ll include it anyway. The title of the brief essay is: “A New Product Hits the Market”.

The original term spam was coined in 1937 by the Hormel corporation as a name for its Spam luncheon meat: a canned, precooked, spiced meat product. The transition from meat product to internet term had a stop with the comedy Monty Python's Flying Circus. In 1970 that BBC comedy show aired a sketch that featured a cafe that had a menu which featured items like: "egg, bacon, and spam; egg, bacon, sausage, and spam; spam, bacon, sausage, and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon, and spam; and finally, lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle pate, brandy, and a fried egg on top and spam."

To make matters sillier in Monty Python style, the cafe was filled with Vikings who periodically broke-out into song praising spam: "spam, spam, spam, spam: lovely spam, wonderful spam."

While the Hormel corporation was holding a competition to find a new name for their product, the North American Bahá’í community was formulating the details of its first teaching Plan in May 1937. This formulation took place just eight weeks before the introduction of Spam onto the market. As of 2003 the Baha’i Faith had spread to over 200 countries and territories with the largest number of adherents in India, Iran and the USA. As of 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries worldwide. The largest consumers of Spam were in the United States, the UK and South Korea.

Computer people adopted the term Spam from the Python sketch to mean, to include, the commercialization of the internet, the unwanted commercial messages that come in the form of electronic junk mail or junk postings as well as posts at Internet sites that: (a) nobody really wants to read/asks for and/or (b) are basically some form of plagiarism. These have become the primary meanings, among other meanings, of spam on the internet.-Ron Price with thanks to “A History of the Term Spam,” internet.com, 24 July 2008.

31. How did you learn to write?

Part 1:

The science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said that "you can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices." I never took any courses on writing, although I taught many courses myself from basic skills courses in report, document writing and letter writing, to individual tutoring to help students write essays, and creative writing. I learned a few things as a teacher; I also read dozens of interviews with writers. Finally, as I got older, I wrote more and more, and I think that was the main way I learned: by writing.

Part 2:

Creative writing as a novelist or poet, essayist or script-writer, autobiographer or memoirist, among the several forms that are involved in the act of creative writing, is so economically precarious an occupation, writers often have another career. I could never have earned a living by writing; nor could I now, even though I spend several hours a day in the process.

A career like journalism or teaching, editing or publishing has some relationship with writing. In my 32 years as a classroom teacher or lecturer, and in another 18 as a student, I picked-up some useful literary skills, as I did in a full-time job as an adult educator and in a part-time editing job I had for several months in a university.

Part 3:

Then there were other jobs I had which paid the bills, but had little relationship with writing as a skill, vocation or avocation. Here I was in good company. Trollope worked for the post office, Melville for the customs office, T.S. Eliot for a London bank, and Wallace Stevens, like Kafka, was an insurance lawyer and executive, though for a private company. Milton was a high government official, Conrad a sailor before he turned to writing-the list goes on and on. There is a natural curiosity about the effect of the writer's day job on his creative work, especially when it is apparent, as in Kafka's case, that the writer is borrowing themes or incidents from it.

Off and on for several decades from the mid-fifties to the early 1980s, I had many a job which has been useful, or so it seems to me in retrospect, in helping my creative output. Now in the evening of my life, as I look back at the sheer diversity of these practical life-experience jobs, I take the view that they have given me an insight into what seems now like a thousand versions of Everydayness, of Everyman, that is the story of the lives of millions: taxi-driving and truck-driving, working in a tin mine and for an oil company, being employed in a take-away shop and in a gardening business, as a milk-man and a cash-register-clearance clerk,
helping unemployed youth and helping organizations clean their floors and toilets, I could go on and on, and on, listing jobs whose tedium would have been beyond my coping if I had thought I was imprisoned in any one of them for life. But their input, years later and in my writing life, has been invaluable in ways I appreciate and in many ways I scarcely understand.

32. As a writer how do you view the past?

As George Steiner(1929- ), the influential European-born American literary critic, essayist, philosopher, novelist, translator, and educator, wrote: “it is not the past which rules us; it is our image of the past.” This is just another way of saying we construct our own past out of the facts, the events that took place. Our freedom lies in how we view our experiences. Perhaps the idea of loving or battling with our fate is also involved here.

This question could also be worded as: how do I see history? I’ve written a great deal about a Baha’i view of history. According to the Bahá'í view of human history, social conditions had changed sufficiently by the 19th century that humanity was in need of further guidance from God. While lesser degrees of unity had been achieved, up to and including the bringing together of peoples to create a nation, what was now needed was the divine guidance necessary to move humanity forward to the next stage of its development: global unity. Indeed, the messenger that was now to come was the culmination of all of the religions that God had sent to different regions of the world. Readers can examine a finely nuanced view with a little googling in cyberspace.

32.1 Do you regard yourself as a Bahá'í writer?

I would like to point out here that I regard myself as a writer who happens to be a Bahá'í, not a Bahá'í writer. In making this point I am reminded of the famous novelist Graham Greene who objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic. Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially his four major Catholic novels. Bahá'í themes are also at the root of much of my writing.

33. How would you describe poetry in general terms?

Part 1:

As I see it, to speak of poetry is to speak of poetries. For much of what follows in this section I thank: "Introduction: poetries" by Mike Chasar, Heidi R. Bean & Adalaide Morris in The Website of The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, 2006.

Although millions have not and will not read any poetry, the idea that poetry is dead is absurd; the belief that it belongs to the academy or in some coterie of society is also false; it takes many forms, some contradictory. Poetry possesses a cluster of sticky critical terms: “masterpiece,” for example, “canon,” “lyric,” and “close reading,” “ageless,” “artful,” “arresting,” and—yes—“alliterative.” In the plural, however, poetries move around, switch sides, and multiply; they do things, have politics, say more than they know, and are free, like all forms of discourse, to be abysmal, ephemeral, territorial, or tentative. How poetries do this is the subject of many essays.

Part 1.1:

I invoke the term poesis in its radical meaning, “a making, a made thing,” whose materials—in speech, miked or taped, in print, typed or typeset, or in flickering or flashing pixels—are language and rhythm. Poetries are thinned or thickened language, language on broadsides, billboards, or newspapers, language scrapbooked, staged, or screened. Wordslinging, words lingering, words slinking, linking, inking, even Inc.-ing, poetries include, but are not limited to, found poetry and sound poetry; riddles, charms, spells, and oaths; canonized poetry, magazine poetry, fakes, and doggerel; concrete poetry and ad copy, cheers, couplets, and cantos. Poetry is found in strange places: the cant of the criminal classes, verses on wartime postcards, the juvenilia of failed poets,, the puncepts of Sylvia Plath, the gangsta rap of Def Poetry Jam, and, most capaciously, the “‘weird English,’ graffiti ... gnomic thought-bytes and ... auratic verbal detritus” of localized “micropoetries”.

Part 2:

The term “poetries” has an additional resonance. It serves as a sort of portmanteau that packs together the name of a genre—poetry—with the name for a set of critical approaches to social phenomena—cultural studies. As Michael Davidson points out in the preface to his book Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material Word, early Marxist critics such as Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson, and Theodor Adorno granted poetry a role in the production and reproduction of social life that all but a few left-oriented cultural studies scholars of the last two decades have ignored.

One reason for this is a long-standing agreement to disagree that locks Cultural Studies into a differential relationship with Poetry. In marking their identities by excluding each other, more recent Cultural Studies scholars caricature the genre of Poetry as the repository of mystified concepts—creativity, genius, eternal value, mystery, etc.—ripe for appropriation by right-wing ideologues; Poetry scholars, in their turn, cartoon Cultural Studies as one of a slew of fads from which Poetry’s creativity, genius, eternal value, mystery, etc., provide a refuge. “Poetries” of all sorts have long been not just active but essential in the production and reproduction of everyday life.

Part 2.1:

Outside “official verse culture”—the domain of old new critics, and new new formalists, poetries have been and continue to be wherever the action is. Like the purloined letter, they have been, all the time, under our noses and/or at our ears. If, as Cary Nelson argues in his landmark book Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945, “we no longer know the history of the poetry of the first half of this century; most of us, moreover, do not know that the knowledge is gone”. Poetries, at least for me, participate in a widening that looks back to the taverns of Elizabethan England and forward to cable TV and the URLs of the World Wide Web. I aim to make poetries’ hidden lives more than an “open secret." For more on this subject go to: "Introduction: poetries", by Mike Chasar, Heidi R. Bean & Adalaide Morris in The Website of The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, 2006.

34. Do you have any interest in micropoetries?

34.1 For the sake of those reading this interview, let me define the term micropoetries drawing on the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies and Maria Damon's essay "Poetries, Micropoetries, Micropoetics", spring/fall 2006. Damon writes as follows: "Many have found the term “micropoetries” to be too inexact to be tremendously useful: is it “found poetry” tout court? Well, no, though that might be a subset thereof. Is it synonymous with doggerel? No. The term micropoetries is deliberately loose and capacious, intended to encompass a range of para-literary instances of expressive culture that somehow function as a shard which can become the basis for a theory of culture, or a theory of cultural transmission; or posit an anonymous urban ballad as a springboard for a theory of reception and production of African American “high” literature."

Damon continues: "Micropoetries are intensely context-specific and may require great elaborations from their analysts in order to convey their full significance; in this, the attempt to overcome the “you had to be there” quality inherent in micropoetic power, the critic becomes a “thick description” ethnographer, or an over-amped exponent of litcrit, crazily trying to summon the ambience in which the micropoetic moment achieved the epiphantic. One might imagine the poetry of teenaged women in a South Boston housing project, as an amateur foray into ethnographic writing.

The concept of “Poetries” is a direct descendant of “micropoetries,” might include: graffiti as language, poetry therapies, prison poetry, a relative’s topical verse, the history of fortune cookies, the use of modernist conventions to market corporate slogans lasered in gothic script onto wooden plaques ... they could also be pre-slam colloquial, vernacular poetry sound that contributes to a texture of living in forgotten places and by emphasizing that the question would be: “What cultural work does this artifact or this poetic event accomplish?” It would be impossible to isolate the event from its context; artefact and event would be inseparably implicated in each other."--For a comprehensive overview of micropoetries go to the Website of the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, and Maria Damon's essay "Poetries, Micropoetries, Micropoetics", spring/fall 2006.

34.2 I think some of my poetry has a micropoetic aspect, but not as a conscious production. The object, the poem, for me is somewhat like a laurel wreath. It accrues meaning of its own beyond that of memento; it becomes a vehicle for creativity, and that has a joyful and energizing function. I am one of those people who has trouble identifying as a “professional” poet. Poetry functions as an emotional as well as linguistic technology that is particularly apposite for moments when affect exceeds linguistic expression; poetry is a valuable resource for me because it is both overdetermined and compressed on the one hand and, in the prose-poetic form that I utilize, it allows for an expository and comprehensiveness in relation to the subject I have chosen to write about.

In literally 1000s of my poems, written by someone with no training, formal or informal, readers will find a grasp of the significance of the smallest elements of standard poetic language: language play that embodies a philosophical stance toward its subject matter; internal rhyme; thematic invocation of a series of overlapping/juxtaposed cenotaphic surfaces on which a life is written and unwritten.
34.3 Walter Benjamin(1892-1940 was a German literary critic, philosopher, social critic, translator, radio broadcaster and essayist. He made the plea to writers that “nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history.” This speaks to the importance of the “micro” in all its senses but, particularly, everything beyond the literal. The sense of scale, the sense of ignominy, abjection, forgetability, eccentricity, undesirability, wrongness are all part of this poetic thrust.

The last thing Benjamin wrote before he killed himself believing he would not be able to escape the Nazis, was his exhortation to his intellectual heirs to attend to every bit of detritus and debris, every life and every social and human phenomenon. The urgency his message, a kind of S.O.S. in a bottle flung in a last act of faith in rigorous, engaged creative thinking whose primary aim was human emancipation, translates well into a concern with the heightened charge of micropoetries and poetries.

This may well go unattended unless one learns a new way of listening, and a new way of writing. It is always Benjamin’s conviction that language and material objects share strange, hidden and multiple resonances that make his work particularly relevant to poetry scholars whose focus is the morpheme, the phoneme, the letter, the stutter, the many glottal villages we move through unconsciously: the smallest bits of linguistic stuff that constitute the social environment on which our lives depend. In the radical freedom of Benjamin’s associative and dialectical imagination, he permits himself to create new word-worlds wherein the relations between things, thoughts and language are illuminated, complicated, enriched, deepened, invented and discovered.

35. Now that you have completely retired from FT, PT and most volunteer work, how would you describe your life-style?

35.1 I revel in my solitude after 50 years in classrooms as a student and/or teacher with wall-to-wall people in my life, to say nothing of my involvement in family and community, say, the years from 1949 to 1999. Being free of somewhere between 50 and 80 hours every week with the necessities of the normal nose-to-the-grindstone sort of stuff, the human responsibilities of holding down a job, taking-care of one’s family, and attending to my community demands, especially in the Baha’i groups I belonged to for decades, has been the basis of the recreation of another me, if one defines one’s me by one’s lifestyle, by one's activities.

I revel in going out of the house for little visits, little cameos to satisfy the residue that is left of my social self. My life is, to most people, quite obscure. Having rather reclusive impulses, and spending 6 to 8 hours a day in literary engagements, keeps my social profile very low. I do go out and live a normal life visiting, perhaps two dozen people in their homes over a 12 month period, and having my family visit me and me them, at least some of them.

35.2 You remember Flaubert’s dictum, “Live like a bourgeois so that you can write like a God.” Although I have a somewhat hermetic life these days, I still have enough contact with everyday people to keep my feet on the ground of ordinariness and the content of what you might call popular, populist culture. I think Flaubert means, in part, that you hoard, you build-up, life’s experiences, and use them for your writing. That’s not all that he means, though, in that remark.

I am informed that T.S. Eliot was simply too exhausted to think about poetry when he first came to London. After 50 to 80 hours engaged in the responsibilities of employment, of community, and the necessary social engagements involved in family life, I turned to reading as I went from my 20s to my 50s. The act of writing was something I gradually turned to beginning about the age of 40, increasingly by 50, and virtually exclusively by my 60s and 70s. Thsi gradual evolution was a slow and complex journey.

Concluding Comment:

I began asking and answering these questions, as I indicated at the start of this simulated interview, just as I was about to retire after a 50 year student and employment life: 1949 to 1999. I added more questions and answers, as I also said at the outset of this interview, in the last six years, 2009 to 2014. The last update to the above 35 questions, as well as the 10 questions that opened this simulation, was made 17 years after beginning this process of question and answer---on 8 May 2014. Total: 12,000 words and 31 A-4 pages.
End of document

INTERVIEW #1:

Questioner(Q): Why did you put this booklet together for the current Collis Featherstone Teaching Project taking-place in the wider Perth metropolitan community?

Price(P): I have been writing poetry extensively for about four years now. In the summer months, beginning toward the end of November, I have time from my job as a lecturer in a Tafe College to write more frequently than normal. I have been sending copies of my poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library. The Collis Featherstone Teaching Project(CFTP) started on 24 November, and so I thought I’d put together all the poetry I wrote from that date until a point near the end of phase one of the CFTP. The poetry is not about the CFTP. Many of the themes relate to the work of the Project. Much of the poetry is autobiographical. I have sent it along to the LSA of South Perth under whose auspices the Project is taking place. It is sent in appreciation for all the work done by the Project organizers.

The degree of organization of the CFTP, viewed from a distance, is impressive. I have not been that involved myself. I gave blood at the Red Cross, one of the volunteer activies of the Project, and my wife helped in a letterbox drop. Most of the Baha’i friends in Belmont where my wife and I lived helped out in one way or another in some aspect of the program. This was the impression I got as the secretary of the Belmont Assembly. The Project certainly provided an opportunity for Baha’is to participate in an organized program. While all this was going on, of course, most Baha’is carried on with their own teaching work, making the overall campaign of teaching in the summer of 1995/6 the most impressive in the history of the Cause in Western Australia. In addressing one of the conferences that launched the CFTP, Padma Wong referred to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s words when He laid the foundation stone for the Mother Temple of the West: "the temple is already built." Entry by troops is a reality not yet experienced in the world of the senses. ‘Abdu’l-Baha always found all the barriers removed even if we don’t. He found this in 1912 in Montreal. The hearts were “in the utmost state of receptivity.” I’m sure He would find the same today, even if we do not.

(Q) Could you tell us a little about your writing? Do you consider yourself part of any literary group or tradition? What would you regard as the major literary influences on what you write?

(P): Off the cuff that is a difficult question to answer. It is difficult because the answer is complex. I can’t simply say that my poetry, for that is mostly what I write, is of this or that school, this or that tradition. I came to poetry quite late. I don’t think I even started to think of myself as a poet until I was nearly fifty. My background was the social sciences. I graduated in sociology; all my post-graduate work was in some one or other of the social sciences. From 1974 to 1994 I read mostly social sciences, say five to ten books a week on average. About 1990, in my mid-forties I began to read about poetry. My poetic sensibilities had been awakened by Roger White, a Canadian poet, whom I started reading in 1980. Between 1992 and 1995 I wrote nearly twenty-five hundred poems. Frankly, I don’t think of my poetry in terms of an association with any particular genre of poetry. The influences on my poetry are significantly the books I am reading at any one time. Since, say, 1990 I have been scanning and occasionally reading between fifteen and twenty books a week: books about writing, about poetry, writers, literature, reading, interdisciplinary studies in literature and the arts, a veritable cornucopia of material. All my poems have short introductions and these introductions are indicative of some of the influences, poetic and otherwise, that are operating at the time a particular poem is written.

Q: What about the human influences, the affect of people, on what you write? Is it as great as books which obviously have quite a significant impact from what you say?

Price: Many of my poems are the result of experiences I have with my colleagues and students at work. I lecture in the social sciences and humanities at the West Australian Department of Training. I am also very committed to the Baha’i Faith and this commitment brings me into contact with many different kinds of people and situations. These generate another group of poems, as does my family and friends. My poetry is very autobiographical and I often will write a poem about someone whom I knew many years ago, my mother or father, say. And then, this may sound strange to you, but I like to think of, and I certainly believe in, the influences on my poetry from those who have gone on to another world. This is a much more subtle, more intangible, process; but it is certainly a human influence I can not discard because I am often conscious of it. Just exactly how this influence takes place I do not know or understand.

Q: Have you tried to publish your work? Does this interest you much at this early stage of your writing?

Price: I have now been writing seriously for about a dozen years and poetry for four or five. I have had a few of my poems published in half a dozen magazines and newspapers. The Baha’i publishing houses I have sent my work to have indicated to me the difficulty of moving poetry in the Baha’i bookshops. Since my poetry is very strongly autobiographical and influenced by my religious proclivities I can not seriously consider the vast range of non-Baha’i publishers. It is not that I am not interested in publishing; it is rather that the outlets for my type of writing are very limited. As an alterative I: often give copies of poems to friends, send one-offs to magazines and send a single copy of virtually every poem I write to the Baha’i World Centre Library.

Q: Do you read your poetry often?

Price: Occasionally I give it a try at school but I am not impressed with the process. Students don’t know what to say after they hear a poem, or group of poems. Rather than being a unifying force it seems estranging in an inexplicable sort of way. I tend to think that what I write is meant to be savoured in a one-to-one reading situation; it is not part of some group experience. When I do try to go public, I feel like a performer and I choose poems which have a bigger impact, some comic or emotional response.

I’ve been listening to the Baha’i writings, the most beautiful poetry I know, being mangled by people who are essentially non-readers, or non-English speaking readers, for over thirty years. I would not want my own work to be read and mangled as well, by others. On those rare occasions when I read my own work I have to practice to get it right. Reading well is an art. It’s a little like doing vaudeville or being a poet in residence. I don’t think I’m a good enough entertainer. I’m getting better at it with the years, but I may never make it as ‘the entertainer’. I heard Roger White give a reading once to an audience of three hundred. He was very funny. I don’t think I’d want to do it if I could not keep the troops laughing, slipping the serious stuff in on the side. Perhaps I’ll feel more positively about the process in the future, when and if I become successful at the entertainer role.

Q: Do you talk much about your work?

Price: I do an incredible amount of talking since I am a teacher and have twenty-five hours of class contact, another ten hours roaming about talking to colleagues and students outside class and, say another ten hours a week in various types of Baha’i community activity. After forty-five hours of talking and listening I have little interest in doing any more in a one week slot. Teaching provides all the outlet I need to talk about writing in general and poetry in particular. Occasionally I find myself out in the wide-wide world, away from work, family and the Baha’i community, talking a bout writing, but it is a rare occasion and then only very briefly. That is probably why I agreed to this interview. I don’t talk about writing poetry for an extended period of time to anyone, ever. I’m not sure I would even want to, given my recent experience with such dialogue. Structured interviews with people who take a serious interest in poetry, that’s different.

I’ve known writers all my life. My mother and grandfather were writers. Doug Martin and Jameson Bond, two men who have made significant contributions to the Baha’i Faith had seminal influences on me as a young adult. They were both writers. Working as I have in post-secondary educational institutions I have known several writers. I find I often have little in common with writers. There is a lady I occasionally talk to at the moment, Fran Vidente. She’s just finished writing her first book and she is quite excited about it. We are as different as chalk and cheese: philosophically, religiously, in just about every way. But we understand each other. I warm to her when she comes in the room. We both shrug off the differences or ignore them. There’s some kind of inner sensitivity which understands even if it does not like the other.

My wife has read more of my poetry than anyone. She likes what I write generally. She has also admitted to a certain jealousy insofar as my poetry is concerned. She is a very honest woman; she has a tough edge, but gentle. She lays you low but kindly. Her encouragement has meant alot to me. So much of what I have written since 1982 she has not liked. So when she says she likes my poetry her words have special meaning, a certain impact. Occasionally someone will make a comment about a poem they have read. This is also encouraging. But the kind of discussion I got when I used to teach English Literature is virtually non-existent now, outside the occasional chats with my wife which seem to range corrections of my spelling and grammar to genuinely fertile dialogue.

Q: Could you talk a little more about the influence of Roger White on your writing, your poetry?

Price: I first opened a book of his poems in late 1979 in Tasmania. I think I was visiting in the home of a jazz ballet instructor in Devonport. I remember the detail because his poetry spoke to me so vividly that I was excited for the first time in my life about poetry. Roger always said that I was better at prose and essays than poetry. Well, much of my poetry is as much prose as poetry, so in a way he was right. Roger died in 1993 and I wrote a collection of essays about his poetry. He read all the essays before he died and gave his seal of good housekeeping. I tried to publish them but Kalimat Press and George Ronald were not interested so I sent them all to the BWCL. I’ve had an incredible outpouring of poetry since he got sick and on death’s door and especially after he passed away. I like to think his influence is immeasurable. I believe it is, but it is not the kind of thing I can prove.

Q: Tell us more about the autobiographical aspects of your poetry. I understand Roger White used to say, quoting Tagore, “the poem not the poet.” What philosophy, what approach do you subscribe to insofar as writing about yourself is concerned?

Price: I think everything you write about is, in one way or another, about yourself. Even Roger’s work. In fact, I think the reason he said to read his poetry, if you wanted to know about him, was because his poetry was about himself but not in a narratively structured, time sequenced sort of way. I have written a great deal, several thousand words anyway, about my poetry and how and why I go about putting it together. Roger has written briefly about his poetry but, at least in his published works, what he says in prose form is pithy, humorous and very succinct. My poetry is blatantly autobiographical. In fact I’ve organized all the poetry I have written as Section VII of Pioneering Over Three Epochs, entirely an autobiographical exercise.

Finally, let me make one more comment here, for fear of allowing everyone to think I am an ego-centred, narcissistic writer with an entirely self-oriented perspective. I have developed over the years, especially since about 1984 when I was forty, a sense of myself as a pioneer. My identity is strongly related to this role that I have had in the Baha’i community since 1962. This poetry, this autobiography, is all part of this expression, this definition of self, this personal view of who I am in terms of my international pioneer role since 1971 and before that a homefront pioneer beginning in 1962. It is a role that will have some importance for generations to come, indeed I see myself as one of the foundation generations of decades if not centuries to come. It is my hope to provide some concrete, specific, identity-orienting material for future generations. And so I write.

Q: Could you talk briefly about becoming known, popular, read by many others? I have already asked you about publishing, but I’d like you to talk in the wider sense about the whole issue of popularity, fame and acknowledgment of your work.

Price: Everyone who writes likes to be read; it’s a little like talking; we like to be listened to when we talk. It’s natural, even necessary. I’ve got nothing against fame or wealth. But now in the late twentieth century there are thousands of poets and millions of people who write the stuff. To get through to become someone whom others read, what we could call a minor poet, like Roger White, is no mean achievement. I may make it; I may not.. Maybe with Internet and modems it might get easier. But not for me. My market is essentially those who have joined the emerging world religion known as the Baha’i Faith or others who are at least interested in it. I am a Baha’i poet. It is that explicit. Of my 2500 poems, maybe a few have a clear secular dress, but not many. My poetry speaks to, and of, the Baha’i experience, all one hundred and fifty odd years of it now. It speaks to a Baha’i view of history, to an emerging Baha’i consciousness in world literature and the arts.

If my poetry becomes popular it will be because the Baha’i Faith has become popular, at least more so than it is at present. My potential readership at the moment is so small that the question of popularity is not a relevant issue. I would go so far as to say I am not even interested in fame or popularity except insofar as it is connected with the popularity of my religion. I tend to think that in the end, while I am alive, my poetry will be for a coterie, for a coterie of a coterie. The mass media, print and electronic, are so very powerful. Poetry has always been for a coterie; that coterie is getting numerically larger and larger. But it is still a coterie. Millions, most people I’ve ever known, have little to no interest in poetry, except in some kind of distant sense, like my interest in gardening, or cooking. I do a little dabbling here and there out of necessity. But few approach poetry out of necessity, unless they are in school. To such people, the great mass of those whom I will ever know personally, or even know about, poetry is irrelevant to their lives. If my popularity or fame were to rest on their response to what I write, I would be doomed. I don’t write for money or fame, except in the sense referred to above. I write because it gives me pleasure. It is a skill which in the exercise thereof I am happier.

Q: You have mentioned the Baha’i Faith many times in this interview. Obviously it has a profound influence on what you write. For fear of turning this interview into an extended commentary on the Baha’i Faith, could you tell me simply why you are a Baha’i and what role you think it is playing and will play in the future of this planet?

Price: I think there are a multitude of interrelated reasons why I am a Baha’i, One important reason-and very natural-is that I have been associated with this Faith now for forty years. It’s an old friend. I went to my first fireside in 1955 or 1956. It is one of the few continuities in my life, in a century of vast change. A second reason is I believe it to be true. It has been immensely useful to me in my life as well, especially in the areas with people skills and providing me with a world view, with meaning. As far as the role of the Baha’i Faith: in the short term it is going to play a crucial role in facilitating dialogue between various religious groups as well as the multitude of other groups in our multicultural society. In the long term the vision at the heart of the Baha’i Faith is simply enthralling, energizing and empowering. That visions excites me, motivates me and one day it will be the centre of a world civilization.

Q: Have your years at university helped or hindered your development as a writer, poet? Does an academic background facilitate creativity? What have been the mainsprings of your own creative output?

Price: As far as university and academic study is concerned, I don’t think I got a genuine intellectual experience until I got out of university and started teaching at a Teacher’s College(now a university) in Tasmania in 1974 at the age of 29. I suffering from a bi-polar tendency at university, indeed until 1980. My emotional life was in a tailspin from 1963-1967 and university life was depressing and confused at worst and hypomanic and manic at best. I could never get into academic study in a sane and organized way until I started teaching others. The last twenty-two years, 1974-1996, have seen an enormous consumption of academic books needed as part of my role as a teacher/lecturer/adult educator or simply out of interest. This great mass of books, I would think an average of from eight to a dozen every week for twenty-two years, has contributed to what John Keats once referred to as a ‘certain ripeness in intellect.’ Keats in a letter to a friend in 1818 went on to say that once this ripeness of intellect is attained the poet can get turned on to a whole world of poetry, what he called the ‘two-and-thirty Pallaces’. Books, then, academic books, certain specific academic books, are immensely stimulating and a source of creative achievement.

But there are many others which would lead to prolixity should I comment on them even briefly, so I shall simply list them: a wide and broad experience in many places, doing many different jobs, meeting and teaching thousands of students of all ages across two continents; parental and childhood influences: my other and grandfather were writers and my father had an enormous energy; suffering, especially manic-depressive illness, a broken marriage, many years of having a sick wife in my second marriage and the creative affects of my Baha’i philosophy and the value of the activities to which it has led cannot be overstated.

Q: Could you tell us a little about what else you write beside poetry?

Price: Yes, I’ve written some two hundred essays, one hundred and fifty of which have been published in newspapers. The newspapers were all in Katherine in the Northern Territory from 1983 to 1986 and the essays were all about 800 words each. The other fifty have been about my Baha’i experience in one way or another and none of them have been published. I also keep a journal or diary and have for a dozen years; I have written a story of my life some thirty or forty thousand words and the diary is also retrospective going back to my earliest memories in 1947. The diary probably has 50,000 words by now. I’ve also kept a collection of letters going back to 1967. I have no idea how many thousands of words would be in this body of print. In a quarter century of teaching you collect probably millions of words. I have some of them dotting the landscape of my study and again, the number of words is something I would not want to even try to count.

Q: Could you tell me how you go about writing a poem? Where do you get your ideas, your motivation, your patterns, your meanings?


Price: I remember Roger White saying that the origins of a poem were like the poor connections you often get on a telephone line. For me it is a little like that. It begins in a feeling or a thought or both. The thought will often be in a book, but often a quotation from the thousands I have collected in the last thirty years will be enough to move me. I need to feel moved, provoked, stirred and then it is usually a simple flowing or ideas, experiences. Sometimes it takes a little longer, say, two or three hours before the poem is completed. But usually the poem is finished in an hour or less, or a little more. I’m not sure why I write. Perhaps it is that I don’t like doing things like: gardening, household tasks, domestic duties, shopping, going out socially, watching TV, playing sport. We all have to fill in our time somehow. This is the one that gives me the most pleasure and meaning. Two to four hours in the morning, two or three in the afternoon and two or three more in the evening: six to ten hours in total on days when I don’t have to go to work or attend to any of the responsibilities that make up my life as a father, husband, teacher, secretary of an LSA, man, human being in the late twentieth century.

Q: So you think basically a writer is made rather than born, probably a loner more than some gregarious socialite? What is it that makes a writer, draws him out from the enormous diversity of human types and roles on the Earth?

Price: Without doubt, a writer is made, even if he or she comes from a long line of writers. Some, like myself have preferences for their own company; but others are as gregarious as the best of them. There are many types in my experience. I prefer my own company as a reaction to twenty-five years of teaching and literally thousands of meetings both on the job and off, in twenty-two towns, thirty-seven houses and five mental hospitals. At the age of 51 I feel peopled-out and when the normal channels of 45 to fifty hours a week of people are finished I simply have no desire to introduce another blast of verbal gush. Maybe my listening capacities have reached their limit. I don’t know, but that is the way it is.

Writers, if they are any good, usually take their work quite seriously and in Australia with a rich vein of humour. This is a marvellous counterforce to the seriousness. If there is anything I’ve learned in Australia that I have come to appreciate more than anything else it is this sense of humour. Good writers also tend to think they have something to say. Reading helps some writers. It helps me. I read so much my brain gets stuffed with ideas and information, so stuffed that I must have an outlet. Talking is not enough. Everyday experience, suffering and the simple passage of time ripens the intellect, fuels the engine. Perhaps it’s simply that life is full of repitition even a certain boredom that one must deal with. There is a vanity, an emptiness in the human situation. There is also, at the other end of the spectrum, a fascinating richness to virtually every atom of existence if you only look at it a certain way. In the end I don’t know why I write, why anyone writes. I get pleasure from the process and, as Oscar Wilde says somewhere, one settles for pleasure over ecstacy and joy when they come in very limited quantities. I rarely get higher than I do when I write or when some sensation stimulates me to write.

Q: Where do you plan to go from here? Do you sense any specific directions to your writing?

Price: For the moment I am going to continue writing poetry. It still feels like a new thing, five years, after a slow build-up of ten. I have tried one piece of science-fiction, some 30,000 words, but it does not attract me. Occasionally I write an essay but not for publication. Who buys essays anyhow? The complexities of getting essays published don’t attract me in the slightest. I write the occasional letter, but most people can’t keep a correspondence up and the few that can I tire of anyhow so the occasional letter is quite enough. The whole question of direction is going to depend on the big socio-historical process, the short-term future of the Baha’i Faith and factors I can only dimly perceive.

Writing poetry is exhausting physically and emotionally when you spend at least four hours writing and another four reading everyday, when duty is not calling you somewhere else. It can also be quite energizing, stimulating, and more often is than is not. It depends on how your day goes. I’m still pretty zonked-out by midnight no matter what I do. Just how long I will stay as fertile as I have been in the last four or five years is anyone’s guess.

Q: You have lived in many towns from end-to-end of two countries. Do you think of yourself as a Canadian, Australian, world citizen, what?

Price: After I had been in Australia for eight years, by which time I was thirty-five, I began to define myself as a Canadian pioneer. I had been a pioneer by that time, 1979, for seventeen years, but it took some time for the label to stick, for my identity to be tied up with this international pioneer role. My homefront pioneer role, except for a short time in the Canadian Arctic, was never a clearly defined and identifiable part of my self-image. As far as those other labels are concerned they get interchanged depending on the mileux I am in at the moment. I play with them in dialogue, as sources of humour and they make up my identity in mixed proportions, perhaps: 33%, 33% and 34%. World citizen is getting more useful as a label.

Q: Do you think of yourself less as a Canadian now that you have been in Australia for twenty-five years?

Price: Nearly half my life now has been in Australia. I almost never get homesick in any serious sense. But the snow, the cold winter days, the autumnal beauty, that Canadian personality that is both energetic and steady, the people I used to know, my family: they all come back to me in reminiscences from time to time, in small hits of nostalgia. This Canadianness, these memories, come into my poetry occasionally but, I would not think that often, except perhaps in the case of my mother and father. When I first arrived in Australia I felt as if I had come to the moon. This was particularly the case living as I did in that first year in Whyalla, semi-desert country, on the edge of that black stump. Perth is not like the moon. I’ve been here for eight years. It must be one of the most beautiful, comfortable, easy places to live in the world. My accent hangs in there and this seems to define my Canadian image for others.

Q: Many poets in the late twentieth century draw on the movies, film, TV, video, for much of their material. Does contemporary film, theatre, music, the arts in general, come into your poetry?

Price: I rarely read newspapers anymore; TV is very much a peripheral experience for me although, since I want to sit with my wife and son, I do watch the news and an odd assortment of stuff. I’d watch perhaps one video every two months; I listen to a lot of ABC radio and read a great many books. My wife and I, and sometimes our son, would go to the movies perhaps once every two months. Some radio items get into my poetry; occasionally an item from TV or the press becomes the basis for a poem, but mostly books and experience past and present.

Q: Do you ever get bored, or really anxious, or depressed, or joyful? Tell us a little about your emotional life.

Price: By 1980 I was stabilized on lithium carbonate. I was 36 years old. That was fifteen years ago now. Since that time, except on two or three occasions when I went off my lithium in order to write or in order to prove I didn’t need the lithium, my emotional life has been steadier than it has ever been. I get exhausted and depressed if I stay up after midnight, if I’ve just had a sixteen hour day ten of which involved reading and writing. It also takes me a half an hour to an hour to get going in the morning. I often have signs and signals of depression, unrealistic fears and anxieties when I first wake up, but once I’ve had my shower and a cup of tea, the joys of life beckon on a much steadier track than they did from my twenties to my forties. My spirits are just about always good until late at night. It seems to me as if the sharp edges of my manic-depression have been taken away and I’ve been left with quite a useful emotional package.

As far as boredom is concerned I don’t think I’ve been troubled with this since my teens. Since I began to be seriously interested in writing in the early 1980s, I have been particularly self-directed and engaged in meaningful and pleasureable activity. Without the emotional swings the world seems so much steadier and the writing rooted in solid ground.

Q: You did not mention music as having any influence. Could you comment on your musical experience and how it relates to your poetry?


Price: From the age of about 18 to my early thirties I used to buy LPs and the first thing I’d put into a house if I was moving around was a hi-fi. Music was an important part of my life in my teens and twenties, my years as a youth. By the mid ‘70s the music scene got to be very complicated with dozens and dozens of groups. You just could not keep up with them all. Buying records, cassette tapes and discs became too expensive. By the mid-to-late ‘70s, too, I had three children to raise and I could not afford to buy music any more. So I listened to the radio instead. Recently my family and I bought a computer with a disc player in it and I bought my first disc with a coupon given to us by the family across the road for watering their garden. It looks like my musical life is extending itself at last, after a hiatus of twenty years. I am not conscious, though, how any of this experience has affected my poetry, except in the occasional poem about playing the guitar which I have done now for nearly thirty years and which I now tire of very easily, probably from too many years of overuse and no particular talent.

Q: What are some of the topics, themes, subjects, content areas of your poems?

Price: Anyone who actually reads my poetry will see that question answered in exquisite and not-so-exquisite-detail, as the case may be. Many of my poems deal with the process of writing poetry; all the poems are introduced with quotations from various sources which relate in different ways to the content of the poetry. Off the top of my head I’d say the following were common topics in my poetry: love, religion, Mt Carmel, my family, the Baha’i Faith, poetry, writing, people, the erotic, nature, history, etcetera. I think the list, even a list of categories, is virtually endless.

Q: How do you determine the length of a poem, its shape; how do you decide when it is over, its style?

Price: The length is determined largely by the content, the topic and by what I have to say. There is no specific pattern here, as far as I can see. There tend to be certain patterns: sonnet length, one-to-two page poems on rare occasions; very few poems are less than ten lines; even fewer would go for more than three pages. A statistical analysis might reveal some concentrations which I am not aware of here. Sometimes a poem is light and humorous; at other times it is very serious, maybe even a little depressing for some people, although I am conscious of people’s disinclination to dwell on the heavy side of life at least here in Australia. Most of the time the poem is easy to end because I get a clear feeling I have said what I want to say. Perhaps once every ten or twenty poems I get into a bind and I can not find the words I want; it is an anxious and discomfiting process when this happens and if all my writing was like this I’d give up writing poetry. Thankfully, writing poetry is a fairly flowing experience with a great deal of pleasure associated with an ease of expression. Indeed, much of the writing of poetry I would even describe as a blissful process, sheer delight. When I reread it seems as if it was not written by me at all. I find this phenomenon quite strange, exciting in a way, but it makes me feel cautious as if I was dealing with a gift, a gift that has come to me in my middle years and one I treasure as if from the Source of awe and power.

Q: Do you think you can teach people how to write poetry? Do you think people like having a poet around?

Price: If someone has something to say and they find it difficult to say as a playwright, an essayist, a novelist, a writer of short-stories, poetry may be for them. I found writing novels too difficult. I never tried writing plays or short-stories in any serious way. Essays are only written for teachers and academic journals and are very difficult to put into a more generalized public place.

By the time I was fifty I had lots to say and poetry seemed the best way to say it. Some poets are more popular than others. Roger was liked very much. There is a Baha’i poet in Tasmania, Allen Lake, and another in Melbourne who have achieved a popularity I have yet to attain in Perth, as far as I can see from a distance. After five years of writing poetry, I’m taking this process of extension into the public domain very slowly, gradually, organically. Music and art are commodities that gain acceptance more easily. With these artistic mediums the eyes and ears do the job in a much simpler consumerist mode. Poetry deals with ideas, with dialogue, with relationships and these commodities are by their very nature complex and difficult to engage. In a classroom, where I have managed discussion for twenty years with adults, the process is easier; but it is still complex, difficult and a sensitive exercise in order to achieve a genuine and enjoyable discussion. I do better than most teachers/lecturers, but outside the classroom in a Baha’i community like Perth I’m still treading on glass. I occasionally read a poem in the small Baha’i community of Belmont and occasionally in metropolitan Perth. But generally I’ve been disinclined in these formative years of my own development.

After a poem is read, silence is sometimes the best response, at least for some people. Others never really feel confident about discussing poetry or ideas in general for that matter. Some poets can talk about the process of writing, but not the content. I find individual comments rarely capture a lot of what a poem is about; whereas an extended group discussion can sometimes be quite stimulating. A structured environment is required for any discussion in depth. An extended discussion of poetry rarely happens to me in the more informal aspects of life and relationships, at least not yet.

Q: Thanks for your time Mr Price; I look forward to a second interview at some future time when we can continue exploring the poetic dimension and some of your own thoughts and experiences in that dimension.


Ron Price
24 January 1996


A SECOND INTERVIEW WITH RON PRICE

This is the second of a series of interviews with Ron Price, a writer of poetry, who lives in Perth Western Australia. The first interview took place four months ago on a certain literary stage, at his 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 everything that ever happened, is 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.

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. 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, etcetera, etcetera, exercise, sport, 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. I’m rather of the opinion that many poeple, if they looked within for the Real Me, would get lost, would not know where to begin the exploration.

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. 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 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 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 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.

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.

Price: The Baha’i community has been engaged in an international plan of expansion since 1937. 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 will become 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.

Q: We have 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 for fifty to one hundred thousand words. 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. 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.

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. Before then poetry writing was episodic for ten years: 1982-1992. But reading has seen a long term involvement since 1974. I’d guess, say, two hours a day every day for the last twenty two years. That would be the absolute minimum and it might be as high as three. 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 maybe a little different. I don’t sit around tabulating and averaging; these figures are somewhat off-the-cuff, so to speak.

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, 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.

Q: Tell us about your first poem.

Price: The first poem I wrote, that I kept, was on 19 August 1981. 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 fourth birthday. I was living in Zeehan at the time and working in a tin mine.

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, 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 reading poetry got a shot in the arm in San Francisco. 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 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 alot, need not be a burden. At the moment in most 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, 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 word 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-five 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 aproach 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, 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 than 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?

Rivervale WA
18 May 1996

INTERVIEW NUMBER 21:

WHAT IS BAHA’I ABOUT THE POETRY OF A BAHA’I?

Recently I read an interview with Diane Wakowski, poet and academic, in the journal of The Poetry Society of America. The interview was entitled: “What is American About American Poetry?” The interview got me pondering as to: “What is Baha’i about the poetry written by Baha’is?” Since Baha’i artists, poets and musicians, Baha’is involved in the creative and performing arts, have a bond between their work and the Baha’i writings and teachings there are two kinds of relationships from which, within which, the Baha’i teachings become manifest: one connects the artist with a world-wide social and artistic setting and the other relates his work to the ultimate Source of its inspiration. One has an outward reach and the other an inward one; one is basically social and the other mystical.1 It is this dual focus that provides the matrix for what constitutes the Baha’i component of the poetry written by a Baha’i, by this Baha’i.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Tudwig Tuman, Mirror of the Divine: Art in the Baha’i World Community, George Ronald, Oxford, 1993, p. 191.

I: How much has Tudwig Tuman contributed to your understanding of the characteristics of the social environment from an artistic point of view and of the basis for a durable relationship between society and the artist.

Note:Some editing of the following interviews needs to be done especially in the area of spacing between paragraphs or sections.

P: I first came across Tuman in an article in World Order magazine in 1975. I found his views provided a comprehensive, a historical, a Baha’i perspective that I have drawn on in my writing, in my poetry. This was reinforced when he published his Mirror of the Divine in 1992 and again in 2000 in a paper he delivered on the arts at a conference in Florida. Of course there are others who have contributed to my understanding of the arts, the artist, the poet, the writer and the role, the activity, of the Baha’i in these domains. Roger White, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and John Hatcher in poetry and literature; Bill Hatcher in philosophy, Will van den Hoonaard in sociology and Douglas Martin in history--to name just a few of the many I could name, all of whom have helped provide a cross-fertilization of artistic perspectives.

I: Are there essential ways in which you consider yourself a Baha’i poet?

P: I use the figures of the Bab, Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi--and their writings--in my poems time and time again. They contribute to the creation of what you might call my personal mythic self. This mythic self is a particularly Baha’i self. My poetry contains many of the archetypal Baha’is, heroes, saints, famous personages in Baha’i history. My writing contains the landscape where this Baha’i history--and mine--has taken place: Haifa, Iran, parts of the USA and Canada, England and Australia, et cetera. I draw on the language of the Central Figures of this Faith and I mix it with the essential everyday language of my society, my time, my culture. I have been a Baha’i pioneer now for over forty years and been associated with this Faith for more than 50 years. I see myself as part of the warp and weft of this new Cause, a Cause I believe will have an important role to play in the future of humankind.

I: When you consider your own “tradition” do you think of Baha’i poets primarily?

P: Only to some extent. Obviously there are some poets in Baha’i history who have contributed to my sense of poetry and I draw on their perspectives, their way of putting things, people like: Tahirih, Na’im of Sidih, George Townshend, Roger White, Ruhiyyih Khanum and Michael Fitzgerald to name a few, but only to some extent. This is quite a complex question and difficult to answer in a few words. I write out of, draw on, many poetic influences, many non-poetic influences. I have written about this before and commented on this theme in other interviews so I will leave this subject here and invite readers to examine some of the previous twenty interviews and how I answered this type of question before. http://bahaipioneering.bahaisite.com/

I: On the one hand you seem to be distinguishing between a special poetry with a Baha’i idiom, a Baha’i language, lexicon, framework, et cetera and another poetry which may define you individually but not in an overt Baha’i sense, a poetry which celebrates, which comments on, your humanness, the Baha’i teachings which connect you to everyman but not necessarily the Baha’i-man and woman. Is that a fair distinction to make?

P: No problem. As Tuman points out and which I have mentioned above: there are two kinds of relationships from which, within which, the Baha’i teachings become manifest: one connects the artist with a world-wide social and artistic setting and the other relates his work to the ultimate Source of its inspiration. One has an outward reach and the other an inward one; one is basically social and the other mystical.1 It is this dual focus that provides the matrix for what constitutes the Baha’i component of the poetry written by a Baha’i, by this Baha’i. And so, much of what I write has an explicit Baha’i focus and another aspect of my poetry connects me with the wide, wide world and all that is therein, well, at least some of that which is therein. So it is that I can place my poetry in a wide variety of journals, magazines, newspapers, web sites and someone reading it will have no idea I’m a Baha’i--and initially I often do this--and then bring a Baha’i focus in later after I have got to be known.

I: Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating a distinctly Baha’i poetic?

P: Whatever I say here must be prefaced by the notion that there are Baha’is who are poets, who are poetic in temperament and interest, rather than there being an explicit ‘Baha’i poetry.’ At this early stage of the development of this Cause there simply is no such thing as ‘Baha’i poetry.’ It’s the same in music or any of the arts. The poets I named above have all played a role in generating something distinctly Baha’i in their work. I have drawn on their work, especially White’s, Townshend’s, Rabbani’s and Nakhjavani’s, each in different ways, of course. The story is too long to deal with here, so I’ll pass on the answer to this question which could occupy too much of this interview if I let it--and I’d rather leave it for now, if you don’t mind.

I: Not at all. I’ve got lots of other questions to keep us-to keep you-busy today. We could talk about regional poetry, popular culture and poetry, Baha’i pioneers and poetry, aspects of your life that relate to your poetry: sex, gender, nationality and the constellation of your personal interests, for example. I don’t want to go over old ground, ground from previous interviews. Rather than me ask the question, what would you like to comment on in relation to your poetry?

P: Well, thank you very much. Yes, I’d like to say a few things about seemingly non-religious sources of inspiration in my poetry. It should be remembered that the significance such things hold for me depends on my vision of life and my understanding of reality. And reality’s most luminous expounder is the Word of God. What I absorb from the Baha’i Writings determines to a significant extent the spirit and form of my work. I could quote Tuman here for he expounds this influence beautifully: the rich ocean of unimaginable allusions and references in the Baha’i Writings. John Hatcher has also provided a marvellous analytical base for understanding this matrix of influences.1

I: Tuman says that the greatest challenge facing the artist, the most central and distinctive problem, is how to develop a manner of expression that reflects the radiant spirit of the Faith and embody its life-giving teachings. He says this is essentially a spiritual problem not a technical one. Could you comment on this challenge?

P: I think it took me at least two decades, perhaps even four(1953-1992), although I’m not sure I would have been able to put the problem quite as clearly as Tuman does. I remember trying to write about the Cause back in the early 1960s, about 1962, and over the next two decades there was a slow and invisible growth in this capacity. By the early 1980s I found I was beginning to work out what Tuman calls “conceptual foundations” of my artistic style; I was working out, at long last, spiritual understandings of life into analogous works of prose and poetry. By 1992, some forty years after I had my first contact with the Faith, what the Guardian calls “a natural cultural development” had taken place in my life vis-a-vis my writing. But however “natural,” however “organic” the process, however ill-defined, subtle and complex the artistic journey, the manner of my literary expression involved conscious decisions and choices made along the way. The affirmation of values and beliefs, ideas and concepts, the defined and redefined artistic ideals, the casting and recasting, the moulding and remoulding of what now seems like an endless, a bottomless, ocean of words that were part of my cultural inheritance took place again and again.

In my search for artistic, literary, solutions I turned inward, turned to prayer and outward into the world of other writers, other artistic practices. I also turned into the wider world of human expression and endeavour which in the last forty years has presented a burgeoning picture of virtually infinite variety. I drew on the tried and tested poetic forms and adopted the models that had been proven over time and made my own recipe from them. I had a positive, broad-minded and receptive attitude to the literary heritage that was part of the foundation of my own expression. Again Tuman describes these processes in some detail and I hesitate to repeat what he has already said so well--and which I have also commented on its previous interviews.

I: If service to humanity is the fundamental concern, the principal purpose, of the Baha’i poet, then self-expression is simply an adjunct of the service you perform. Yes?

P: Exactly. I select from the past and present what seems appropriate; I adapt and synthesize the material into the poetic forms I desire. I try to see everything I select through the discriminating window, the sifting mechanism of the Baha’i teachings. Does what I’m sifting through fit into the guiding lines laid down by Baha’u’llah and His appointed Successors? The Book of God is the unerring balance for weighing whatever evidence is put before it.

I: Tuman talks about transforming one’s art into a mirror of the divine, about placing that mirror within a social context and turning its light upon the many facets in the life of the individual and the community, cutting across the geographical and historical diversity of human culture and fusing the new and the familar, the recent and the ancient. Do you feel your poetry reflects this transforming process?


I: Tell us a little about your process of review, revision.

P: I read a comment on reviewing recently by John Ashbery and there is a similarity between my own process and his, that is, he makes a few changes on a second run, puts the poem away and makes a few more changes on a final run later. John also says: “I don’t like working on something once I’ve done it, so I’ve trained myself to either write something that I like or something that I will simply forget about and then go onto something else.”(Interview, Jacket#2, April 1985). Well this would cover my dominant writing/review style. I’m certainly not like Auden who was a compulsive reviewer or Henry James who constantly revised. And I’m not like Australian poet John Tranter who said “you don’t write a poem, you rewrite it dozens of times.”

Although I must say, that now that I have some 6000 poems in my computer and if, say, I am about to send one on some subject to someone, I often revise it after calling it out and thinking of the person to whom I’m sending it. In some ways, that revised poem is, as Yeats regarded it, as a new poem. In the end there are many permutations and combinations to this writing/revision process.

I: Tuman lists 11 perspectives on art derived from the Baha’i teachings and contrasts them with 11 stemming from a materialistic philosophy.2 Do you find your approach to poetry is consistent with these several perspectives Tuman outlines?

P: One could write a book on these 11 Baha’i perspectives. They are wonderfully comprehensive and provide an excellent philosophical base for the explication of what I am trying to do. They are not the only word or the last word on the subject, but they are a fine beginning point. I could elaborate on each of the 11 perspectives, but I will desist from doing so out of fear of prolixity. I would, though, like to comment on what he calls ‘Baha’i-engendered-art,’ ‘serrafic art’ and ‘donnic art.’ These latter two terms cover the spiritual and the mundane. Tuman wants to forge a spiritual perspective in contrast to the secular world of art where the transcendent seems to have little to no place. I think I shall stop here. There is so much to say and I will leave that until another day.

Our time, it seems has run out. It’s time for me to help in the kitchen, to attend to some of my basic domestic tasks that are part of the core of my activity in these early years of my retirement.

I: No trouble. I must run, too. Life beckons as it always does in some direction or another. Thanks for your time, Ron.

P: It’s been a pleasure, as usual.
_____________________________________________________FOOTNOTES_______________________________________

1 There are many Baha’i books, Baha’i writers and interpreters now who can help would-be-poets on their way. I shall not make any attempt here to list any bibliographical references.

2 Ludwig Tuman, Mirror of the Divine,George Ronald, Oxford, 1993, pp. 125-126.

Ron Price January 6th, 2005

A THIRD INTERVIEW WITH RON PRICE


Preamble:

This is the third interview this year, 1996, with Ron Price. It continues to explore some of the same questions, examine similar issues and talk about poetry, reading and writing as the first two interviews did.

Questioner(Q): We have talked before about your first poem, or poems. Could you tell us more about how you got started?



Price(P): The first poem was written about sixteen months after I started taking lithium carbonate. I wrote some forty poems in the six years: 1981 to 1987 and another one hundred and thirty from 1988 to 1991. I have come to see this period of ten years as my ‘first poems’. There was an emotional stability in my life that I had not had before as an adult or young adult even, since I was in my mid-teens. I have talked about lithium before and I don’t want to belabour the point here, but I think it has been crucial to my balance and well-being. In the ‘80s I still had some major battles in my life in my employment. I worked in Zeehan, Tasmania; Katherine, Northern Territory; Port Hedland and Perth in Western Australia--all in the same decade. My wife was sick most of the time in that decade and on and on goes the list of troubles. I think this kept my production limited, although I did write many essays.

The whole idea of taking poetry seriously did not really dawn on me until 1992/93. That’s a story I have already commented on to some extent in an earlier interview, so I won’t say anything more here. In addition, I wrote poems before 1981, but I never kept any of them. I think my first poems were written to Cathy Saxe when I was about eighteen. She was a Baha’i youth who lived in Georgetown Ontario. My memories of this time are vague and unreliable, though, and it may just be that she and I wrote no poems to each other at all. I have not seen her in thirty years.

Q: Could you tell us more about what you think regarding the teaching of poetry and how you learn to write it?

P: Perhaps the most interesting thing about poetry is actually who writes it, not who teaches it or how it should be taught. Teaching poetry has little to no significance to most people who write poetry, except in an indirect way by reading the poetry of others and reading about their poetry. I’m influenced by what I read and experience. I teach myself. I read about poets and, if I like a poet, which I rarely do, I read a great deal of his or her poetry and the commentaries about it. Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Wordsworth’s poetry, T.S. Eliot’s poetry, Roger White’s and a few others are examples where this process was applied. For the great majority of poets whom I don’t enjoy reading, I read about some of them: partly in the hope I may get awakened and partly just to widen my own knowledge of poets and poetry. There is a vast tradition here going back to the Greeks and the Hebrews in the West and other traditions as well, enough to keep you busy for the rest of your life.

I’ll give you an example here from last night. I got a six hundred page biography of Robert Graves. It was simply massive, but freshly minted 1995, beautiful hard-cover. I read about thirty pages of Graves’ philosophy of writing poetry. The rest of the book had little interest to me.

Q: Tolstoy thought that the definition of religion was to renew because no matter what one did life went on and renewal was essential to our continuity. Does poetry do this, too?

Price: Yes, it certainly does for me; it has, like religion, a deep-seated relationship with life. It enables me to go on living.

Q: Obviously there are many things that influence your poetry. What specific poets have clearly had an affect on your style?

Price: Roger White writes humorously and kindly as did the Roman poet Horace. This is a tradition I would like to emulate, but I find it very difficult to achieve. My poetry usually does not come out in a humorous mode. I think on the whole my writing is kindly, if not humorous. I have studied Shakespeare’s Sonnets a great deal and I like to think his poetry has influenced mine, but I’m not sure how; this is also true of many other poets I have read to a lesser extent.

Q: James Wright, an American poet, says that poetry helps you endure because it helps you sing about life. Do you think this is true?

Price: Yes, again, I think it’s like religion. It deals with such basic forces: attitudes, beliefs, values. It gives you a reason to sing, or simply to put into words what you think. Generally, I think the ability to put life into words is a source of pleasure and makes life a little easier for the person who can do this. But there is also much work in writing poetry, at least for me. So, in a way, I pay for my pleasure. For, say, Robert Penn Warren, before 1958 poetry helped him endure his sense of despair and alienation. I’m sure it helped Ezra Pound while he was in a mental hospital. For me, meaning unfolds as I write and this gives me satisfaction; it helps me endure some of the more unpleasant things in life. I love writing poetry. I seem to need to do it. Just how good it is is difficult to say; partly, I don’t care because I find that, in spite of the work involved, writing poetry is a most enjoyable way of spending time.

Q: Robert Penn Warren says that writing a poem is like stalking a beast for a single shot. Is that analogy a good one from your point of view?

Price: It’s excellent. Sometimes something emerges when you write a poem. It’s something extra, a plus that makes you feel you’ve scored a goal, hit a home run, shot the bear, caught the fish, made a sale. I suppose the analogies are infinite. Social scientists use the term synergy: the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Some poems possess a special synergy for me. Others seem empty, less than the sum of their parts.

Q: William Stafford, another American poet, says that wherever liveliness of emotion and intellect are happening, poetry is near. This is an interesting juxtaposition. Do you agree?

Price: I used to feel comfortable in the presence of alot of emotion but, after twenty-five years in Australia and perhaps just getting older, I’ve become suspicious of emotion in group contexts. I’ve also found Australians possess a certain embarrassment when intellectual ideas are on the floor. When I can act as facilitator, which I often have over the years as a classroom lecturer/teacher, I find the process is like keeping a lid on a very volatile mix. Humour has become for me, as it has for Australian culture, the great integrating mechanism. In poetry readings I go to and read at, humour takes the emotion and intellect and neutralizes them; otherwise the tension would be insufferable. Freud said the intellect spoke with a soft voice. That is my preference, although I think Aussis are onto something with their use of humour when emotion and intellect are present.

Q: The twentieth century is riddled with example after example of poets with severe depression, alcoholism, mental illness, who have suicided, overdosed on drugs, etc. Could you account for this?

Price: I had my own battle with depression and mental illness before I took up the poetic pen, so to speak. This was a battle I had with myself until my mid-thirties. It’s also a battle fought by millions of other people who never write a poem, or anything else, except a list of food items for the local grocery. store. This century has seen vast change but, then, as Robert Nisbet points out in his fascinating book about social change in the West since the Greeks, so have the last twenty-five centuries.

Still, I think you do have a point. Poets tend to be marginal, lonely people in the wings. Whatever sense of insecurity and instability they may have is accentuated by a feeling of uselessness or, more importantly, by a philosophy of nihilism, a fever of living that burns in the brain, a cancerous materialism, the virtual uselessness of religious traditions, even truth, as W.B. Yeats would have put it. Hardy said life was a train of suffering punctuated by illusory moments of happiness. Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. There are a host of examples which Colin Wilson discusses in his book The Strength To Dream.(1976)

Although the game went on into the twentieth century, Christianity had collapsed for the intellectual and there was really little to put in its place, except some new religions which were emerging from obscurity and what the Greeks had, namely, reason and the senses. The Greek culture of the fifth century BC took hundreds of years to develop into that golden age. It was an age which burned out quickly, although it left its mark on western history. The secular humanism at the heart of that Greek culture tends to end in pessimism and one of the more popular twentieth century equivalents, a sense of absurdity. In Australia I think this is one of the more important sources, or underpinnings, of humour. Time will tell what will happen to these new religions. Toynbee mentions two in A Study of History, Vol. 7B(p.711). The architectural creation on Mount Carmel is a testimony to the development of one.

In my own case, as I have indicated above, I got most of my own traumatic sufferings over with before I wrote any poetry. Loneliness was not a problem for me; I cultivated a certain detachment, aloneness, partly as a reaction to the excessive amount of talking and listening I do in my role as a lecturer and in my role as a chairman or secretary of the local Baha’i community in Belmont. Probably everyone has some degree of instability or insecurity. I certainly know what the more extreme manifestations of these qualities are like and, compared to these, I am living in the land of tranquillity.

Q: Would you say your poetry is both descriptive like William Carlos Williams and philosophical-spiritual like Roethke or Wilbur?

Price: No, it’s much more of the latter. Descriptiveness in my poetry falls short of what for me is a certain impoverishment in Williams’ poetry. The imagination plays a big role, but not fantasy. Fantasy is present. As Rollo May says fantasy is a crucial part of the imaginative function, of creation. History plays an important role, too. Formalism has little to no role as it does for Wilbur. My density is predominantly colloquial.

Q: This is the third interview now and I don’t think we have talked about your family, your adolescence, the influence of your father, your mother, your wife or, indeed, other significant individuals, except quite tangentially, somewhat serendipitously



Price: Yes, that’s true; I’ve mentioned several individuals thusfar but given them nothing like the sharp focus they deserve. And I have not talked about my own childhood or adolescence which, as we all know, are exceptionally formative influences on one’s life.

Perhaps I’ll start with the latter factor. It is difficult to summarize what are, in effect, nineteen years to the end of adolescence. Even to pick several highlights for a short paragraph or two seems totally inadequate. But I’ll try. The influence of my grandfather in the first three years of my life, a time I have no memories of at all, is immeasurable. He was a man in his seventies who was himself retired. He read enormously. I get the impression that was about all he did beside visit with his family and very small circle of friends. Now, half a century later, I follow a similar pattern, although he drank port before retiring at night and smoked a pipe. These nights I just collapse from an enormous fatigue.

My mother had manic-depressive illness, although not in an extreme form needing hospitalisation. She just had bad mood swings; she wrote poetry, read lots of books, worked as a secretary at a university before retiring, was interested in religion, painted a little in her final years, became a Baha’i in the mid-1950s and was very kind, gentle and loving to me for my entire youth. Her influence was immeasurable and she is the one person in life, beside my wife, that I feel the greatest connection with, the greatest influence. I have a small booklet of her poetry here in my study. She began writing poetry about the same time I did, around the age of fifty.

My father had lived a lifetime before I was born. He was a Welshman: strong, energetic, sang in choirs, had a terrible temper, seemed to have a succession of losses in jobs, marriage and eventually his health. He died two months before I turned 21. By then his temper had cooled off and I think of my father as the source of the great energy I’ve had in my life, the sine qua non, the foundation, of any achievement. I also inherited his temper, although I’ve learned to keep in under raps most of the time. He was a man I never really got to know and I look forward to eventually coming to know a man I’ve grown close to in the world of the spirit in the thirty years since his passing.

Let me say one or two things about the stages of childhood and adolescence. One of the best things about adolescence is the intense male friendships, the camaraderie, the sheer fun of it all. It comes at a time when youth begin to become unstuck from their own families, when they are confronted by a surging sexual drive and the endless complexities of society. I have the fondest memories for a small circle of half a dozen boys whom I have not seen now in thirty years. Although I’ve come to know hundreds of men and women since and talked endlessly with them, these special relationships enjoy a place in my memory that is quite precious and treasured. My childhood, that period up to say twelve years old, is like a magic land inhabited by faint memories, a gossamer world, a place where I first kissed a girl, discovered pretty female nymphs and satyrs, a place where life began mysteriously bearing some semblance to reality, like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreams to be water. There is no pain for me here just an endless playground haunted at the edges by the strange realities of life.

Q: You did not mention your wife. I believe you also had a first wife for seven or eight years in the 1960s and early 70s.

Price: Both these women were wonderful: practical, talented, long-suffering. I won’t dwell here on that first marriage, a relationship that helped propel me first into the Canadian Arctic and then overseas into the international pioneering field. I could say a great deal about my present wife, Chris. I could finish the interview talking about her and the value she has been to me. I will try and be brief. In some ways her relationship with me is a little like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s relationship with Robert. She has been immensely encouraging. She is the only person who reads much of my poetry and so her reactions and understandings are crucial. She has a critical spirit and, if she does not like something, she will tell you. My poetry was the first of my writings that she reacted favourably toward. Chris is, too, my dark haired lady. The mysterious lady who occupies the last twenty-seven of Shakespeare’s Sonnets comes closest, in poetry, to this lady of my life. I’ll quote some lines from sonnet 141 to illustrate the profound significance of some of the poetry Shaekspeare wrote to his ‘dark haired lady’:

                              In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
                              For they in thee a thousand errors note;
                              But ‘tis my heart that loves what they despise,
                              Who in despite of view is pleased to dote.

Chris’ health has not been good for nearly fifteen years. Living with someone like me who writes so much, has a high level of intensity and energy and has moved around so much over the years--has not been easy for her, especially since I have very little practical propensities and consequently little interest in gardening, fixing up the house, cooking, etc. She gives me lots of space and freedom and keeps the pressure off me most of the time. Although this is helpful to my writing it makes it difficult for her to get close to me. These are still my early days: four years of intense writing. Perhaps an interview in a few years may reveal another pattern in our evolving relationship.

Q: I’d like to talk a little about sex. It has had an obsessive quality in the last half of this century. It also has a powerful conditioning force. Tell us something about your own experience of what has been a central motivation, goal, mysterium tremendum, for the mass of people in the last several generations at least since it got freed up in the 1920s.

Price: Where should I begin? First, let me say that until about the age of fifty I found sex and its several relationships in my life: my first and second wife and, perhaps half a dozen other women in varying degrees of intimacy a source of great joy and seemingly endless frustration. In spite of all the freeing up of the passions, first in the 1920s and then again in the 1960s, my own experience of a sexual relationship has been fraught with difficulties. I would not even want to try to summarize them here. I’m still enormously attracted to women, but the great itch, the inner battle, has cooled and I can enjoy the feminine without getting itchy and scratchy. Unquestionably, though, part of the war I fought these past forty years, has been working out some balance with the erotic, some foothold on an erotic homeland. It has been an enormous battle.

Q: How would you assess those last forty years in some overall social and political sense?

Price: The years since Sputnik, since the Guardian died, for they occurred within a few weeks of each other, are impossible to characterise in a paragraph. I would encourage anyone interested in my answer to this question to read my poetry. In some ways that is what Pioneering Over Three Epochs is about. The other genres of this work, too, also say a great deal. I must have several million words now that come at this question in a thousand different ways. Let me make a comment though. The Guardian said, just before he died, that we were a society on the edge of extinction, annihilation, oblivion. That was literally true in the late fifties as the cold war brought us close to nuclear war several times. In 1967 the Universal House of Justice used the phrase ‘dark heart of the age of transition’. That reality has been at the core of the social and political fabric of society and my experience of it in a host of manifestations during all my years of maturity.

Q: We have talked before about the writer withdrawing, being a hermit, being a self-ordained monk who must remain secluded from life for the sake of art. Let us talk about this theme a little more.

Price: Philip Roth said in an interview in 1981 that art is life, solitude is life, meditation is life, language is life. It is all life. The dichotomy between the social and the solitary is false. The historic distinctions between “mysticism” and “practicality” really don’t exist any more, except in people’s minds. We can no longer separate the “active” and the “contemplative” facets of our lives. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani says this in an article about the seeker she once wrote for Baha’i Studies. This is not the issue, although emotionally we often struggle with it. The issue is a multifaceted series of questions: are we exulting in immortal thoughts? Are we circling around the great? For here our own greatness lies. Can we find the dancing lights held up against the glancing rays of His white words? ‘Abdu’l-Baha describes the gregarious and the quiet types in his classic Memorials of the Faithful. It is crystal clear that this is a Faith for all types: the solemn, the chirpy, the loner and the social, etc. etc. One’s basic proclivities are accepted here unless, of course, they are amoral and then one must battle with them oneself and with the help of society, if necessary.

Q: What does Australia mean to you? Canada? The rest of the world’s countries?

Price: We talked about this question of influences of place back in that first interview and again a little in the second. Let me say a few more things here. Each country has a certain psychology, you might call it a psycho-history. I think Ronald Conway, the Melbourne clinical psychologist, is for me the best analyst of the Australian psyche. He has four books out beginning with The Great Australian Stupor which came out the year I arrived in Australia, 1971. Canada, too, has its psychologists, sociologists, historians. I have lost touch with them over the years, although George Grant was always of some influence on me beginning when I had him as a professor in 1963-64 at McMaster University. In really answering this question properly I’d like to place my remarks in the context of their books. This would lead to prolixity.

As far as other countries are concerned, I’ve never lived anywhere else, and I would have to work quite hard to attempt to discuss any influences that have come my way from the dozens of people I have known from many of these places. This question really needs a much more extended answer. Perhaps in a future interview.

Q: Do you have any sense of power when you write poetry? Do you feel powerless as a poet?

Price: This question is a little like that other question you asked me about poetry having any use. There are many answers to this historic question beginning with Plato who would have banned poets from his Republic. I don’t want to talk about the issues Plato’s policy raises other than to say the poet has a place in Baha’i society which, like the artist or sculptor, is encouraged. But I would like to talk about this question of power. Power is a difficult term to define in the social sciences, unlike ‘authority’ which is quite a specific term with a specific application or applications. Power is much more diffuse, difficult to define, to tie down. One can have a very strong sense of power when one writes poetry because one is tapping into a world and giving it form. Often the process is joyful, enriching, quite meaningful: there is clearly a sense of power, but it is not power over anyone; it is power to do something, power in the exercise of a talent. Whether the poet ever influences society or other people is difficult to say: perhaps a small handful. I’ve read arguments both for and against the influence of a poet and after all is said and done, I’m inclined to think the poet influences a coterie at best. This is even true of Shakespeare, Bach or Mozart but this does not make these men any less important. They enrich our culture beyond measure.

Q: How would you describe yourself?

Price: There are so many ways of answering this: by role-husband, father, teacher, writer; by temperament—manic-depressive with the sharp edges taken off; by habit and taste—someone who likes the quiet life reading and writing, all day if possible; style of participation in a group, like an LSA—synthesiser, unifier, efficient minutes taker. Perhaps you could have a look at my resume; it certainly tells a story; you could ask my analyst, he’d give you another; my family would give you one or two more; my students, most of them, would give you yet another perspective; the few students you never win over would give you yet another view. Other people’s views are essential to provide a balance with whatever view occupies the centre stage in your own life.

Q: I think we’ll leave it at that for now and return at some future time, all being well.

Price: It’s a pleasure; I look forward to a future examination of what must be an endless world of questions and possible answers.

Ron Price
7 July 1996

INTERVIEW NUMBER FOUR WITH RON PRICE

This is the forth interview in the series that began a year ago next week. This particular interview resulted from reading a series of interviews with American playwright Arthur Miller of Death of A Salesman fame, interviews conducted over a forty year period 1947-1986 and published in Conversations With Arthur Miller (University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 1987). What follows allows for a certain overall reflection on my writing of poetry, a serene labour, confident and unremitting, part of my own contribution, my own assistance, to the operation of the forces which, as marshalled and directed by Baha’u’llah, are leading humanity to the loftiest summits of power and glory.1-Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, BE 153, p.6.

Questioner(Q): I understand that you have been writing poetry for over four years at a rate of two poems a day. That is quite an output. Gerald Manley Hopkins says that to write a poetry of the imagination, with any significant degree of output, requires a mood of mental acuteness, an energetic force, a receptivity, so that thoughts come into the mind virtually unasked and frequently and are translated into form. What is your own source of output?

Price: In order to write poetry with any regularity, any frequency, putting a good deal of time and effort into the work you have to be a bit of a, a specie of, fanatic who sees the task as having some top priority. Otherwise you can't generate the intensity, the obsessiveness; the orchestra of winds can not perform its strange, sad music. John Crowe Ransom looks at it differently. He says it is a kind of self-indulgence that pushes the poet to achieve his ponderous whimsicality, his labor of wit. There are many theories, many reasons, explanations, of what drives a poet, a writer, or indeed any creative person. I have no special theory. But I’d say there are several specific factors that have combined serendipitously to produce what is now more than 3000 poems. Listing the following factors amounts to a theory, I suppose: (1) being settled in both my marriage and my employment for perhaps the first time in my life; (2) this domestic and professional anchorage is conjoined with good health, a chemical stability on lithium carbonate and a pleasant climate which is gently stimulating, as Mediterranean climates tend to be; (3) some fifteen years of praying for the assistance of Holy Souls: it’s like I’m finally getting some pay-off; (4) having forty years of contact with and/or service in the Baha’i community(1952-1992) encompassing, as that period of time does, two Holy Years. My great outpouring of poetry has come at the end of this period. I do not think, although I cannot prove, that this is accidental.

Q: You have still to publish anything significant; except for the occasional poem in the occasional magazine your work is still unknown. You have been writing poetry for fifteen years and only strongly for five years. Is that lack of public recognition beginning to bother you?

Price: I have nothing against recognition but, as I have indicated in previous interviews, the several Baha’i publishing houses expressed no interest in my poetry; it is too costly to publish my own; I really have no interest in sending batches of it off to secular publishing houses any more after the little feedback I received a few years ago. I’m in the process of putting a page on the Internet. The BWCL has a copy of 2900 of my poems. That is enough recognition for my ego. I have always liked Rainer Maria Rilke’s attitude to writing poetry expressed in his Letters to a Young Poet. This small book of some 125 pages would summarize my own feelings and thoughts about recognition, fame and publication. It would take too long to even highlight Rilke’s views, but they convey a foundation for my own approach and I have Roger White to thank for pointing me toward Rilke.

Q: Arthur Miller says he can not write when he is unhappy. Many writers write best when they are despondent, miserable. When do you write best?

Price: I know what despondency is, what it is to be miserable. The bi-polar tendency which I was afflicted with for about twenty years gave me a taste of the most bitter pills. This is well behind me now and except for a certain early morning drag and a fatigue setting in after, say, 10 pm at night, I feel good most of the time. Of course, there are occasional domestic problems or situations at work which cause the inner life a degree of angst but, most of my life now is tranquil and I prefer to write from this emotional base. Sometimes a particular poem comes out of a special problem I am facing that is making me unhappy, but nearly all my poetry is written in the Wordsworthian sense of ‘emotions recollected in tranquillity.’

Q: Staying on Arthur Miller, I’d like to ask for your comment on something he said in an interview in 1960. He said that he could not write on anything he understood too well. It must be partially understood; then a hardening process takes place and the idea begins to take on form which can be communicated. Is the process of writing poetry like this for you to any extent?

Price: Sometimes. I think there are two general categories of poetry when seen from this perspective. One type I understand well, so well that the poem slides out onto the page like greased lightening, as they say. It is the type that Archibald MacLeish says is written by master poets. They come at the poem as a hawk on a pigeon in one dive. Another type is like the one Miller talks about and you never feel you’ve really got a handle on it. The hold on the pigeon is tentative. Then there are a range of other types between these two extremes. There is no simple dichotomy.

Q: Writers spend their lives articulating questions and answers. As Chekhov says: “A conscious life without a definite philosophy is no life, rather a burden and nightmare. How would you respond to this?

Price: I think I’ve covered this territory before in a previous interview in one way or another; but there are so many ways to come at a question like this that another swoop at it will not hurt. I’ve taught philosophy courses and various social science programs in universities and colleges for years. I have frequently asked students to write down their “philosophy of life”. It is really not that difficult for most people. The question is: ‘what informs that philosophy?’ I think there are several things which can enrich and deepen a philosophy: (1) a religion, (2) the cultural attainments of the mind, (3) a love of words, (4) endless curiosity, (5) a solemn consciousness and (6) joy. Together they can also give to poetry a wonderful set of tools to play the music of life, to explore its wholeness and its infinite detail.

Q: Some poets seem to be ‘ideas people’ and others ‘stories-facts-experiences people’. The former are few and far between: Dickinson, Roethke perhaps. They deal more with the abstract. And nearly everyone else is at the other pole. Where do you line up on this continuum?

Price: I have been trying for years to make my poetry more concrete and less abstract. My culture is not oriented to ideas. The few people I used to give my poems to would say: ‘I don’t understand what you are on about, Ron.’ I think I’ve got some balance now, although I still have only a small handful of readers and readers often define the balance. I only have part of my eye on the reader off in the distance when I write; I’m not really dependent on reader response, be it good or bad. My main aim is to please myself. The public is such a variegated, flippant and fickle creature: you win with one and not another with little more than a casual nod. Professionals of many ilks are not appreciated; occupational inferiority is a common experience. Besides, I see myself as a person, a man who is moved by life; postures and pretensions I try to avoid, especially in Australia. If someone introduces me as a poet, I’m frankly embarrassed because I’m very conscious of an Australian anti-intellectualism. If one’s poetry can reach in and touch people then perhaps the term poet is earned. I have not achieved this except on rare occasions in public readings. The title ‘poet’ is still, for me, a largely private signification. In that domain I am virtually unconcerned with the public.

Q: It is obvious from some of the things you have said that a sense of history, among other things, is essential to your writing of poetry. Could you comment on that a little further.

Price: Many in our society seem to be uninterested in history; they seem to feel it has nothing to contribute to their understanding of life. I have tried on many occasions to try to convince a class of students that history has a great deal to offer, but I find I am fighting an uphill battle most of the time. Much of my poetry depends on some aspect of our history. I wrote a series of poems last week about Shaykh Ahmad who travelled a great deal from 1793 to 1826. It would be impossible to appreciate my poems if you did not know who this man was. Those without an interest in history will simply have to pass over these poems in my collection. Randolph Stowe said there were too many books in the world and he would be happy if only two people found his book a necessary one. Perhaps that is the way to go: toward the few, the very few and not worry about popularity at all.

Q: Arthur Miller speaks of the basic impulse of writers as the desire, the ability, to speak of their uniqueness. He sees writing as the opportunity to deal with what he has discovered himself, with expressing his vision, his style. He sees this as perhaps the key to understanding the human being. Do you like that approach, that emphasis?

Price: This approach reinforces what I would call my autobiographical approach to writing. There is a reconstitution of self going on when one writes, a reconstitution that serves as a bulwark against the disintegration of that self. There is often an enchantment present; it is like a bowl of fruit that one keeps filling; the fruit is memory and imagination, knowledge and devotion. Virginia Woolf says that the past comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river. For Woolf peace was necessary, at least preferable, when writing. I find this equally true.

Q: Miller says what a writer must do, what we all must learn how to do, is to synthesize experience. Could you comment on this?

Price: There is an absolute chaos of opinion, change, events, ideas, sensation and the individual must try to get some coherency out of it all, both external and internal. Meaning is quintessential. Poetry is my own attempt to define the meaning I have found, created, transferred to my acocunt from others. As Shakespeare says, the poet “gives to airy nothing, a local habilitation and a name.” This is a delightfully light and insinuatingly skeptical attitude. I would say poetry creates a new world in which the poet lives; it lasts longer than a movie or a book; when it is healthy and vigorous it is a self-renewing visionary process.

Q: How have you dealt with that sense of crisis, urgency, impending anarchy that has been increasingly characterizing western and global society in the last half of the twentieth century? How has poetry helped you articulate your response to this tempest, to what many see as gloom and doom, war and bloodshed?

Price: I think back in 1962 about the time of the Cuban missile crisis, just after I started pioneering, I began to ‘run’, psychologically. Perhaps it was because I was a child of the cold war with the threat of the bomb always hanging over my head. Later in that decade I came across Paul Erlich and then in the 1980s David Suzuki. All they did really was reinforce a sense of urgency planted in me by my study of the Baha’i teachings. I’ve just finished reading Vietnam We’ve All Been There: Interviews with American Writers(Eric James Schroeder, Praeger, Westport, Conn., 1992) I have felt like a war veteran for years: not in the sense that I’ve seen it on TV or been there as one of the troops, but in a wider sense of fighting a different war on the home front and overseas. All the battles of life are ultimately within the individual. Thirty-four-and-one-half years of pioneering the Baha’i teachings has frankly warn me out in the sense that Roger White describes it in his poem Lines from a Battlefield(Another Song Another Season, pp.111-112):

                                                                        ......I tire of this old-borm war.
                                                                        ..........
                                                                        I am alienated from angels and celestial concerns,
                                                                        ..........
                                                                        Locked in a grief so ancient as to have no name,

                                                                        in this dimming light,

                                                                        Ah well, not every day can witness an anabasis*

                                                                        and I, a sorry soldier, camp in ruins,

                                                                        speak from weariness of battle far prolonged.

 a large scale military advance.

Poetry has helped me express the inner world of feelings and thoughts. It has been part of my survival package.

Q: This has been a useful year. These four interviews1 have helped to established an articulate sense of why you do what you do, what you are trying to do and what it all means. Thank you again for your time.

Price: See you again someday for that fifth interview.


14 January 1997

1 three other interviews took place in 1996 and are available under separate cover.

                                          INTERVIEW NUMBER FIVE WITH RON PRICE

This is the fifth interview in fifteen months. It resulted from reading a series of interviews with Edward Albee over the twenty-five year period 1961 to 1987 and published in Conversations With Edward Albee, Philip C. Kolin, University of Mississippi Press, London,1988. Knowing as I do that these are historic days, days of infinite preciousness in the brief span of time before the end of the century, days of urgent and inescapable responsibility as I strive toward my God-promised destiny in the midst of a spiritual drama,1 provided a motivational matrix for the comments that follow.

1Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 1997.

Questionner(Q):Are you conscious of influences on your poetry?

Price(P): Yes and no. My religion, my reading, ‘big’ events in my life, people(family, friends, associations) are each and all immense influences on what I write. Given the time and the inclination I’m sure I could point to literally hundreds of poems that have direct links to one of these four influences. That’s the ‘yes’ part. The ‘no’ part would go something like this: often I begin a poem and I have no idea how it will end and I have no idea just where it came from, the germ of the idea. It’s like the birth of a baby and you did not know you were even pregnant. Keats put it well in a letter he wrote in 1820 and which I often quote, or paraphrase. Once a poet gets to a certain intellectual maturity etherial finger-paintings can be engendered, voyages of conception he calls them, which arise out of the most mundane experiences.

Q: Are there any serious problems with the interview method?

P: The viewer or the reader who comes across a transcript must keep in mind that answers change. Truth is relative. Individuals change. Ways of thinking about things go through processes of complete overhauling. As Edward Albee put it in an interview in 1980 with Peter Adam, an interviewee finds as he is giving an answer, one he has given many a time, and in mid-stream he realizes he does not believe that answer any longer, or it is just not true. The interviewer also has to keep in mind that we all have many selves, many ‘positions’, we are many things to many different people. I find a position, a point of view, evolves with each poem; it’s an organic process.

Also, the concept that the spark of truth comes from the clash of differing opinions means that the interviewee often will play the devil’s advocate just to generate that truth spoken of above. A sociologist with an interaction perspective might say something like “a sense of self results from the process of interaction”. Putting this a little differently, he might say the interviewer strongly influences the way the interviewee comes across. There are many things that affect an apparently neutral or objective interview. There’s a whole literature available now on the subject of interviewing. I often play the devil’s advocate game when my wife and I are in company. My wife used to find it quite annoying, but she’s used to it now. We’ve been married for 22 years now.

Q: Do you prefer the ambiguities of life or the factual in your poetry?

P: You really need both in poetry. They compliment each other over and over again. As Carl Jung says most of the really important things in life don’t admit to answers. It’s better that way, he argues, they give us something to work on right to the end of it all. They help us grow. The endless analysis of issues helps to fill life’s spaces in with challenges, enigmas, paradoxes that the mind can play with forever; for so much of the everyday is factual and beyond analysis, the routine, the sensory, better just enjoyed without too much thought.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

P: I don’t consider writing as work. I like to read, eat, drink, sleep, walk; I actually like my job as a teacher; I enjoy relationships, some of the time; I enjoy shopping, although my wife would never believe that; I enjoy driving in air-conditioning on a hot day; I like swimming, sauna-bathing, good grief, I could go on and on. “The usual stuff,” as Edward Albee put it when he was asked the same question.

Q: Why did you stop sending your poetry to the Baha’i World Centre Library?

P: After sending nearly 3000 poems in less than five years--1992-1997--I felt a little pretentious that so much of my work was being stored there and me not being either famous or rich. I felt I had expressed my enthusiasm to a sufficient degree for the marvellous developments on the Arc and it was time to leave it off, so to speak. I got the idea of sending my poetry to other places and this is what I plan to do since it is really impossible to get my poetry published at the various publishing houses around the Baha’i world.

Q: Do you think much of your audience as you write?

P: They drift somewhere out on the perifery. Our society is largely a film and television culture with poetry just about irrelevant, ‘cauterized, coterized’. Millions write the stuff, on the net, in little magazines, probably more poetry being written than in all history. But, like the theatre, it’s not mainstream, although when I read Pamela Brown’s description of poetry as ‘close to popular culture’, I understand what she’s driving at.1 My concern is with the reality, the honesty, the poem I’m writing. It’s quite an introspective process. It’s not about popularity. I’m in there but the audience hardly exists, except in a posthumous sense. I like to think what I write may be valued, as W.H. Auden put it once, by some future generation. Time will tell.

Q: The Polish poet Cszeslaw Milosz said that poetry should be written rarely and reluctantly under unbearable duress and only in the hope that good spirits choose us for their instruments. Your poetry would seem to testify to the opposite of this philosophy?

P: I like the last part of the idea. I like the concept of being a channel for good spirits beyond the grave, although it is always difficult to know for sure when you are serving in such a capacity. As far as the frequency of writing is concerned, I think that is quite an ideosyncratic issue. The opus of each poet is different; the published portion varies from virtually nothing to many volumes; for still others, like Emily Dickinson, it all gets published after their death. For still others it happens, like Keats, when they are young, like a flood; or like me, in middle age, another flood. In some ways I think poetry chooses you; it is not forced. I think the confluence of the death of Roger White and the anchorage I found here in Perth after years, two decades, of moving from town to town and job to job allowed my poetry to find a home in this world.

I must say, though, that Milosz has put his finger on part of the essence of poetry-the pain of life, the suffering in human existence. But this is only part of the story. There is also the public pain in this dark heart of an age of transition, as the Guardian calls our times. There is also the joy, the adventure, the knowledge and understanding and so much, much more.

Q: Do you plan any of your poetry? Do you worry about where the next one will come from?

P: Ralph Waldo Emerson used to worry about the ending of his creativity. I come across this idea from time to time in reading about other poets, not frequently, but occasionally. The only time I worried significantly about creativity was when I used in argue with myself about taking lithium which seemed to have an effect on my creative edge. That was in the 1980s, by the ‘90s I did not concern myself at all. If I lose interest in writing poetry, I will probably miss it because it has been such a source of pleasure, for at least five years now. One can’t predict this sort of thing in life any more than one can plan the next poem. Poems seem to pop out of some intuitive, cognitive-emotional zone. The only planning that takes place is while I write but, even then, the whole thing usually comes pretty fast, like the rushing current of a river. It is very cathartic.

I don’t have time to worry about the process, although occasionally I agonize over a phrase, an ending, a word. I’ve been averaging a little under two poems a day for five years. I’m awake for about 16 hours a day and two poems does not sound like much: a poem every eight hours. But given the fact that I’m a teacher, a parent, a husband and am involved in the local Baha’i community, I would not want the process to be any faster. When I retire in a few years perhaps the production rate will increase. I’m not sure who controls the assembly line. I have a central role and certainly push alot of buttons. Perhaps, if the stuff is not very good I can blame Ford!

Q: Gwen Harwood the Australian poet who died two years ago in Hobart said she did not think about her position in the literary field; she did not intellectualize about her writing. What sort of attitude do you have to your writing?

P: I don’t really have a position in the literary field, not yet anyway. I am a solitary person after I leave my various professional and public responsibilities. I am not against the idea of a public definition, fame or wealth and if it comes my way that will be fine, but I don’t seek it out. One of the reasons I have put these interviews together, though, is that I think about what I write. I seek out a sense of definition; I want to be able to put into words what I’m trying to do. It is part of being articulate, part of the autobiographical process. But it is not just an autobiographical surge of the spirit.

Gwen calls herself a Romantic. She said she thought it was “a nice thing to be called.”2 I’ve always thought of W.B. Yeats as the last of the Romantics, although certain Romantic tendencies linger: the desire to reform humanity, messianic interests. I have such interests. It would be difficult for a Baha’i not to have them. These interviews express a certain intellectualization of what I do, where I’m at. My writing is also a bi-product of tranquillity, emotions recollected in tranquillity as Wordsworth put in 200 years ago. After three decades of the hectic, the problems of maturity, marriage and career I feel a certain peace, what one poet called the golden years.

Q: Why do you write poetry when you are obviously an effective communicator in your profession as a teacher? I would have thought you’d had enough communicating at the end of the day.

P: Yes, for twenty years, beginning in 1973, I’ve seen myself as an effective communicator in the classroom. Student evaluations of my work also support my own view and I enjoy the teaching process immensely. But I have found communication in my two marriages has not been easy. Also the general difficulty I have had, and the rest of the Baha’i community in the West, in communicating the Baha’i teachings to the people we contact each day—and the importance given by the Baha’i community to this teaching process—creates a pressure that the Baha’i lives with year after year. I think writing poetry has partly been a response to this pressure and the tensions in my two marraiges over more than twenty-five years. I also read an average of a book a day and have for years and my mind just gets so full of stuff-in addition to the endless output of the media and what one gets from the seemingly endless conversations with people-that I need some outlet. Ideas build up, float around, scratch about. I should say something, too, about Rilke in closing because so many things he said in his ‘advice to poets’ explain the reasons I write.

Q: Why the sudden outburst in poetry in your late 40s and early 50s?

P: I’d written 150,000 words of published essays in Katherine when I wrote for newspapers in the Territory. I’d written enough academic essays to sink a ship, although I still did not have a Master’s Degree. I’d tried writing sci-fi, but ran out of ideas and found it too demanding. I think I got to 40,000 words one summer holiday; I even went off my lithium in the hope that the creative edge would be sharper. But I found the exercise too onerous. A lady in California, Betty Conow, who had edited some of my essays on the request of Roger White, suggested I write poetry. I had been doing a little poetry writing, perhaps two dozen poems a year from mid-1981 to early 1992. Then the surge started. In the last four months of 1992 I wrote 75 poems; in 1993, 700 poems; in 1994, 708 poems; from 1995 to April 1997 another 1500 poems.

I have tried to answer this question in other interviews in other ways. This is yet another stab at it.

Q: Would you say your poetry is strongly ‘message oriented’?

P: It’s mostly didactic. I’ve got something to say about a thousand-and-one things. There are probably several major themes which I’ve commented on before in other interviews(Volumes 17, 20, 21 and 24) I try to be humorous when it comes naturally; I try to contextualize the message in history, in my own life and ideas. But I don’t worry too much about how people are going to react. I did in the early years of my writing and I think the worry was useful because I wound up simplifying my poetry so people could understand it and, in the main, I achieved this. I’ve had several public readings of my poetry in Fremantle and I was well received. I felt like I was in a classroom. Of course, not everyone is going to understand what you write and there will often be interpretations of your words that you had no intention of putting in. But I think you have to let it go, let it travel on its own, wild and free so to speak.

Q: How would you label yourself as a poet?

P: I don’t like labels. I’m a Baha’i who writes poetry, or should I say I’m trying to be a Baha’i and I try to write poetry. I find the term ‘poet’ a little pretentious. Even with the terms ‘husband’ and ‘father’ I sense a gap. They are roles you only partially fill. Being a poet is not a career position, a career move, part of a trajectory. It’s an occasional experience. It is not loaded with expectations; you don’t have to prove anything. Occasionally when I read in public I feel like a performer, an entertainer. The label ‘poet’ is not one I wear comfortably. In some ways writing is more what you hear than what you write. Labels tie things down too much; I want to savour the experience in all its complexity and expansiveness in a living world. A poem can not be summed up in a glance, any more than a painting. It needs time and patience. The more time and patience, the more labels disappear. I don’t like to see a break between the aesthetic, the poetic, the sociological, the historical, the psychological. The whole of existence is multi-dimensional, interdisciplinary, incredibly complex and utterly simple all at once. It can’t be reduced to some label, although I like Judith Rodriguez’s definition of poetry as “the habit of squeezing for the essence.”3

Poetry has a long history now of movements, positions, ideas, approaches, styles. It’s like many other disciplines there is alot going on in them when you start to get into them. I’m teaching a course now in sociological theory; I used to teach philosophy. I took an eclectic apporach to these subjects and I do the same with poetry.

Q: You have been asked many times abouth the influence of the Baha’i Faith on your poetry. Could you answer this question again?

P: Some poets are ambivalent about the influence of religion. Fay Zwicky thinks of religion as one great confidence trick, for example. Other poets are clearly Christian in some way or other; sometimes the infleunce is obvious; sometimes it’s indirect. Sometimes poets talk about how Taoism or Buddhism influences their perspectives. Anyone who reads my poetry to any extent will know that the Baha’i teachings, its history, its organization, its philosophy, etcetera are manifest again and again in my poetry. In fact, I would say if you are not interested in the Baha’i Faith you would have to cut away, what, fifty to ninety per cent of my poetry? So much of what I write is inspired by, a comment on, a wrestle with, some aspect of this Cause that I have belonged to for nearly forty years.

Q: How do you cope with all the personalities that come into your life?

P: I try to cut off when I’m finished with the ‘duty’ side of my life. I’m a little like Keats in the sense that I absorb alot of my environment when I’m out in it. It’s like being fully turned on, ultra-receptive; things impinge, sometimes quite acutely. So I try to turn that whole world off and read and write. This way I can control the input totally. I like to think this will be a permanent diet when I retire. For now I can only get a few weeks, a few days, a few hours, of solitude. I desire invisibility for the next dip into the jungle of life and all its complexity and stimulation. When I have had humanity in and out of every corner of my being, then I seek silence, solitude. It’s then that I read about poetry, but I rarely read poetry itself. I want to listen to my own voice; the voice of others gets in the road, or it’s just plain uninteresting. But some poetry you want in your head so you read and reread it: Shakespeare, Dickinson, Keats, Dawe, etcetera.

Q: You plan to read at the July 1997 Conference on Global Governance in Perth?

P: Yes, I have not read publicly in the Baha’i community yet. I’ve given many Baha’is a poem or two, or more. I’ve read a poem once or twice in Belmont at a Feast or a deepening. I’ve written many essays about poetry, especially Roger White’s. I’ve got nearly 3000 of my poems at the Baha’i World Centre Library. I’ve read publicly, as I’ve said before, at a cafe in Fremantle. But no official exercise like this conference in Perth. I read rarely because I find it limits the text of my poetry; it is too oriented to the trivial, to entertainment. It must be if it will be heard and enjoyed. It limits the reader’s reaction by imposing the author’s view, although being a teacher I’m used to doing that. You have to when you’re on the stage with an audience. I’m not a performance poet, although on those occasions when I have been ‘performing’, it has been quite successful. I enjoy pleasing people but, after twenty-seven years of teaching on a thousand platforms, it does not have the turn-on it used to do. I prefer the page, the book, kept, preserved.

I think my general lack of interest in self-promotion, voyeurism as some call it, begins in the desire for solitude. I'm not interested in being a personality. I've done this for nearly thirty years as a teacher and lecturer. Public reading tends to put a portrait around the poetry. Tagore or White would have preferred a focus on the poetry not the personality. Some publishers prefer it that way too. They don’t even put photographs in with the poetry. Maybe in the next five years of writing poetry I may find myself with a more public profile. We shall see.

Q: Thank you again for your time. I wish you well in the years ahead and to many more years of writing poetry.

P: Thank you; I hope the buzz continues to enrich my middle years.

Ron Price
25 April 1997

1 Pamela Brown in A Woman’s Voice: Conversations with Australian Poets, Jenny Digby, University of Queensland Press, 1996, p.183.

2Gwen Harwood in A Woman’s Voice: Conversations With Australian Poets, Jenny Digby, University of Queensland Press, 1996, p. 45.

3Judith Roriguez, ibid., p.164.

Ron Price
23 April 1997

                                                      INTERVIEW NUMBER SIX WITH RON PRICE

It’s been 8 months since my last ‘interview’ and one month short of two years since the first interview. Reading a series of interviews with Stephen King, the most popular writer of horror-fantasy books in the last quarter of a century, published in 1988 in Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror with Stephen King has stimulated this simulated interview. A periodic reflection, a standing back from the writing of poetry, is useful and something I quite enjoy. It’s a bit like going on stage, into theatre, into the media without all the razzamatazz. Stephen King’s honesty was engaging. If mine is only partly so I will have achieved my purpose.

Questioner(Q): We all aspire to different things. Twenty years from now where would you like to be; what would you like to have happen to your work?

Price: I enjoy writing poetry. It brings me great pleasure. It would give me immense satisfaction to bring some of this pleasure to others. I think I have something to say, something to contribute on the international stage, so to speak. But ours is a burgeoning world of productivity in so many fields, so many genres of literary and artistic life, the performing arts: dancing, concertizing and acting; the creative arts: choreography, composing and play writing. I’ve been picking away at ‘the market’ for over thirty-five years. I had very little success in the first twenty years, but since 1983 with my published essays in Katherine there has been some progress. Slowly in the 1980s and with rapid-fire activity in the 1990s, poetry has been gushing out in increasing quantities. In the next twenty years I shall continue to do what I have done in the last ten years: write as much poetry as inspiration allows and market it whenever a new marketing idea comes my way. I do not sense a great market for my work now, at least not in the Baha’i community. As the editor of Kalimat Press, Anthony Lee, put it a month or so ago over the phone. “Baha’is don’t buy poetry; you should send your work to other publishers.” This may change in the next two decades. I shall be watching.

Q: Have you submitted your work to the appropriate publishers of poetry here in Australia and overseas?

Price: I’ve started the process in 1997 after a hiatus of several years when I sent my work off indiscriminately in the early 1990s. But I have not gone into the exercise in a comprehensive manner. Slowly, when I’m moved by circumstance, some temporary enthusiasm, the encouragement of others, some intuition of emerging fame, I’ll send a batch of poems off. In November of this year I sent from two to six poems off to close to a dozen publishers and contest addresses. A lovely lady, a colleage at work gave me a writers’ magazine with all the latest poetry prizes listed. There is a small group of women where I work who frequently tell me good things about my poetry. This is a factor; I’m not sure I’d bother with publishers otherwise. There seems to be a wall there. I enjoy writing poetry and just can’t be bothered most of the time cultivating the publishing world. Perhaps when I finish teaching and talking endlessly I will have the energy to do so. When time permits, now, I seek solitude, reading and writing, not publishers.

Q: What do you think has led to this great literary output of poetry since 1992?

Price: I’ve always had a certain intensity in living, a certain obsessive-compulsiveness, however mild. When I was about six I remember drawing tulips, endlessly: all the same, one-after-another, hundreds of them. My poems are like these tulips. They are written quickly, as easily as drawing those tulips. Before 1992 I had something to keep me away from writing freely, on topics of my own choice. From 1962 to 1992 there was along list of blocks, but in the 1990s: career ambition, the pressure of work, of marraige and family life, the lack of a focus for writing—all disappeared and I fell into writing poetry as naturally as breathing.

Q: Have you ever seriously contemplated suicide?

Price: Many of those who have been manic-depressives as I have been find the contemplation of suicide an old theme. I think I was about 18, back in 1962, or perhaps 1963, when I first thought about the subject. Some philosopher, I think it was Sartre, though I can’t recall, said the only serious question is “why not commit suicide?” I have a very strong belief in an afterlife, one that is very attractive. I have had this belief for over thirty years. My religion does not encourage suicide, but in its literature there is understanding and compassion for the person who commits suicide. I have often found the pains of life overwhelming but never had the courage, stupidity, imagination, conveniences, whatever, to pull it off. So I’m still here enjoying life’s ups and enduring the downs. I must say the trip is easier now, now that my manic-depression is cured.

Q: Have you ever had doubts about your sanity?

Price: When I used to struggle with manic-depressive episodes I did, in the sixties and seventies. But since about 1980 the question never enters my mind. Lithium is a wonderful stablizer; I know now that for me any ‘insanity’ was simply a chemical or electro-chemical experience. After eight to ten hours of reading and writing now I get feelings of utter exhaustion. So I just go to bed and sleep. The delusions, fantasies, the troubled mind that ponders the question of sanity is not remotely connected with my experience any more.

Q: Tell us something about your fears, your anxieties, your libido?

Price: Where does one begin with such an intimate agenda? Anxieties, that sounds like a safe place to begin. I get anxious before I go into the classroom, even after teaching for twenty-five years. I get anxious before I go into most ‘people settings’, but it does not incapacitate me. I’ve heard famous actors say the same thing even in the evening of their life. I think that is normal in many ways. Even fears and shynesses are normal, universal experiences. Daily vigilance in the control of my carnal desires is essential; I work with many beautiful young women and it would take very little divergence from the norm to have a flirtation, a dangerous liaison. I find many young women very attractive. My libido would enjoy the erotic fling. I’m surprised at how well I’ve done to maintain my marital fidelity since 1967. One of the reasons I got married for a second time in 1975 was the difficulty I had in controlling my libidinous urges between marriages. I am a hot-blooded man and after more than twenty years of marriage I am happy and safe, secure and comfortable, in my relationship. And I want to keep it that way. Following my desires into the beds of other women, however attractive superficially, would be disasterous to a relationship I value very highly.

This is not to say I have had no frustrations sexually. Maintaining a tight reign over a very powerful force I have found immensely frustrating both inside and outside marriage during the many years since I left my hometown in 1962. I continue to struggle to overcome these temptations and others, as well as a host of faults, faults we all must work on in a lifetime. But I try not to focus too much on them, try not to let it occupy too great a share of my attention, or yours in this interview.

Q: What epitaph would you like on your gravestone?

Price: Stephen King said his would be: “It is the tale, not he who tells it.” I’d like to be able to say that, but that would be dishonest. I’ve thought about this before and even come up with a guess at an epitaph. But I honestly can’t think of anything that would convey the quintessence of it all, other than the one everyone has:

Ron Price
1944-20??

Q: What are you trying to give your readers?

Price: I’d like to give my readers what the poet Roger White gave me: entertainment through insight. I want to touch people’s feeling systems and their cognitive systems. I found I learned more about the Baha’i Faith in reading his poetry than I did in any other way. I had to work at it but there was a pay off for the investment of time and effort. I’d like people to come away from my poetry with a feeling that they’ve come to understand something in quite a new way: the Cause, life, marriage, suffering, the everyday, to be given a new, a fresh experience. That is what I’d like. I think I achieve this from time to time, not often enough times to suit me and not often enough to have a significant readership. At least not yet. When I acquire that readership people will expect to be mentally engaged by my work. Now I can get away with pleasing myself because only the occasional person even reads my poetry now: my wife, my son, a friend, a student at college, someone on my homepage, someone to whom I send an e-mail.

Q: What kind of a kid were you?

Price: I was a quiet young man until about the age of twenty. I became quite talkative about that time and have been ever since. I was coming out of a depression at the time, part of the high end of the mood swings I suffered from for nearly twenty years. Also, school teaching helped to make me more articulate, helped me to externalize my inner life. You have to do this in teaching these days and you have to be able to do it quickly especially in the subjects I teach, the social science and humanities. It’s also helpful in interviews like this. I see myself as quite a talker. I do a good job in the college; the students enjoy me. Some of the Baha’i settings I think find me a bit eccentric, a bit too fast, not conservative enough. I don’t know exactly, but I’m rarely asked to give a talk.

Q: Movies, TV, music, the performing arts all have impacts on mass audiences that poetry does not have. Where does poetry fit in?

Price: Poetry has always been for a coterie. Even a brilliant poet like White is still, after twenty years as a public possession, read by a coterie in a coterie. As Anthony Lee put it recently-and he reads a great deal of poetry-Baha’is don’t read poetry, at least not the poetry written by their fellow Baha’is in English. When you give them a person like White who is also a bit of a wordsmith, you get a largely unread poet. He was successful at getting himself published. I’m a novice at this; I’m hardly known. I think that is how I will stay even if I get published. I hope I’m wrong. But I won’t get an ulcer trying to get known. I love writing. I love movies, good ones. Most people love movies, but they don’t love writing or reading poems.

Q: If you tried to put your poetry in a wide context what sorts of things would you say?

Price: I’d suggest that people read the Forward I wrote to Roger White’s Occasions of Grace. That was over two thousand words and is the best way I could contextualize my own poetry, although I might add a paragraph or two about autobiography since so much of my poetry is explicitly autobiographical. Also much of what I write is in reaction to White, a kind of polar opposite. I wrote that Forward in 1991 and it was my starting point for my own poetry which took off in the early 1990s.

Q: Why do you write?

Price: I enjoy it.

Q: Describe some of the process of writing for you.

Price: When you live as I do in a realm of ideas, literally obsessed with a rich repertoire of thought: religion, history, philosophy, etc. ideas for poems drop out of the sky, as if from anywhere. I’m hanging loose so to speak, having a good time with a book or with a train of thought, and stuff starts to develop. That’s why I like to hang around my study in the holidays with plenty of books around, somewhere between ten and twenty. I go for walks and swims to keep me from having a brain haemorrhage; I get stiff in the joints after three of four hours at my desk, so I wash the dishes, watch some TV. I don’t know how people like Xavier Herbert could sit down for thirty-six hours at a stretch.

Q: Most writers are able to preserve their anonymity. How do you feel about preserving this private world.

Price: I like the idea of preserving my private space. In today’s media saturated society it is rare for a poet to be popular. In a few years I will be retiring from the teaching profession and being a popular poet would be an excellent substitute, although I think the idea is totally unrealistic, a dream. If I was able to extend the influence of the Baha’i Faith, which I think has a great deal to offer humankind, then I would have no hesitation in accepting the price of popularity.-31 December 1997

                              INTERVIEW NUMBER SEVEN

This interview is the second and last during the summer(southern hemisphere) of 1997/8. It arose out of reading Sounding Differences: Conversations with Seventeen Canadian Women Writers by Janice Williamson (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1993). The first interview in this series took place a little more than two years ago, in January 1996. Much of the poetry of these 17 women is autobiographical and feminist. The interviews tended to be too academic for the average reader, although some of the ideas I found useful and I have captured them below, I hope in simpler language, relating them to my own perspective.

Question(Q): Given the extent of Baha’i literature and the already large body of commentary why do you feel the need to add even more to this literature?

Price: The Baha’i Faith is an immensely rich, provocative and stimulating reservoire of ideas, symbols and intellectual material. I find writing, writing poetry in particular, helps me define, give shape and form to this immensity. There is already an oeuvre of vast shape and definition, but I feel the need to particularise this great artistic base, this work of genius. Writing poetry I find is an adventure. I have no idea what I am going to write from one poem to another, one day to another. The self is a fragile system with desires, interests and contradictions all milling around and the inner voice seems to dance around somewhere inside this coat of many-colours, asking questions, wanting to understand more, to discover more.

I also believe that a Baha’i consciousness, for that is what has emerged in the arts in recent years, changes your perspectives on reality, on therefore your relation to people, to social attitudes, to morality, to art and language. This consciousness has something specific to contribute to the human condition, to society, to the global milieux. I find articulating that consciousness is alternately: like a gush of a fountain, a scary and serious business, an important responsibility and gift that is slowly contributing its part to resolving so many of the world’s complex dilemmas. My own consciousness was subjected to a series of shocks and pressures beginning in 1962 and ending in 1992 which produced the hard diamond of my writing from the crude coal of my existence. It was not all a solemn consciousness. There was also celebratory joy.

There is also the feeling that everyone plays a part in contributing to community; so what you say and do matters. This is very important. In addition, an international pioneer like me must create himself out of the air for there are no memories of the past around you. I arrived in Perth when I was 43.

Q: The Canadian feminist Nicole Brossard says that writing autobiography keeps you from eating yourself from the inside; you adjust your inner clock back to the present and say things that can only be said in the act of writing. Do you find these views relevant to your own perspective?

Price: I agree with much of what Brossard says especially the idea of writing to discover things which can’t be said or even thought without writing. Writing makes for a processing of my emotions, sensations and ideas. I’m not so sure I’d eat myself if I did not write. But there is certainly an inner compulsion involved. It is something I seem to have to do to map out my understanding, my thinking, to give me a sensibility, a coherence, an order.

Q: Another Canadian feminist Di Brandt, born into a Mennonite community in the 1950s, says poets have more trouble than others repressing the questioning self to achieve an ordinary common and successful life. They also can be easily seduced by their poetic voice because this voice seems the closest to their true self; and their day to day identity seems at least partly fictional.

Price: I’m not so sure poets have a monopoly on this questioning spirit. It seems to be spread out across the disciplines and the professions. There are more scientists alive today than ever before—and more of alot of other human types. People who are obsessed with learning and questioning I find everywhere; it takes many forms and intensities and it is very difficult to compare one with another. I enjoy writing poetry; yes, there is a seduction there. And I’d like millions of others to love it too. I’d love a big audience. But I don’t want to make love with my audience. I’m even happy to leave them alone. If my words are not asked for I can sit in peace in my garden with my poems unread in their plastic covers.

Q: Feminists talk about the personal being political; some sociologists talk about the social as being inherently political. The Baha’i perspective is one in which a religion, the Baha’i Faith, has a great deal to say about how society should be organized. Where does your poetry fit into this radical concept?

Price: After nearly forty years in the Baha’i community I find that the processes of community building are immensely complex and different in various parts of the world. After all these years I often feel as if we have just begun, even though the religion itself is a century and a half old. A long range historical vision is essential. In the wider society the processes of community and institutional disintegration are equally complex. My poetry plays a part, is one small voice, is part of one life, dealing with and describing these immense, incredibly complex processes and how they play themselves out in the microcosm and in the interstices of my life, my world. My poetry tries to draw on a very diverse set of strands, meanings, views, to bring them into a coherent whole. Building this new order, the nucleus and pattern of which is Baha’i Administration, is often very difficult, very painful, but this difficulty, this pain, this personal engagement, is not often talked about. The feminists were in this position before it became respectable to write about child abuse, domestic violence, incest. I see my poetry as part of this coming out, part of the voice that tells of the intense difficulty of building community in the ninth and tenth stages of history(1953-1998).

Q: Do you regard the statement “I am a Baha’i” as heavy with consequences? If so, what are the consequences?

Price: I am unable to erase my religion as part of who I am. My religion and my consciousness go together. This does not necessarily mean that I always write about my religion. Much of my poetry is universal and concerns everyone and anyone. To some extent I am seeking a space for Baha’is in language, as feminists do for women and Eskimos do for Eskimos. The exploration of language leads back to the self, to different selves. It is this plurality and the effort to get rid of ego that is the story of my Baha’i experience. It is here that the consequences come in. For self is the place of language; language is the place of meaning; and meaning is the action of a man.

Q: What does the term ‘moment of writing’ mean to you?

Price: All my poetry takes on a ‘having been written by someone else’ feeling. When I go to read a poem only a short while after writing it, it seems to have taken on a life of its own. It generates language, energy, freshness, newness. It seems to have moved into another space, a margin, where something is born and something is lost, where something is formed quite independently of my writing. It is as if the poem is speaking, a kind of narrative line, a poetic voice. I don’t always like what I read, although mostly I do. Writing seems to generate a heat, an emotion, fatigue, occasionally exhaustion. Reading is a cooler experience, a stimulus for the mind, energizing when pleasureable. This is one way to look at the concept of the ‘moment of writing.’

Another aspect of ‘the moment’ is writing about something that is real, being true to something real in me, attending to an inner and outer complexity, tapping some spiritual core, heartland, landscape, some accuracy, some point of clarity like a distant star. Writing is also following a compulsion, a sense of necessity without knowing the results. I keep breathing, living and it feels so good. This is also ‘the moment’. It’s not so much individual noise, but rather differences that make for interdependence. We need each other. That is why I am needed. That is why my moment is important.

Q: Poetry requires a certain kind of attention that very few people today have cultivated or are prepared to cultivate. Do you agree?

Price: Yes, the majority of the people I’ve ever met are not readers of poetry nor can they appreciate the gems in the Baha’i writings. This is equally true of Shakespeare and advanced studies in virtually all disciplines of learning. But the disciplines go on and I will continue to write to please myself. Eventually it is my hope that others, too, will be pleased. I await that day with hope. Occasionally, I give someone a poem and they find it “moving” or “a pleasure”, or “really good.” I am a person who likes to please others, so this pleases me.

Q: Robert Pinsky, the United States’ poet laureate, talked about improvisation and quotation in his recent interview of October 1997. What are some of your thoughts on these two aspects of poetry?

Price: Sometimes, perhaps as much as one-third of the time, my poetry comes so quickly it feels a little like improvisation. This is especially true when I work on my epic poem which contains many quotations. I learned to feel comfortable about straight quotation from reading about Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Occasionally, I slip in a line from Shakespeare, from his sonnets or plays. Sometimes I acknowledge the line; sometimes I don’t. I frequently quote from one of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith; usually I acknowledge the quotations.

Pinsky talks about Frank O’Hara sitting down after breakfast for two hours improvising as he goes. For me it’s more a matter of sitting down in my study with my thirty books, borrowed last week from three libraries, and letting the mysterious forces of intellectual stimulation do their work. I also soak up the silence and nature’s beauty from walks in suburban Rivervale in metropolitan Perth; after a forty hour work week as a lecturer/teacher the silence and nature are refreshing sources of vitality and spontaneity.

Q: Robert Pinsky also discusses the meaning of ‘interesting’. He says that interesting is the free acceptance by others of the poet’s gift of pleasure. The poet needs the promise, from somewhere in the pub lic domain, of a responce; he needs a sense of the group to whom the poem belongs. This is what makes a poem a political poem. The poetry becomes part of the property of a group, part of a group’s culture. Do you like that definition, that approach to poetry?

Price: I like the tones, the notes that Pinsky strikes here. They are appropriate ones for a poet laureate, indeed for any poet. It would also please me to have my poetry bring pleasure to others. The process of bringing pleasure has only just started for me. It sounds like a sexual experience one is describing. I think poetry can also evoke other metaphors beside the sexual: food, sound, sight, nature, teacher/student, seeker/sought, autobiographer/ reader. The pleasure Pinsky is talking about is, of course, primarily intellectual pleasure.

My poetry is clearly political in the same sense that Pinsky intends. Those who inherit my poetry are responsible for it, as Pinsky emphasizes. My poetry also becomes part of the audience’s breath, part of an intimate/private and civic/communal/public continuum. Few, as yet, have responded to my poetry, but from these few I get a sense of the inheritance that is my poetry, a sense of my own special definition of my poetry as political.

Q: The 73 year old Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, sees poetry as an expression of the enchantment of the world, as an expression of her refusal to see anything in the world as ordinary. She feels her task is to ‘pick singular threads from the dense coloured fabric’ of life. Do you like this nobel prize winner’s approach to poetry?

Price: I try to do what she does; but she does it more effectively. Perhaps by the time I’m 73, twenty years from now, I’ll have developed her talent. She is able to take large unanswerable questions and treat them with wonderful delicacy. I’m still somewhat ponderous, in part because I’m trying to reclaim history, reclaim my life and I have not learned the light touch, not as light as I’d like. Poetry in Australia needs a certain lightness if it is to be popular. I may never be popular even amidst the coterie that is the Baha’i community. Of course, wth the burgeoning of faces in the electronic media there is hardly any room for a writerly celebrity, even if I ever got to that lofty or not-so-lofty height. The day of ‘famous for 15 minutes’ seems to have arrived. At the moment I’m going for one person at a time--13 April 1998.

INTERVIEW NUMBER EIGHT

After using the internet for two years now I have discovered several interviews with contemporary poets. These interviews have provided more material for my own series of interviews, interviews which have embellished my booklets of poetry.

Questioner(Q): Jodie Graham said in an interview in American Poet(Fall, 1996) that she would like to see more use of the senses in poetry. Do you think that failure of many contemporary poets to use their senses applies to your poetry?

Price: To some extent this is true of my poetry. I try to get a balance between the senses, the rational faculty and the inner faculties of imagination, memory, etc, tradition, intuition and so the senses don't dominate. They are just one of the avenues, parts, in the process of describing truth in all its forms.

Q: After you have talked a great deal and listened as you must do as a lecturer at a college each week do you find this helps the poetic process?

Price: The main affect it has after more than thirty years of going into classrooms and loungerooms for LSA meetings is to make me want my silence back desperately. In fact I hope to retire from teaching at the age of 55 and seek out that silence for an indefinite period. "Excess of speech is a deadly poison" says Bahá'u'lláh. I feel as if I have had an excess of that speech. My career as been rewarding, enriching, very meaningful; my experience on LSAs richly diverse; but the time has come for a change. Who knows? I may come back to it after a few years away; but I'm nearing retirement age in Australia, 65, and I'd like to begin that silence of retirement a little earlier. Optimism and hopefulness get somewhat tarnished after nearly four decades of service. I think my poetry has been born in this observed experience, in a certain weariness and doubt and this tarnished optimism.

Q: Stanley Kunitz in a recent interview(10 August 1997) said that he was not a member of a religion but feels like a religious man. He quoted Keats in talking about the "holiness of the heart's affections." Tell us a little about your own religious proclivities.

Price: Obviously much of my poetry is overtly religious. It's about my religion, the Bahá'í Faith which I joined in 1959 after several years of contact with it in my childhood and early adolescence. But there is an element of my poetry which is religious in Kunitz's sense. I find many of the things Kunitz says about poetry are echoed in my experience: that we are many selves over the years; that there is a tension between isolation and community; that there is a power in poetry found in the chaos of its source, the secrets of its path and the mystery of its word; that the dichotomy between everyday things and the existential concerns of life are the source of poetry's flow—and without this flow there is no poetry; that poetry is the medium of choice for giving our most, our hidden self, for coming out from behind the mask.

So there is something inherently religious in poetry; I'd say in life itself. There is something scriptural, something that clings to the metaphysical. All true prophets are poets. We are saturated with the eternal and the ache we feel, quite often without knowing it, is the ache of the ephemeral, or the ache of feelings. Writing a poem is writing about a single moment, a fracture in time, a fracture not so much in nature's world as in an alternative world. So that the poem we write is difficult to describe, to label its contents. It's an intimation, a penumbra-a partial shadow, a scent, a hiddenness, an elusiveness, 'edgelit' as Adrienne Rich calls it.

Q: The philosopher Paul Ricoeur states that our way of dwelling, of being, in the world is changed by poetry. Each poem, by articulating a mood, a feeling, projects a new way of being, of living in the world. Do you experience the writing of poetry this way?

Price: In the last six years during which I have been writing poetry a great deal of the time I feel as if I have been creating a new me. There is a me in my poetry that seems to be separate from the quotidian me, that derives its existence from the quotidian, but is found in reaching out for the beyond, the existential, the divine, the fragrances of mercy which have been wafted over all created things. I seem to abandon an old identity and dwell on the threshold of ambiguity, openness and indeterminacy—indeed—oneness.

Q: Various poets in different ways refer to the dark night of the soul, the struggling torment of life toward death, suicide, the abyss, the disconsolate consciousness, the torments of test and trial. Describe this theme in your poetry.

Price: I have written about 3500 poems in the last six years. Off the cuff I have no idea how this theme is expressed in this great mass of what must be at least a million words. I write so much, on so many themes. There is sadness, a sense of the tragic, of joy, of happiness. I really don't think I could summarize what I've written on this quite deep subject. Poetry is fed from the inner life and the inner life is a composite from the sublime to the ridiculous. Writing poetry has to do with the interminable, the incessant, said Blanchot,(1955, p.12) with inner voices which only cease when sleep takes over or when one's mind is taken over by the many soporifics of society.

Perhaps, though, I might offer a general philosophico-religious underpinning to my position on the sadnesses and tragedies of life. I'm sure I have commented on this theme in these interviews before, so I'll be brief. Life is both honey and poison; no one likes the poison, but the poison has the affect of drawing one toward the cup of "pure and limpid water", as 'Abdu'l-Bahá calls the "realm which is sanctified from all afflictions and calamities."(Selections, 1978, p.239.) Perhaps this is the reason why so little of my poetry is entertainment. I see it as inviting interactive participation.

Q: Could you comment on the circumstances in which you write your poems?

Price: When you have written the number of poems I have written, nearly two a day for six years, you come to have no idea of just how or why you wrote a great many of your poems. A poet's preoccupations and themes over a lifetime of writing poetry don't change, for the most part, so I'm not so sure it matters much that you don't remember, although I would enjoy being able to recall what inspired a particular poem, indeed, all my poems.

There is a developmental process that goes on in writing poetry, even if the themes stay the same. The poet can put the full diversity of his moods, emotions and knowledge into his poems as time goes on. I think there is a richness, a depth, that is not there at the start of his poetic career, in my case as far back as 1981. I think my poetry is also what is left of the incessant striving of life. By my late forties I was beginning to feel as if my life forces were spent. I no longer had the energetic juices of life to play with. Poetry was like turning to a sacred calling, or giving the sacred calling that had run its course in my life an appropriate meditative expression.

The poet sits down to breakfast, as Yeats puts it in a clever way, in a bundle of accident and incoherence and pursues completeness, self-conquest. He redresses the muteness of life, searches out the meaning of experience, lives in dialogue with the forces of silence with his toiling intelligence. He knows he is not linguistically inadequate; he takes a certain pride in his use of language and proceeds to invent a vocabulary, a language. Kafka took refuge to watch pulsating life and in this refuge wrote. I participate in pulsating life and writing poetry allows me to find the balance between the pulse and the silence.

Q: Could you comment again on the confessionalism in much of the poetry in recent decades.

Price: I see nothing wrong with what Kunitz calls a 'fierce subjectivity' in poetry. But I would avoid the sense of compulsive exhibitionism I see in much of the poetry today. I think there is the capacity for perpetual self-renewal in poetry so that the poet can be freed from emotional exhaustion and world-weariness. I find myself in a state of great weariness from life; poetry certainly renews my spirit. One day I will take the last step in the great adventure. From what I anticipate may be an enormous fatigue I will step into a world of light, my last poetic act.

W.B. Yeats talks about a 'moral radiance' that it is discovered and created in writing poetry. Perhaps this is part of the renewal process I refer to above. But all is not radiance; there is also the burden of one's sins of omission and commission, one's heedlessness, the 'boiling of the blood in one's veins' as Bahá'u'lláh refers to the processes of the lower self. A rich vein of material certainly exists in my past, the history of my community and the wider world, from which I can draw in writing poetry. You could call this the reading of a life into art. I like that concept, that view of the process.

Q: Stanley Kunitz says "there is only one artist, the true, recurrent, undying wanderer, the eternally guilty, invincibly friendly man." Do you agree with this perspective?

Price: We should all be seen, Bahá'u'lláh says, as wanderers in search of the Friend. My individual poems, in this perspective, should be seen as part of one long poem. I prefer to see long poems, epic poems, this way. Thusfar I've had an immunity, as Kunitz calls it, to the fevered dreams of this sort of epic productivity. My fevered dreams seem shorter, more episodic. I think, though, that poetry for me is part of the concept of Oneness which is at the basis of the Bahá'í teachings. I'd go on to say, with Kunitz, that there is only one myth, only one metaphor, played out in an infinite variation in the web of creation. While expressing this myth in episodic form I try to move people, try to move beyond a tedious conventionalism. I try, also, to honour grief and weariness, as much as joy, in the emotional spectrum. Oneness encompasses everything imaginable and unimaginable in life's journey.

Q: Kunitz also writes about dissent and not being a subscribing member of the party, the organization , the group identity. How do you feel about this as a Bahá'í?

Price: From a Bahá'í perspective the Administrative Order serves as the structure of freedom for our Age. The Bahá'í life, system of governance, is not characterized by an inordinate skepticism regarding authority, by an incessant promotion of individualism; indeed, dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahá'í community. The itch for the Bahá'í has a different complexion in these last decades of the twentieth century. I think for me the discouragingly meagre response to the Bahá'í teachings is the equivalent source of anxiety, sadness, frustration. Spontaneous individual candor, straightforwardness of individual statement, that is part of the philosophy of Everyman these days must find in the Bahá'í community a degree of control, an etiquette of expression, a kindly tongue, if the community is to exist in any degree of unity. This produces a different itch for the poet. I think it is here, partly, that the poet finds his role, in the creation of community language, dialogue.

Q: Quoting Kunitz a final time, I'd like to have your comment on his notion that once the poet has written the poem it is no longer his. He does not invite the reader to become the judge of the poem. The poem represents a kind of fullness that overspills into everything.

Price: I think this is true. Of course, readers do judge. They read what they see as "my' poems, my possessions and they see me through my poems. It is very difficult for the reader to see the poetry as "theirs". It is difficult for the poet not to see the poem as "his". But I like the theory and good theories have their place. It is like separating the man from the opinion in Bahá'í consultation. It is very difficult. Certainly, though, that process of spilling over is part of what poetry is, unquestionably.

Poetry seems to catch perception, thought and feeling on the edge of articulateness and gives them a push beyond an inherent hesitancy. I like to think there is a confiding tone in my poetry, one that invites and makes my words welcome as I give them away to my reader.

All thought is an outward face to an underlying silence. Much of my time is spent in this silence and poetry seems to be a natural bi-product.

Q: The Bahá'í Faith is still emerging from obscurity and as a religion in the last half of the twentieth century, when you've been living and writing, is it largely marginal if not irrelevant to most of the mainstream society. As a poet you are not only irrelevant to this same mainstream you are largely irrelevant to the main currents of intellectual thought of your own religion. Would you not agree?


Price: If one measures relevance by how many readers I have, there is no question that what you say is true. The Bahá'í Faith has been emerging from obscurity for decades. The Guardian uses this phrase 'emergence from obscurity' in God Passes By to refer to a process he saw taking place right at the beginning of the Formative Age in the 1920s. This may be the same for me and my poetry. I was referred to as 'an Australian poet' in a Bahá'í publication back in June 1994. As far as I know no other Bahá'í has received this appellation. My essays were published each week in the Katherine Advertiser for nearly three years in the mid-1980s. I think I will always be emerging from obscurity during my life. The attainment of a significant level of public recognition and acceptance which we know the Bahá'í Faith will one day achieve may or may not be something I achieve. Time will tell.

Q: Poets inevitably have many roles. Could you comment on how you see yourself, say, as a poet, a writer, an intellectual?

Price: Let me comment on a wider range of roles because we all have many parts on the stage of life as Shakespeare put it. My approximately one hundred students see me in quite a variety of ways: stimulating lecturer, strange eccentric, the student feedback sheets provide some definite patterns of reaction. My dentist, who did some work on my teeth this morning, sees me as a client, a pleasant Canadian, perhaps someone who talks with a restful accent. The Bahá'ís on the Belmont LSA see me as their chairman and in that role presumably efficient because they keep putting me there; or perhaps I'm the best of a bad lot. Some of the Bahá'ís in the greater Belmont community might see me as a person who has memorized a lot of prayers; while the Bahá'ís in greater metropolitan Perth may see me as a Bahá'í who is not very active because I don't attend many activities involving the wider metropolitan community.

And on and on one can go through the multitude of roles one has, in my case: father, husband, ex-husband, step-father, friend, loner, union member, colleague, fellow-believer, poet, writer, intellectual, neighbour, shopper, et cetera. I think one needs to get a wide view of the kaleidoscope of roles one occupies before one focuses on any of the specific ones, like the ones you refer to in your question.

I do a great deal of writing; I've written thousands of poems and I deal significantly with ideas. So I'm quite happy with any and all of these labels, these roles. All three involve creative thinking, thinking for yourself, ranging widely and freely over a body of material. One can be an intellectual, an academic, but these are not recognized categories in the structure of the Cause. There are so many definitions and interpretations of these terms that, in the end, the central question is how does one see oneself. I probably influence people more through talking right now, as a teacher in a college. I'd like to influence people through my writing, but it is difficult to do so through poetry. But even though my audience is small I still see myself as a poet, writer and intellectual because this is how I spend a great deal of my time.

I should say, too, that having a coherent, established world view, significantly influenced by the "official" position of Bahá'í institutions and being a poet, writer and intellectual are not incompatible categories. Not all thinkers are what you might call bourgeois humanists, or ideology-free thinkers. People with ideological commitments are perfectly capable of being intellectuals, scientists, poets, whatever. They are perfectly capable of becoming the lighted candles, referred to by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in his characterization of the "spiritually learned." But I do not call myself a "Bahá'í poet", a "Bahá'í writer", or a "Bahá'í intellectual" because these terms tend to establish demarcation lines, categories.

Q: We have talked before about influences on your poetry. Tell us a few more aspects of this multifaceted process.

Price: It's the sort of subject one can bring up again and again. Life's kaleidoscope of writers, events, memories, moods and emotions bring so much into the day-to-day activity of writing poetry. This has been particularly true since about 1990 to 1992 in the last years of Roger White's writing, when I was writing to him and working on the introduction to his final major book of poetry, Occasions of Grace. But let me be more specific about influences in the last few days.

Yesterday evening was cold and wet and the end of another week in the classroom. After washing up the supper dishes and checking on the comfort of my family in front of the TV, I spent about two hours reading some essays by Charles Harrison, a Professor of English in Tennessee until 1973. The essays were about Shakespeare whom I keep coming back to again and again. I came across a quotation from Samuel Johnson in that book: "I dogmatize and am contradicted, and in this I take pleasure."(Charles Harrison, Shakespeare's Insistent Theme, 1985, p. 185) It expresses so well an important principle in my classroom teaching and in the Bahá'í writings regarding the 'clash of differing opinions.' Underlying my poetry a matrix of principles: specific, general, short, lengthy, clear, vague—provide a foundation, a frame, a guide. One of these is that "the spark of truth comes from the clash of differing opinions." It sounds simple enough but it is a principle most people seem to be constitutionally unable to put into practice. I felt an influence from this very successful teacher-lecturer-professor, a person who died in 1985 at the age of 82, who used this principle at the heart of his pedagogical philosophy.

I also read several essays in A Collection of Critical Essays on Seamus Heaney. (edited by Elmer Andrews, MacMillan, London, 1992). They contained many ideas and approaches to poetry that are consistent with my own, or to put it more humbly, I find my own ideas reflected in those of Heaney. I will list some here to illustrate: (i) there is a tension between soaring away from the contingent world and remaining firmly rooted in it; (ii) the poet has to go away from home in order to find it; (iii) in the poetry there is the promise of loss redeemed; (iv) family relationships can be a burden and sustaining all at once; (v) poetry is an act of making emptiness speak; (vi) poetry is a search for a luminous emptiness within the mind, (vii) the poet wants to break out of the givenness of the world, to lighten its materiality; (viii) there must be at the heart of things a renewed or renewable devotion to the ordinary; and, finally, (ix) there is a dominant note of buoyant confidence and a relaxed visionary quality.

While I would not claim to be the poet Heaney is, I would claim that my poetry and the poet have these nine characteristics in some degree.

These are just two influences from this evening since washing the supper dishes. Now I must go to bed.

Q: Before you do, let me ask two final questions. In the two-and-a-half years that these interviews have been taking place have there been any significant changes in your life-style? Tell us a little about your life-style, your habits, your interests, your activities.

Price: We've discussed this kind of question before. I'm not sure what I said, but I'm not doing anything different now than I was when these interviews started in January of 1996. Indeed my adult life, at least since I came to Australia in 1971 has been very similar. I played the guitar a lot until the early 1990s; I spent from ten to thirty hours a week outside of my employment, on my teaching job, for years, back to the early eighties. Outside of reading, writing and a few activities associated with my religion I have no hobbies to speak of. I can engage in conversations with just about anyone about anything, but after doing so at work I have no inclination to continue the process at home. I definitely watch more TV than I ever have before. Until the 1990s I only watched documentaries. Now I watch: Seinfeld, ER, Chicago Hope, and other things, not only to be with my wife and son but because I find them genuinely relaxing, entertaining, pleasureable.

As I've advanced toward my mid-fifties my energy levels are clearly lower and by the time 9 pm arrives I often have no energy to do anything else. If my family is watching TV my inclination is to join them and take my book along while I watch TV. That is a skill I have yet to master.

Q: Some poets look to the land for their stabilizing source or root; some look to a long religious tradition like Christianity or Islam; others, like Wordsworth, give nature centrality, or feelings, intuition, sex, reason, autobiography. How would you define your root, your source, your core, your basis for continuity?

Price: There is no question for me the basis, the core, of any continuity in my poetry. It is the writings of the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh and Their sucessors. They sound notes that are silent in us. There is a spiritual creation here which recreates me and defines my world and has done so in a body of writings going back to the 1840s, over one hundred and fifty years.

Q: Goodnight.

Ron Price
4 July 1998
                        INTERVIEW NINE

It has been nearly three years since the first of our series of interviews in January 1996. I'd like to revisit some questions, rephrase others and ask some new ones. These interviews have been very helpful for gaining a perspective on both your poetry, on you as a poet and on this crucial decade when the Bahá'í community made its major thrust in completing its spiritual and administrative center in Haifa.

Questioner(Q): Thank you for letting us into your home again here in Rivervale, by the Swan River in Perth. You have a lovely garden.

Price(P): Yes, that is why we bought this house back in 1988. My wife has a Certificate in Horticulture and she loves gardens and gardening. I like gardens but not the gardening. All those green things: trees, shrubs and plants make for a very pleasant atmosphere in this study where I do most of my writing. My wife is not unlike the plants. She is quiet, easy on the nerves and an organized and efficient homemaker. This all helps create a place of peace and quietness for writing poetry as I have been doing since the early 1990s.

Q: W.B. Yeats said that "there is one Myth for every man which if we knew it, would make us understand all that we did and thought." What does this mean to you?

P: I think that Myth has become a historical fact, rather than just a story like the Garden of Eden. That fact is the life and teachings of the prophet-founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh. It is, as Yeats says, the Myth for everyman. But he is coming to it slowly and it is unfolding slowly in the lives of those who would claim to be the followers of Bahá'u'lláh. My poetry is a partial record of an unfolding in the life of one person, myself. Of course, the whole process is made more complex because in our modern age, as that contemporary authority on myth Joseph Campbell put it, everyone must make his own myth. There is a jangling cacophony of mythic views. Even in the Bahá'í community the meanings of the shared Myth of the Bahá'ís are multifold. Bahá'u'lláh's teachings cover a vast range of history, theology, philosophy and life and the metaphorical nature of this corpus has only begun to be explored. This exploration is at the basis of my poetry and a significant part of the richness of its texture.

Q: How would you describe your poetic endeavour as we approach the year 2000?

THE FOLLOWING SECTIONS OF THIS LENGTHY THREAD AT BLO NEED MORE EDITING; I HOPE TO DO THIS IN THE MONTHS AHEAD.

P: My poetry creates, in its own unique way, a mosaic of my life and those experiences that are dear and not-so-dear to me. It is a sort of continuous, ongoing, summary, a weighing of the evidence of my times and days. The reader is invited along and, if he or she is keen, they can try and fuse the totality of the poetic corpus into an analytical whole.

Poetry clarifies. It clarifies self, society, everything that comes under its umbrella. It helps me to focus the elements of my days through curious and surprising juxtapositions of ideas and events. In the process, truth and insight are enhanced; at least the effort is made to enhance.

I should also add that I draw on a very wide range of perspective's. I have been teaching and studying the social sciences and literature for many years, a quarter of a century, and I am not comfortable with any one label. I draw on so many theoretical positions in sociology and psychology, in history and literary criticism. I mix them and stir the pot. It is very fertile but consistency is not my aim, integration perhaps? In the process I am trying to express the spiritual dimension of life, the deeper sense of self and world, a certain style of authenticity.

I find in an interview like this I can theorize about my writing; it provides a useful balance to the actual doing of it. But most of the "doing" it to a large degree based on hunch, intuition, inspiration and is divorced from theory and its multitude of perspectives. What we are doing here is talking retrospectively, as John Barth put it in an interview, or navel-gazing as they might call it in Australia. It is verbal analysis of an essentially impulsive activity. I find it quite satisfying as a contrast. This way of 'conducting' the interview helps me to focus on ideas and delimit the social aspect of the interview.

Q: Freud says that anyone who writes biography is committed to lies, concealment, hypocrisy, flattery and even to hiding his own lack of understanding. For, he argues, biographical truth does not exist and, if it did, we could not use it. What do you think of this provocative line of thought?

P: I like its very provocativeness. I think it contains a solid grain of truth: no more than a grain, much more. It is probably more true of autobiography. Everyday life is also: lie, hypocrisy, concealment, flattery, a hiding of understanding and more. The sociologist, George Simmel, described elements of this in his study of sociability at the turn of the century. If these things are part of life, and one must accept that they are if one is honest, then they are also part of written statements like biography and autobiography.

Bahá'u'lláh says that there is a great deal that "the garment of words" can never clothe; many mysteries that are concealed and no ear can ever hear them. You can't get it all down on paper.

Q: Do you think that autobiography can deliver the essential person, the core personality, the real self and that, if we dig deep enough as writers and readers, we can find this gem, this thing, this enigma? Can we get the total person, in any way?

P: Often the reader or writer, or both create something that is not there. Gail Mandell, a student of autobiography, states that an "autobiographer is not obliged to be particularly accurate as to facts."(Life into Art: Conversations with Seven Contemporary Biographers, Arkansas Press, London, 1991, p.57) Many, therefore, manufacture an illusion because the picture created is not factual. The writer deconstructs a life and reconstructs it with the tool of language. That is one reason I have abandoned chronology, memory, sequence, spiralling narrative. I have found new ways of structuring a life in my poetry. I use pattern and form, singular events, paradoxical juxtapositions, rather than time and history as a sequenced and continuous centre. For how a life is written is as important as how the life is lived, more important I would say. The writer delivers something with the indelible stamp of his own mind. It is like a performance enacted before an audience. He is given a sketch of the plot and a rough draft of a script. He must finish this 'roughness'. He must polish, then produce and direct. In fact whatever the real-self is: it is his creation. Without him there would only have been dust, ashes and a sea of words. I try, though, to be factual as far as this is possible but, more important than this is a certain spirit that I must capture when I write a poem. This is difficult to control within a boundary of specific fact.

In the last century and a half both biography and autobiography have burgeoned, after a long history going back at least to the Roman Empire. But they are only just beginning to accomplish what Virginia Woolf thought they must do: "weld....into one seamless whole....the granite-like solidity of truth and the rainbow-like intangibility of personality."(In Life Into Art, Gail Mandell, Arkansas Press, London, 1991, p.3) I see my poetry as a contribution to this deepening 'solidity' and 'rainbow-like intangibility.' Most autobiography I have read I find graphically uninspiring. I hope my own work does not add to the existing and massive pile of autobiographical tedium.

Q: Many things shape a life: an inner world, an external set of forces, facts, events, persons, cultural and historical realities. What is your bias in writing your life on paper?

P: There has been an increasing interest in the inner life in this century. More recently biographers and autobiographers are aiming for a balance between these inner and outer worlds, linking past, present and future generations and childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. I think that autobiographers, like biographers, are engaged in the task of defining what it means to be human, factoring in a range of variables not before attempted in Bahá'í literature and its many genres of commentary and analysis. As we talk, at the close of the twentieth century, there is very little analysis of the response of an individual Bahá'í over a lifetime to this new Revelation.

Certainly my autobiography tries to capture many worlds. I have many paintings in my gallery, many galleries, many potential collections for the world and its galleries, so to speak. But the key to its meaning, inevitably, is in the readers' hands. Many find it difficult to participate in poetry. And we live in a glass darkly, not face to face with reality all the time. Increasingly the glass is getting cleansed, shining for our use by the process of history. My poetry plays its part in the cleaning of the mirror. Hopefully, some readers will find the mirror useful.

My different selves emerge in my poetry the same way they emerge in everyday life with the many people who come to know me. Readers must construct my life the same way people who meet me must construct it: little by little, day by day. Most of the time, in most relationships you can't say it all or even most of it. This poetry says more, it accesses more, than probably most readers will either need or want. But it is there like an archive kept in the back room for now.

Q: Do you think you will ever return to your narrative autobiography?

P: Perhaps when I am old and grey with little to do. For now this rich soil of poetry will serve as the garden for my work. As I said above, poetry allows me to juxtapose different things, people and events, try to connect them and find "the truths common to both." Meaning emerges from the analysis of this connection. Proust put it like that in his Remembrance of Things Past. The reader must puzzle over what is in the poetry, must deal with the complexities often without getting answers to his questions. In the end, what the reader will get from my poetry will be an attitude, a perspective, a point of view. They may also get some of that 'bliss of solitude' which Wordsworth says exists in the inner eye which writes the poetry. In the end, too, what interests readers is this 'innerness', not facts, however luminous.

Arguing the other way, though, the narrative sequence could be useful to those who don't find poetry heuristic. And it is as difficult to paint the "real" person as a biographer as it is as an autobiographer. Each genre has its strengths and weaknesses. The cleavage of two minds, what William James called "the greatest breach in nature", is replicated in autobiography by the divisions within oneself. The subject in autobiography is 'vulnerable' and a 'victim' of the self within and the host of trivialities without. The narrative is a much simpler, clearer story. If nothing else, autobiography is a story.

Q: Do you think there is more reality in some of your poems than there is in real life and its relationships, its sensations and perceptions?

P: I look back with amazement at the road I have travelled and at the variety and extent of my poetry in recent years. In some aspects of my life I must force myself: Bahá'í meetings and going to my place of work. The forcing has become necessary because of the vast quantity of repetition over thirty years or more. But this is not the case in writing. With writing I wait in a certain busy stillness, a solitude. Here, the center of my life finds expression in words on paper and I can gaze at the near and far, the internal and the external. Reality emerges like some core of beauty that is different than anything I find in life. The quotidian and the poetic intensities must both exist, one of life's infinite polarities.

Q: Do you think there is something about writing poetry which draws attention away from the writer and toward the writing itself?

P: Yes. David Womersley says this in his book about the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He says that Gibbon's writing drew attention away from the subject of the Roman Empire. His writing was an art form unto itself. Life's reality is awkward, tangled and difficult to penetrate below the surface; but language can do it. It can deal with the massive and inescapable complexity of it all. In writing, I find a place, a defined place in the midst of this great immensity. For me, it is a logical extension of my writing. I'm a very serious chap, unlike some writers who feel they waste a great dela of their leisure time. I use all of my leisure time in the service of 'the project', 'the work'. If anything my problem is an obsessiveness, a compulsiveness, a self-indulgence. That's how my wife sees it and she says so in her kindly way.

One advantage writing poetry has over the longer pieces like novels, or sci-fi stories, is the sheer shortness of most poems. So the intense exhaustion you read about in some novelists is something I only experience at the edges, say after a ten hour day with print. So what I do is simply go to bed or become a vegetable in front of the TV for an hour or two. But I admit that I am addicted to work, to expelling built-up ideas that form in my head. I like to write; I also like to read. They bring me great pleasure.

Q: The problems of philosophy, history, politics, indeed many of the disciplines, have become intertwined. The historian Dilthey argued this a hundred years ago. Where does your poetry come into this interdisciplinary complexity?

P: It is interesting that you should mention Dilthey in this context. He also saw the frightening catastrophes on the horizon, the shaking of the foundations of human society, the questioning of assumptions, the discordance between thought and life, the dark and awesome outlines in a global era, the emptiness, the alienation, the abyss of modern life. The world has been transformed in the last century and a half and the many prescriptions offered: the left, the new left, the right, the new right, the social sciences, the old religions and a host of new ones--have left a world of confused alarms with no center for humankind. My poetry comes into this complexity, this vacuum, this crisis, this ferment, this restlessness. For Dilthey the center was a lived experience. My poetry is at least that and with Dilthey I share a concern with the spiritual dimension, a dimension expressed in the context of subject matter from many subjects of study. Of course, my poetry is clearly associated with a specific centre.

It is interesting to note, parenthetically, that autobiography is rarely included as part of any university syllabus; poetry, yes. Poetry is taken seriously but not autobiography. So, if I had to pigeon-hole my poetry for academic study it would not be under autobiography. If my poetry were to be studied for scholarly purposes it would result in literary criticism. Anyone wanting to write a biography of my life, it would seem to me, would be primarily concerned with telling a story. He'd have to piece together, like a great patchwork quilt, the material from my poems. The main advantage he would have is that poetry allows me to tell my story in a thousand ways. In the end, though, the reader and any writer of my biography are left with interpretation, no matter what discipline I'm drawing on.

Drawing on a variety of disciplines allows me to enter the inner life and private character and come away with a bigger slice of 'the true me.' In the end, though, there is much of myself, much of anybody in any biography, that can not be expressed There are so many views of a person. No view, or synthesis of views, can plumb the depths. But the exercise of trying is not without its rewards.

Q: What do you see as the relationship between the poet/writer and society in the Bahá'í community?

P: Back in March 1956, three years after my first contact with the Bahá'í community and three months before the Guardian first referred to the North American Bahá'í community as 'the impregnable citadel of the Faith' the renowned French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty was the invited speaker to a conference in Vienna. During the discussion the role of the writer was discussed and I would like to start my answer to this question by drawing on some of the remarks he made then. Merleau-Ponty referred to engagement as "the coming into relation with others." "We come", he said "to extract from (this engagement) a formula for living with others."1 Autonomy and engagement run along a continuum. One discovers the portion of separation and the portion of involvement. This portion changes in a range of ways in the writer's lifetime as he expresses his sense of community. We must learn and unlearn just how it is that we are to engage ourselves. There is no one way. There are many models, many points on the continuum which are right for us.

It must be kept in mind that the Bahá'í Faith is a Divine Revelation not a socio-political system. Writers can not call into question the integrity of Bahá'í administrative processes. They must exercise wisdom, a certain measure of love and develop a sensitive conscience. They must not stridently insist on individual views. An intolerant attitude toward other perceptions of reality must be avoided. Since conflict and contention are categorically forbidden the relationship of the writer to society is one centred around an etiquette of expression in which dissent is forbidden. This conception is far, far removed from present conceptions of both the writer and society. I have spoken on this subject before in other interviews and there is more I could say here, but this will suffice.

Anything written about the relationship between an individual writer and the Bahá'í community can grow quite naturally out of the material presented to the biographer or by the autobiographer. This organic growth of views reflects the vast range of personality types, idiosyncrasies and individual orientations and does not impose some single 'ideal type' onto the writer involved. What is written about a life should reflect the spirit of that life. For this reason, among many others, I write poetry to tell my story. This genre seems the most appropriate spirit or form. A certain perspicacity is required of the reader of my poetry, though; otherwise the reader is advised to stay with the narrative, the letters, the essays and whatever else I leave behind. My poetry is my treasure. I hope it is yours, dear reader.

Q: Tell us some more about your writing habits. Have they changed in any way since we began these interviews three years ago.

P: The main difference is that in the evenings, after a day of teaching, I have little to no energy to write, a little reading for an hour or so and that's that. On the weekends I still get in my six to ten hour a day of reading and writing. I don't use any chemicals, psychic energizers, maybe two cups of coffee; writing makes me hungry; I gave up smoking four or five years ago. I drink lots of water, juices, soft drinks. I probably take in too much sugar for my own good. I go for walks, have a swim, a sauna bath, touch base with my wife and son, visit the local shop. After sitting for such a long time, the body craves movement, exercise; you get to the point that you could just about scream.

I've worked out a city-survival package that preserves as much of the privacy that I need. That has been difficult in a community of a thousand Bahá'ís. Actually this hermit-like, solipsistic existence, with its hours of solitude and wearisome fatigue at the edges after many hours of work, fits in well with the teaching profession and the endless talking and listening and a moderate amount of Bahá'í activity and its essential social base.

I'll be retiring soon and I wonder how I will go without that balancing factor of the social and the solitude.

Q: Some biographers say that interviews are a way of accumulating a great deal of wasted paper. Some interviewers are impressed with their utility. What do you think is the value of the interview?

P: I have constructed the above nine interviews over nearly three years, asked all the questions and answered them. I have found this form of art, even if my own expression of it is recognisably artificial, a unique way of defining what I am trying to accomplish in my poetry. It achieves what no other form of writing achieves. I've grown quite fond of it and will most probably come back to it in the future. It is a way of cleaning up, tidying up, clarifying, the complex exercise of writing poetry.

1 Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Texts and Dialogues: On Philosophy, Politics and Culture, editors: Hugh Silverman and James Barry, Humanities Press, N.J., 1992, p.51.

Ron Price
8 October 1998

Q: The American writer, Walker Percy, said in an interview in 1981 that people don't read poetry and that is why he did not write it. Is he right?

P: Yes, generally speaking; I'd say 99 out of a hundred people never read poetry. So if one writes it one writes for a coterie. Percy also says that people prefer narrative. I make most of my poems mini-narrative, semi-narrrative, quasi-narrative, prose like as far as possible. This makes my poetry more accessible to those who want to try me on for size. I think I am more readable for that other ninety-nine per cent. For I do many things in my poetry: I fuse things, the messy and complicated aspects of daily life, I make connections all over the place. I deal with the political which for me is the encounter between the individual and the community. The reader can find here another sensibility.

Q: What is your attitude to poetry workshops?

P: I’ve talked about this in connection with public readings. Workshops are different. They are more like clasrooms. Maybe after I’ve got schools out of my system I’ll be able to do them with some enthusiasm. A young woman asked me to do one the other day. She was a persuasive, forceful, some might say pushy young person with the energy and drive of belief for a cause behind her. I said I would if she did all the promotional work and all I had to do was walk in the room. I knew I’d enjoy it in a certain way. I’m a good talker and I enjoy and good rave, a good dialogue. It’s just that I’ve done it for thirty years. I’ve run out of steam. Another lady, an older woman, asked me to give a poetry reading at her church. I said no. I should have told her to come back in three years.

                        INTERVIEW NUMBER TWELVE

INTERVIEWER(I):

Carlyle, the British historian, says that no great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men. What are your views on this concept?

PRICE(P):

One can not ignore the role of great men and great women but, if anything, this poetry is a testimony to the contribution of the not-so-great. One of the poems in this collection, a collection I have entitled Cascading Down after “15 small pools of water in the centre of the two sets of stairs leading from the Entrance Plaza to Terrace one.”(Baha’i Canada, Baha, BE 156, p.5), answers this question in part. I refer you to that poem: “At Speed and in the Darkness Before the Dawn” in which I have drawn heavily on J. Harrison’s book The Common People. Obviously, Baha’i history has great souls. Our history is a documentary to them; but it is also a history of the ordinarily ordinary and a greatness that comes from the humble and the unrecognised. This poetry is as much a tribute to this latter category, as the former. I see myself, in some ways, as a symbol of the ordinary.

I: Is there much in your poetry about your family history and its relationship with the Cause?

P: The first two poems in the collection of poetry I sent to the World Centre were written in the first week of September 1992. They were addressed to my mother who passed away in 1978. She started investigating the Baha’i Faith in 1953. One of the poems in this collection was inspired by my grandfather’s autobiography, A.J. Cornfield’s Story, about his early life from 1872 to 1901. I refer you to this poem: “1953: A Turning Point in History” to partly answer this question. There are, of course, many other poems that involve my family history. It is impossible to separate family history from one’s autobiography, whether that autobiography is poetic narrative or simple narrative prose. I know nothing at all of my family history before 1872 and so, as yet, there is no poetry about it. Something may come up that is based on history in Wales, England and France. Time will tell. We could hold a separate interview on the influences of family; I have referred to some of them in the first eleven interviews. But I think this is enough for now.

I: Have you written many poems about specific contemporary events in the political, social, economic and historical worlds?

P: Only very occasionally. I think there are a number of complex interacting factors that, for various reasons, make writing poetry about “the news” difficult. There is something about “the news” that has an air of fantasy, of make-believe, about it. There is also the problem of making sense of the recent past. Kosovo or East Timor are good examples, to chose two from a potential multitude. You really have to give the issue a great deal of time to unravel the complexity. There is just so much going on that the mind is on overload. Getting a precise knowledge seems just about impossible except for the specialist. There is no cultural and classical consensus any more and there hasn’t been, perhaps since the beginning of the Formative Age in 1921, perhaps since the 1950’s and the onset of postmodernism; so what the individual gets is an enormous plethora of opinions, a pastiche, incoherence, with little sense of overview. As the French sociologist/philosopher Jean Baudrillard puts it: it has became very difficult to plot reality, or even get a sense of who you are. Any poems I do write in this area of social analysis tends to be ‘big picture’, ‘whole culture’, ‘wide angle’ stuff.

I: Do you think the fact that your poetry deals with the big picture and not with specific social problems is partly a reflection of the nature of your religion?

P: Unquestionably! The problems in the world possess an immense complexity. The Baha’i Faith offers helpful perspectives on many of the problems. But the Baha’is are not pretentious enough, or ignorant enough, to think they have the answer to all the world’s problems. Any Baha’i who makes such a claim is really a simpleton and just not aware of the complexity of things, or brings to the issues a mind that has grown up on what Bahiyyih Nakjavani calls ‘Baha’i Fundamentalism.’ They have no idea of “what a massive dose of truth”, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha puts it, which “must be administered to heal this chronic old disease.”(Secret of Divine Civilization, p.43)

Yes, my poetry approaches the world and its problems obliquely, sensitively, with some understanding but also, I like to think, with a degree of humility in the face of the immense complexity of the problems. But I certainly don’t think either I or my religion have the answer to all the thorny and difficult problems bedevilling the world.

I: I understand you have just retired from teaching. What is the experience like thusfar?

P: Yes I’ve had over six weeks thusfar, what you might call the honeymoon period of retirement. The first thing I notice is that I’ve slowed down. I wrote a poem this morning about the hibiscus(see the enclosed poem: ‘Flame Out’). The poem would not have been written under normal circumstances because I needed to be in low gear, enough to stop and have a good look, especially standing out in the rain trying to write the poem. I get a good forty minutes of brisk walking in every day. I’ve never been able to do that before. I’m also getting to know my wife again after years of running past her on my way to work, meetings, or something that I had to do. We are also getting ready to move to Tasmania so I’m useful around the house in preparation for the departure.

I: Spike Milligan says his father said that he would rather tell him stories about himself that were exciting but a lie, than tell him stories that were boring but true. For some of us the incurable romantic never dies. Is there any of this romanticism in your poetry?

P: My mother used to say to me, I remember, back in the early 1960s before I went pioneering, that the Baha’i Faith was a good religion for me because of the strong element of the theatre in its framework of activities. The social dimension of life inevitably involves a certain theatricality. As I said, too, in my introduction to Roger White’s Occasions of Grace there is in the Baha’i ethos, at least there is for me, a stong element of the cry of all Romantic artists since the industrial revolution: I don’t want comfort; I want God; I want poetry; I want real danger; I want freedom; I want goodness; I want sin. Well, I’m not so sure about the real danger any more and I do like my bourgeois comforts. So I suppose I’m just a part Romantic on these terms.

Ron Price
14 May 1999
                        INTERVIEW 13

I was impressed recently by the art work of Richard Long. I saw a demonstration of his stone work on television several years ago and last week I borrowed his Walking in Circles from a library. The following interview which I have ‘choreographed’ is a result of reading about his philosophy, reading an interview with him and looking at his wonderful work in stone, wood and his own ‘choreography’ of art. This interview was also influenced by the words of Robert Creeley about poetry in The American Poetry Review(Sept/Oct, 1999, pp.17-18) and Thomas R. Whitaker’s analysis of the poetry of William Carlos Williams(Twayne Pub., NY, 1968)-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.

Interviewer(I): Do you think that artists are difficult to get to know, that they are virtually invisible.

Price(P): Yes, most artists are virtually invisible; very few make it into the media, into the world of fame and publicity. As far as those who do get to be known by the masses it is largely a superficial knowing. Occasionally, a biography is written about someone’s life, then some depth is possibly revealed. The biography industry has unearthed increasing numbers of good quality work, though often the artist is dead by then. I think people generally are difficult to get to know to any depth. That is why I have pursued autobiography as I have. “Know thyself” has quite specific and profound meanings to me. After living in so many places and ‘knowing’ so many people, I can’t think of anyone whose biography I would want to write. Henry James and Anthony Trollope became disenchanted with their biographies. I have come to settle for pleasant conversation when human interaction is unavoidable. To a large extent I avoid human conversation, having had enough for a lifetime. Each artist’s invisibility has different roots.

To a significant extent the answer to this question depends on the type of person the poet is, when in their life they came to writing poetry, the environment around them and the general receptivity to poetry. The main company I had in the first dozen years of writing poetry, my formative years, was Roger White. It was ‘a company defined by letters,’ as Robert Creeley might have called it.(The American Poetry Review, Sept/Oct, 1999, p.18) In the years 1993 to 1999 the company I had was, for the most part, books: ‘a company defined by books,’, dozens and dozens of them. I found email, public reading in cafes, etc., publishing, unrewarding, even though I was a successful entertainer in public. After thirty years of having a listening audience as a teacher I had come to derive little enthusiasm from a form of interaction that resembled the role of a teacher. Even feedback from individuals, ranging as it did from glowing praise to outright indifference and disinterest, was generally not useful. My wife’s feedback I found most helpful. She was critical: ‘a company defined by affinity’.

More recently, I have found my first meaningful email relationship. It has led to the publication of my first chapbook and an enriching dialogue. I suppose this is essentially ‘company by email.’ Email has its dangers, though; one must be sensitive to its use or you can be dumped with piles of garbage you don’t want to read.

I: Richard Long says that artists are map-makers of human consciousness and of the spiritual world as well as measurers and describers of the natural world. Do you agree?

P: Everyone’s life is a map and everyone makes maps. When I was in my teens I bought a religio-philosophical map that has guided my journey for over forty years now. I make my own map from this master-map. This map is used as the basis for my exploration. My poetry reveals just how I use this map.

I: How are your ideas born, where does the energy come from and how do they develop into poems? Do you know what you’re doing? Are you perfectly secure in your writing?

P: Ideas for poetry are born of intuition, there’s a lightness right at the start, a quickness, a feeling of “connection, of yes, of aha, there’s something here, this is good, I like this.” The poem is an effort at taking these feelings, this brightness and giving it form, development, substance, more than the airy-nothing, the vagueness, the potentiality which it is at that starting point and which it will be, if I don’t work on it and give it shape.

The energy comes from books, from experiences, from being in a room alone and being with others in social situations. Ideas come in a myriad of ways. The poem becomes a stopping point in my journey, a brief visible moment, a resting place in that same journey, a sustained note, a punctuation mark, a point I can look back on later in life in quite a different way than the normal memory trip. The whole exercise of writing the poem is usually quite spontaneous, quite fast, although on occasion the poem takes two or three hours to take form.

I feel a strong sense that I know what I am doing. I also have an equally strong sense of security. With each poem, or group of poems, I define the process more sharply, more definitively, more comprehensively. In writing poems I pay a lot of attention to what I am doing, to giving the process a description. I would say, looking back over what must be at least two million words now, that there is an ongoing poetic analysis of process, of content, of relationships between what I am doing and both myself, my Faith and my society which are the three corners of the geometric triangle that is my poetry. The sense of security is not arrogance, superiority, or self-righteousness. It is a composite feeling that is firstly inspired by my religious commitment, the faith that is built on this commitment, something that is reflected in all the appropriate protocols of piety I know as a faithful petitioner and practitioner. It is also a feeling that also takes me out to sea, with my spirit wrung, with remorse on my wings, with an open wet world beyond which I do not always approach with courage, often with sadness, for I am aware of my cowardice, for I am human.

I: Would you go so far as to see your own life as your poetry?







P: Yes, I often feel I am the path which is outlined in my poetry. It is a line of movement between the many places I have travelled, the many experiences I have had. It is a path, a line, conditioned by my thoughts, feelings, indeed everything that has happened to me. Not all of it is down on paper, but what is not there will disappear into oblivion and be no more, eventually. What is there is my line; I walk my line. We all walk our own line; it is the easiest thing a human being can do to put our mark on a place—and the hardest! My words have a substantive actuality about them for my poems are autobiographical and I bring my society and my Faith into relation with my self. I don’t do this in all my poems but many of them I do.







Every work of art, every poem, has its own mysterious sense of purpose about it, except for the works of those, I suppose, who see their work as devoid of purpose. This purpose comes partly from the traces of energy used in the making of the work. There is an energy connected with the spiritual path as defined in the Baha’i teachings. There is an energy in aloneness and its simplicity. Purpose is also connected with a withdrawal of energy and its defining, delimiting, function. Purpose also comes from the viewer’s own inner journey in relation to mine, to me, the provider of the poetry.







I try to keep all channels of sensitivity open, to experience things as keenly and immediately as possible and to explore as deeply into reality as I can. My poetry, in the end, should be a conveyor of this feeling ; for, as Pound once said, only emotion endures.







I: Tell us a little about some of your thoughts on poetry.







P: Writing poetry is like finding your place in a room, in a group, on a street, in a town, in a state, in a country, in the world. Finding your place, bringing the physical things around you into the right, the most suitable, relationship. The process is dynamic; so is the process of writing poetry. You have to find the right set of words and when you find it, you move on to another poem, to another part of life. It’s like making everything your friend, making it familiar, even when you’ve never seen it before. You do the same with people, so you are comfortable wherever you go in the world, as long as you’re not freezing or roasting. The process of writing poetry is a poeticizing of your world, of a translation of the familiarization and the estrangement, yes, estrangement, because you can’t win it all. You are going to hurt, be hurt, feel alone, afraid, joyful, et cetera.







I: Do you always feel happy when writing poetry?








P: Most of the time is is an exercise in concentrated pleasure. Effort, my life, my world, come together in a pleasing mix. This is what keeps me at it day after day, year after year. Also, by the time I had started writing poetry seriously, I was tired of a lot of things in life. Poetry was clearly a new lease on life. I’m happy and relaxed when I write; occasionally, when something has got under my skin and I’m feeling sad, despondent, unhappy, or whatever, writing poetry is like a conduit for this negativity. I usually work it out, like someone else might do a physical workout. I do it also because it has deep meaning to me; the most profound, sublime feelings come to me when I work in the privacy of my chamber. I hope this sublimity comes through to the reader.







8 December 1999







I: William Carlos Williams once said that a poem is “the lifting of an environment to expression” and that the value of this exercise was to be found in the “minute organization of the words and the relationships.” Do you agree?







P: Of course, it’s simple; it’s obvious. Willaims said a great deal about poetry that makes a lot of sense. He said poetry was “a dramatic structure of attentive speech” or “a continuing act of attention .” Although this is also obvious, it is so important to say it. The very creative faculty, the very growth, of man is to be found in “extreme attention.” Blake, Yeats, Emerson would have totally agreed. The imagination focuses on some “thing” and produces a true account of the actual. In this true account he found, for himself and his readers, a radiant microcosm. This is what must be renewed, redressed, re-examined , reaffirmed, to make new poetry.







I: Do you think that what you are saying there is just another way of stateing that the truth in a poem is a kind of truth that is perennial but not archaic; or as Emerson put it once: poetry must be as new as the foam on a beach and as old as the rocks.







P: Yes that’s good. It is also another way of saying that there can’t be any rules in poetry; there can’t be any correct definition of poetry; you can’t say the way it should be like. It’s something like what John Coltrane does: there’s sound in his head and he has to get it out. He occupies a certain emotional territory; there is improvisaton and spur of the moment stuff. This is also part of poetry. It is all part of that refining, clarifying, intensifying, of the eternal moment in which we alone live with a mysterious force behind us, a force that some call imagination but I think it is a composite of imagination, memory, thought, insight, interpretation, the heaven of mystery, the riddle of life, creative thought, the vibration of utterance. It is a freeing of the bonds of banality or just a simple contrast with the ordinariness and simplicity of existence with all its enigmas, contradictions and difficulties.







I: Williams says the poet should “get to the revelations which will restore values and meanings to our starved lives.” Do this, he goes on, in the context of an attitude to the writing of poetry that it is “the only work.” Contemplation of “what is” and losing one’s life in writing poetry, is the secret of creativity and renewal. Be nothing and be unaffected by the results of your writing, he goes on. What do you think of this philosophy of poetry?







P: I think it is brilliant. I would not claim to be able to restore values to civilization. I think that is the function of the Baha’i Faith; of course my poetry can help, can play a small part, at this state of play, quite an indefineable part. Baha’u’llah talks about an attitude to self which emphasizes “powerlessness” and “nothingness.” “The secret of self-realization”, He says, “is self-forgetfulness.” Rodin and Rilke talk about “the work” in the same vein. I was very much influenced by Rilke; White told me about his Letters to a Young Poet. This idea and Rilke’s general philosophy had influenced me strongly by 1992 when I began writing poetry seriously and extensively.







I: Williams says that writing poetry is the perfecting of “the ability to record at the moment when the consciousness is enlarged by the sympathies and the unity of understanding which the imagination gives.” This, he says, is what it means to unify the experience. “Style”, he says, is a living statement, a motion of the person who has suffered and given the poem birth, a witnessing and an adjusting. “Form” involves reshaping, opening and the re-entry of attention or imagination.







P: Succinct, to the point. There are so many definitions of form and style. I like this one. There’s a pithy freshness to it. It places the emphasis on a personal realization of actuality, the actual events in one’s life or as one knows them to be in history. One tries to penetrate with poetry some crevice of understanding in a fresh and unique way. This gives a richly organic coherence to one’s work; it results in a constantly rediscovered life. This is how Williams puts it himself. And it expresses what I have been trying to do all these years.







I rather like what Williams says in the last paragraph of his book. He says that life is “the longest journey.” We all face that journey and we all face a “must.” We are all called in life and we all must respond. Sometimes the call and the response is distorted by fear or denial; sometimes the call is never heard at all, or it is heard so faintly and obscurely that anything that could be called a coherent and sustained response is never forthcoming. The poet is faced with a clear response, a simple ‘must.’ This is the primary meaning of my encounter with the actual world. This is how I have seen the ‘must.’ This is the description of my own particular “longest journey.”







23 February 2000







INTERVIEW 14







The poetry I have written in the years 1987 to 2001 and sent to the Baha’i World Centre Library in celebration of the Mt. Carmel Project is accompanied, now, by fourteen interviews. These interviews are unusual in the sense that they are interviews with myself. I have found the interview format useful for an exposition, an analysis, of my poetry. At an average of one interview a year over this period these interviews provide a helpful commentary of some twenty to thirty thousand words on a collection of poetry amounting to some two to three million words.

-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 10 October 2000.







INTERVIEWER(I):







Many poets, writers and reviewers are of the view that as we head into the twenty-first century the process and content of reviewing are in bad health. With a critical outrage and sympathy, the chylla and charybdis of reviewing, at the ends of a reviewing polarity it is difficult for many reviewers to get a balance. Reviewing often becomes favour trading; or it becomes simply the airing of a positive as opposed to a negative bias. Some critics are in the habit of applauding the work of poets. Others take the opposite tack and are always critical. With no standard and no centre any more, some say that judgement becomes impossible. Where do we go from here?








PRICE(P):







It is true that the world at large has no centre, no standard. But the Baha’i community certainly does. There is a solid body of advice given to Baha’is who write and that serves as a centre of guidance, along with the spiritual, moral and administrative centre of their Faith. The Baha’i must aim to write in a way that meets the many criteria that are contained in the extracts from the Baha’i Writings setting out the general perspective or framework within which Baha’is should write. I will give you an example. Writing should not cause dissension; there should be an etiquette of expression, tact and wisdom. There is, too, a critical tradition of poetic comment and analysis going back hundreds of years, for me, at least to Shakespeare. It is a tradition of evaluation that presents life’s and poetry’s contradictions and inconsistencies, twistings and turnings without invoking the wrath of the gods.







I: Poetry has become, along with so many other things, an international phenomenon. Yet poetry also needs a local flavour. Could you comment on this local-cosmopolitan dichotomy?







P: I have written about this before but I would also like to add that aptness, what is appropriate for the occasion, what is timely, suitable for disclosure, suitable for the capacity of those who hear it, all must be considered. Also the garment of words can not clothe many truths and they can only be left unclothed, otherwise known as the myriad of mysteries. Moderation and refinement are an important part of poetic expression whether one is writing from a local, regional or international perspective. Some poets do not think ‘place’; they think ‘change’ and ‘continuities’ For me both emphases are important to my work, to my consciousness of selfhood, to the meaning of myself, what I am about.







I: Seamus Heaney sees conversation and contact with what Auden calls ‘ironic points of light’ in your life, the ring of vigilance around your life which is your circle of associations, friendships, community, the kindness and warmth as well as the sardonic intelligence of people close to you, are an important base of trust, something that needs to be internalized, with all its springiness. The sureness of a literary voice derives from a set of convictions and attitudes, from the enjoyment and exercise of one’s own natural gifts in silence and from this ring of vigilance that Auden says is an important basis of trust. Isn’t that a brilliant way of putting it?







P: There is so much that can be said about ‘voice.’ Heaney’s description is clever, beautiful in its own way. Huxley once wrote that ‘the whole universe is implicit in every detail of it; the meditative eye can look at a single item as if it was through a window into the cosmos;’ or, as Robert Burns put it, ‘ to behold the universe in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour.’ One can go a long way into the basis of voice with the philosophy implied in these quotations.







I: The contemporary poet Thomas Gunn said that he was not able to write prose well until his late forties; whereas, he began writing poetry much earlier, I think while he was at university in his twenties and refined that art in those early years. It was the other way around for you, wasn’t it?







P: Yes, I was in my late forties before I began to write poetry seriously, although I did write the occasional poem as early as my mid-to-late teens. All assignments in school were in prose; all reports in my employment were in prose. All post-graduate work for advanced degrees were in prose. I got better at it with practice. By the age of thirty I began to feel confident with prose.







I: You have included with these forty booklets of poetry1 a twenty-minute (or was it ten?) radio interview on cassette tape and two half hour radio programs on a mini-disc in which you were the program presenter. You’ve also included a sample of essays, photographs and letters. Why did you do this?(1Now 47 booklets at April 2002)







P: I thought they would be useful embellishments, contrasting material that would throw light on the poetry and on the person writing the poetry. They would also help to add a personal, human, touch. I have written a great deal of poetry and with these additions, some future reader will be able to hear me talk and to listen to my views, presented in a written and oral way. With the occasional photo spread throughout the poetry, the series of photographs outlining the development of the Mt. Carmel Project and the essays introducing each booklet, future readers have quite a comprehensive picture of one poet during a critical stage in the expansion and consolidation of the Baha’i Faith. Given the difficulty of poets who are Baha’is getting published at this stage in the growth of the Cause, this material should serve as a historical base for future study.







I: Robert Pinsky, the American poet Laureate said recently that as poets: “one great task we have to answer for is the keeping of an art that we did not invent, but were given, so that others who come after us can have it if they want it, as free to chop and change it as we have been.” Could you comment on this sentiment, this concept?







P: At some time in the early 1990s I acquired the sense of participation in this poetic art, this great tradition, which I did not invent but which I was given, which I feel I inherited, with little doubt, from Roger White. I have changed my inheritance quite significantly as far as I can see from examining the poetry, both of Baha’is who are poets and the great poetical tradition of the twentieth century. The style, the form, the content of my poetry has, I feel, a unique resonance, a resonance clearly suited to my needs and interests. I like to think that those who read my poetry will appreciate the particular way it reflects my commitment and something of my driven nature. For to write an average of two poems a day for eight years requires a passion, a certain obsession. But I make no attempt to justify my poetry or persuade anyone to read it. Neither do I feel defeated by the neglect that it seems destined to suffer in the short term, if not during the entire time I am alive.







I: Do you think there is any relationship between your interest and activity in poetry and your experience with music?








P: I think it is difficult to establish causation between the two art forms. I had had nearly fifty years of musical experience before poetry became a serious part of my day-to-day life. Both my parents sang in choirs and played the piano in our home from the time I was a young child. I was exposed to classical music and enjoyed it all my life. Other kinds of music, playing the guitar, leading sing-alongs were part of my life from the 1960s to 1990s. By the 1990s I seemed to need something new, something to recreate me so to speak. Music could not do it anymore; nor could people in groups or sex. Poetry came into a vacuum and filled it to overflowing, gave it a complexity and depth that only the written word could do.








I: Some will say that the poetry you write is a degenerated poetry, degenerated into lineated prose, divorced from the metrical tradition, the great tree of poetry that concerns itself with accent marks, typographical symbols, rhythm and rhyme. Do you agree with this opinion, this view?








P: Unquestionably, although I’m not sure I would use the word degeneration. Metre and rhyme are a means to an end. I choose not to use this means. I go about things differently. I am a person with a great deal to say. Some may find what I say a little clumsy, a little complex and weighty, lacking in the flow of rhyme and metre, not really poetry as they think of it. I’m sure that is the case even with the small sample of people to whom I have given my poetry already. What I am doing is stepping back from the everyday, from the whirlwind, the tempest, the great confusion of quotidian reality in all its burgeoning vastness and intricacy. I am stepping back and fashioning my individual poetic, fashioning in a very real sense my experience, my life. I am creating a poetic art and freeing my imagination of the experience that crowds, the dense shapes that strain to be released. In the process I define my direction, clean up some of the ineluctable clutter of my life and consolidate the many revolutions that have occurred in the course of my own individual life and the life of my society. I am the choreographer, the producer, the director of my life in the act of writing poetry. And I have lots of company right back to Chaucer in the English tradition who do it my way or some small variant of my way.











I: You are a poet who draws extensively on the social sciences and literary criticism. You have outlined some of your influences in previous interviews. Are there any recent developments, any recent influences, ones that you have not mentioned before, that have had an effect on your writing of poetry?







P: Yes, I have become aware of the usefulness of ideas from the philosophical and sociological fields of existentialism and phenomenology. There are only some ideas in these fields which speak to what I am trying to do, but some of the ideas in these fields are absolutely spot on, pertinent to my own poetic endeavour. I will give but one example: the work of Merleau-Ponty. His primary tenet, his core emphasis, is defining things, relating to things as they are viewed. The individual defines both himself and his world through what he calls immediate experience, the Lebenswelt. “We are condemned” he writes “to meaning.” Poetry is “like art, the act of bringing truth into being.”1 The poet does this, Merleau-Ponty would add, by being in the world. I could go on but, generally, I find the Baha’i teachings open me up to influences from so many quarters. The Cause acts like one grand synthesizing medium. A great deal of material is rejected but a great deal is helpful to laying a foundation, to defining the perspective, to articulating what I am trying to do and am doing in my poetry.(1 See Web Site: cswyatt@tameri.com)







I find the fields of philosophy and sociology useful to what I am trying to say in poetry. I tend to draw heavily on the social sciences and humanities rather than the physical and biological sciences which only make an occasional appearance in my work. But there is never a shortage of material from the phenomenal world, from the atoms of existence and the essence of all created things, as Baha’u’llah calls the domain He has ordained for our training.







I: Joseph Brodsky, American poet laureate in 1991/2, said that the creative process “just happens” for him. He gets “several words” in his mind. They start to sound, to move and regroup. But there is no particular routine or system. Do you find the creative process is similar for you?







P: There is certainly something of what Brodsky says in my own experience. There is often a trigger to the “just happens” part of it. The trigger will be something I am reading, something that happens in my life now or in the past. Memory is highly suggestive, mnemonic, for me, for my creative process. But the “several words” forming is just about spot on, a very accurate way of putting it. The spontaneity of the process is a significant part of the pleasure of writing poetry. But, as Arthur Koestler once put it, in writing about inspiration, it is ninety-nine per cent perspiration. I don’t think the inspiration would have come for me in these years of my middle age without many years of perspiration in teaching, study, marriage and life in general. There is a complex interaction between life and poetry. As one writer put it: life is the root of the plant and poetry one of its flowers.







I: The American poet W.S. Merwin said(Interview with John White 22/12/99) that poetry and prose have been growing apart for centuries and that prose has become the dominant of the two. Do you think this is true?







P: From Chaucer to Shakespeare poetry and prose were, it seems to me, significantly very similar and often the same in form. I think of Shakespeare’s plays as both poetry and prose and Chaucer’s works too. But once we get into the seventeenth century poetry seems to begin its journey, if it had not already begun, to occupy a separate genre. In our own time, in the last half of the twentieth century, prose and poetry have certainly joined hands more frequently. But people generally still see poetry as quite distinct from prose. I think of this coming together as a process that began in our 'modern age' with Wordsworth. It is certainly characteristic of my poetry. My poetry is as much prose as it is poetry. These two forms have been coming together, at least in certain circles for a long time. Even if the general public sees poetry as a distinct genre, for many poets, and I am one, poetry and prose are, for the most part, the same.







I: Just to give this interview, and perhaps the series, an appropriate closure, could you read one of your poems, a poem that symbolizes in its own way, something of your style and approach to writing poetry?







P: Certainly. I’ve got a poem here which I’ve just finished today. It shows the relationship between my current reading in sociology, a TV program I watched yesterday called “Birds Behaving Badly” and some of my perspectives on the writing of poetry. My poems, as you know, often have a long prose preamble to set a context. This poem is no exception. I see these preambles as an integral part of my prose-poetry style.....thank you for your questions.....it was good talking to you.......




NOT FIXED

My understanding, and therefore my poetry, is based on the ties of my present horizons, my knowledge and my experience. But these limits, these constraints on my understanding, can be transcended through exposure to the discourse of others, to culture and its linguistically encoded traditions, to history in which my understanding is bound and embedded, and through the simple recognition of one’s limits and thus the possibilities of transcending them. In addition, my understanding and my poetry relies on scientific understanding, critical interpretation and assumptions that are unreflectively inherited from my cultural traditions. The meaning of my experience and the texts I read are not fixed but change over time and are distilled from my participation in a social universe. My poetry is also a product of a mental rhythm alternating between a virtual intoxication with the flow of life-experiences and a calm sobriety where the landscape of my judgements and the fabric of my conscious acts glue together, fix, my place in the world.-Ron Price with thanks to various writers on Phenomonology and Hermeneutics, 20 December 2000.







You’d think productivity was




the central explanatory principle



behind this great mass of poetry



and its continually flowing stream.







It’s more a weaving of meaning,



a river of consciousness



where the bird dives



creating a splash,



getting a fish



and taking off



to feed her chicks.







And, so, I feed my chicks,



create my own world,



orient myself to life,



its strangeness and familiarity,



its habit and taken-for-grantedness,



its corporeality and intersubjectivity,



its self and common sense.1







And trying to feed my babies



I have often lost the plot



and, having to start all over,



flying above the blue waters



under the sapphire sky,



I plan my attack yet again,



reaching under the ocean’s waves



for the fresh and tender food of life.







1 Mary Rogers, A Phenomenological Critique, Cambridge UP, NY, 1983, p. 1.







Ron Price



20 December 2000




INTERVIEW 15

Interviewer:(I)

Now that you have finished sending your poetry to the Bahá'í World Centre Library, fourteen years of poetry, nearly all of what you had written up to the end of the twentieth century; now that you have been out of full-time employment in the teaching profession for over two years, I think it's timely that we continue these interviews as a means of marking your progress or the lack of it and as a means of defining the ongoing process that is involved in your personal and poetic life. This seems like to good time to catch you in: it's quiet; it's raining; we won't be disturbed, although you might get a little tired since it's after midnight. If you do we'll finish this interview in the morning after you've had your haircut. How does all that sound to you?







Price:(P)







Yes that's fine, but I'll just get some Weet-Bix if you don't mind and put on Beethoven's Fourth Symphony as a little background music.(Gets up and returns with Weet-Bix and puts Beethoven on his record player)







I: How is the writing coming along?







P: Quantitatively I think I'm averaging about 8 hours a day of reading and writing, although I don't time myself: a little in the morning, the afternoon and evening. Qualitatively it is always difficult to measure quality. I tried novels, three or four attempts, but ground to a halt after several thousand words on any one attempt. I could list several essays and odds and ends for magazines which I have been able to get published since 1999 but the poetry is still centre-stage, still magnifying my life and what I'm thinking about, making it new again, making it shine, as David Malouf once put it in discussing poetry..... Look, let's pick this up in the morning. I'm getting a little too tired for this.....







I: Sure(they go off.....) See you in the morning......







P: (early afternoon) Sorry for putting you off so long; I hope you enjoyed your walk around Pipeclay Bay and down at Bass Strait and Low Head. There were a number of important emails that came in today: several form Western Australia and two from the Bahá'í World Centre. I also wanted to listen to an interview with Robert Dessaix and get some information off the Internet on Somerset Maugham. I'm always better after lunch anyway....







I: You are now working on your 47th booklet of poetry and are at the end of your ninth year of serious writing with an output of about 5500 poems. Are you producing more poetry now that you have freed yourself from the various constraints you operated under until mid-1999? What do you think keeps you at it, at the poetic response?







P: Keeping track of how many poems one writes after several years gets a little tiresome. But I don't think I'm writing any more poetry now than I was when I was a teacher and a Bahá'í in a larger Bahá'í community. I would guesstimate that I am writing now, as I have been for many years, a little less than two poems a day. Essays and interviews help me clarify what I'm trying to do; novels seem to get in the poetic road.







Also, I have an immense freedom now that I did not have before. I'm not famous; I'm an unknown really, so noone is watching over me. Poetry makes you focus on reality, on what happens inside your head and in the world. So, although it looks like escapism, what I am doing, it is really quite an intense involvement in life. When you write poetry, the poem takes you on a trip, not a fantasy or an escape, but an integrative exercise where everything in your life, your knowledge and your experience, comes together to focus on a particular direction that the poem is assuming as you write. There is a bit of a risk, a bit of a punt in the process; life, a spark, has arisen between what you see, what the external experience is, and what's inside you. You could call this the spark of reflection, an arising from, an answering to, the depths of your life.







I: To keep churning out these poems you must have something to say and, of course, you can't always take that for granted, can you? There's no guarantee, is there?







P: No, that's true. I remember reading about Emerson's concern, quite a strong one if I recall, that his creative edge would disappear and he'd have nothing more to write. Well, in nine years that has not happened to me. There always seems to be a reservoire of something, a rich interaction between the three foci in my poetry: my self-society-religion, churning out those sparks I mentioned above. And the Internet is paying off more than I dreamed. There is enough print there to keep the fires stocked forever. That was a bit of a worry before I retired because, while I was living in Perth, I'd been used to having a dozen or more books around my study at any one time from several libraries in that big city.







I: Now that your role in life is quite different, now that you spend your time largely with print and much less with people, as you did when you were a teacher and going to "endless meetings", as you once put it, do you feel any different?







P: Well, I can't call myself a teacher now, perhaps a "retired teacher." I'm not "the chairman" or "the secretary" of the LSA; I don't have to respond to as many 'personal requests for my time' as I did, say, from 1992 to 1999. I still feel it's a little pretentious to call myself "a poet." As one poet I once read in an interview put it: other people can call you a poet. I'm happy to say 'I write poems' or 'I write prose-poems' or 'I do alot of writing.' Also, I'm still a husband and a father, a step-father, an uncle, a step-grandfather. These roles take some of the edge off the immense amount of solitude which is at the centre of my life. I'd say generally that I'm much more organized and, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá once put it in a letter, more focused on a single point.1 I am trying, as He put it in that same context, to become an effective force.2







I: How do you see your role as a Bahá'í now? Is it different than it was in, say, the 1990s?







P: I am one of those Bahá'ís who lived through those "three decades of struggle, learning and sacrifice"(1964-1994)3 and who is now trying "to capitalize on the insights gained" by these years of experience. I trust that what is now, for me, more than forty years of service will refine my present endeavour and purify my motivation so that I will be "worthy of so great a trust,"4 the continued involvement in the prosecution of the Divine Plan.







I have always, at least since October 1964 when I was first exposed to what could be called 'the military metaphor' in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, seen the whole exercise, the whole experience as a Bahá'í, in terms of a very serious undertaking. Life was no game, no fun parlour, it was serious business, very serious. As two of the teachers I had back in 1964 put it: it was war! But the war is played out in the theatre of our daily lives. By the late 1990s, as I approached the age of 55, I had worn myself out in the particular theatre of operations where I lived. So I moved to northern Tasmania to refocus, recoup, redirect my energies. This I am doing.







I: You seem to have quite a range of content in your poetry: from the great processes of history to the ordinary little things. Could you put this aspect of your poetry into persepctive for us?







P: All the little things that happen to us in our lives never gets recorded. I try to get some of them into my poetry, so that they won't get lost. All that is not recorded--and there is so much--needs to get a look in now and then. You can't get it all down or we'd all drown in the trivia, the boredom and the chowder as well as the 'deep and meaningfuls.' I want to preserve things, some of the rich experience of these decades, some of the sacrifice, learning and struggle, some of the things that never get into messages and letters. I want to keep it and keep it in context. My poetry provides a host of contexts for our Bahá'í experience. Generally the contexts are three: my own life, my community's, my society's and the world's.







I: Isn't there something in your poetry about making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar, to choose someone's clever phrase?







P: No question about it. But it's time for my afternoon walk. I've had about four hours of pushing words up a hill or down a hill or along the plain and it's time to take by body, the temple of my soul, and give it something to do than sitting, walking around this house and talking to you.







I: Can I join you? Sure, Bring your tape-recorder if you want.







P:











1 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Haifa, 1978, p.111.



2 idem



3 The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p.108.



4 ibid.,p.111.







Ron Price



15 August 2001







INTERVIEW 16







Interviewer:(I)







Now that you have finished sending your poetry to the Bahá'í World Centre Library in celebration of the Arc Project, fourteen years of poetry, nearly all of what you had written up to the end of the twentieth century; now that you have been out of full-time employment in the teaching profession and out of an extensive attendance at Bahá'í meetings of various kinds for some four years; now that you are in your forty-first year of pioneering, I think it's timely that we continue these interviews as a means of marking your progress or the lack of it and as a means of defining the ongoing process that is involved in your personal and poetic life. This seems like a good time to catch you in: it's quiet; it's raining; we won't be disturbed, although you might get a little tired since it's after midnight. If you do, we'll finish this interview in the morning after you've had your haircut. How does all that sound to you?







Price:(P)







Yes that's fine, but I'll just get some Weet-Bix if you don't mind and put on Beethoven's Fourth Symphony as a little background music.(Gets up, returns with Weet-Bix and puts the Beethoven record on his record player)







I: How is the writing coming along?







P: Quantitatively I think I'm averaging about 8 hours a day of reading and writing, although I don't time myself: a little in the morning, the afternoon and evening. Qualitatively it is always difficult to measure quality. I tried writing novels in the last four years, a half a dozen attempts, but I ground to a halt after several thousand words on any one attempt. I could list several essays, odds and ends for magazines, a lot of stuff on the internet which I have been able to get published or located at various sites since 1999, but the poetry is still centre-stage, still magnifying my life and the life of the Cause and what I'm thinking about, making it new again, making it shine, as David Malouf once put it in discussing poetry..... Look, let's pick this up in the morning. I'm getting a little too tired for this.....







I: Sure(they go off chatting away.....) See you in the morning......sure thing....







P: (early afternoon) Sorry for putting you off so long; I hope you enjoyed your walk around Pipeclay Bay and down at Bass Strait and Low Head. There were a number of important e-mails that came in this morning: several form Western Australia and two from the Bahá'í World Centre. I also wanted to listen to an interview with Robert Dessaix and get some information off the Internet on Somerset Maugham. I'm always better after lunch anyway....







I: You are now working on your 51st booklet of poetry and are in your eleventh year of serious writing with an output of some 5700 poems. Are you producing more poetry now that you have freed yourself from the various constraints you operated under until mid-1999 as a teacher and as a Bahá'í in a big metropolitan community? And what do you think keeps you at it, at the poetic response?







P: Keeping track of how many poems one writes after several years gets a little tiresome. But I don't think I'm writing any more poetry now than I was when I was a teacher and a Bahá'í in a large Bahá'í community. I would guesstimate that I am writing now, as I have been for many years, a little less than two poems a day. Essays and interviews help me clarify what I'm trying to do; novels seem to get in the poetic road. The half a dozen attempts since I retired are gathering dust in my files. Maybe I'll get back to them someday.







Also, I have an immense freedom now that I did not have before. I'm not famous; I'm an unknown really, so noone is watching over me. There is none of that pressure which comes from being in some public's eye. And I use that freedom to write poetry. The poetry I write makes me focus on reality, on what happens inside my head and out in the world. So, although it looks like escapism, what I am doing, it is really quite an intense involvement in life. When you write poetry, the poem takes you on a trip, not a fantasy or an escape, but an integrative exercise where everything in your life, your knowledge and your experience, comes together to focus on a particular direction that the poem is assuming as you write. There is a bit of a risk, a bit of a punt in the process. Life, a spark, arises between what you see, what the external experience is, and what's inside you. You could call this the spark of reflection, an arising from, an answering to, the depths of your life.





I: To keep churning out these poems you must have something to say and, of course, you can't always take that for granted, can you? There's no guarantee, is there?







P: No, that's true. I remember reading about Emerson's concern, quite a strong one if I recall, that his creative edge would disappear and he'd have nothing more to write. Well, in nine years that has not happened to me. There always seems to be a reservoir of something, a rich interaction between the three foci in my poetry: my self-society-religion, churning out those sparks I mentioned above. And the Internet is paying off more than I dreamed. There is enough print there to keep the fires stocked forever. That was a bit of a worry before I retired because, while I was living in Perth, I'd been used to having a dozen or more books around my study at any one time from several libraries in that big city. Finally, this period, both in the Bahá'í community and in history, is part of a great climacteric, a great paradigmatic shift. There is just a teeming mass of stuff to put on paper, it seems to me.



I: Now that your role in life is quite different, now that you spend your time largely with print and much less with people, as you did when you were a teacher and going to "endless meetings", as you once put it, do you feel any different



P: Well, I can't call myself a teacher now, perhaps a "retired teacher." I'm not "the chairman" or "the secretary" of the LSA; I don't have to respond to as many 'personal requests for my time' as I did, say, from 1992 to 1999. I have a short radio program; I teach a class in creative writing; my main boss is my wife now and I'm learning to do the domestic work to her satisfaciton. I still feel it's a little pretentious to call myself "a poet." As one poet I once read in an interview put it: other people can call me a poet. I prefer to say: 'I write poems' or 'I write prose-poems' or 'I do alot of writing.' Also, I'm still a husband and a father, a step-father, an uncle, a step-grandfather. These roles take some of the edge off the immense amount of solitude which is at the centre of my life. I'd say generally that I'm much more organized and, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá once put it in a letter, more focused on a single point.1 I am trying, as He put it in that same context, to become an effective force.2



I: How do you see your role as a Bahá'í now? Is it different than it was in, say, the 1990s?



P: I am one of those Bahá'ís who lived through those "three decades of struggle, learning and sacrifice"(1964-1994)3 and who is now trying "to capitalize on the insights gained" by these years of experience. I trust that what is now, for me, more than forty years of pioneering service will refine my present endeavour and purify my motivation so that I will be, as the House says in that book Century of Light "worthy of so great a trust,"4 the continued involvement in the prosecution of the Divine Plan.



I have always, at least since October 1964 when I was first exposed to what could be called 'the military metaphor' in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, seen the whole exercise, my whole experience as a Bahá'í, in terms of a very serious undertaking. Life was no game, no fun parlour, it was serious business, very serious. As two of the teachers I had back in 1964 put it: it was war! But the war is played out in the theatre of our daily lives. My thirty-two years in Australia have taught me to play it with humour. By the late 1990s, as I approached the age of 55, I had worn myself out in the particular theatre of operations where I lived. It had not been the first time. So I moved to northern Tasmania to refocus, recoup, redirect my energies. This I am now doing.



I: You seem to have quite a range of content in your poetry: from the great processes of history to the ordinary little things. Could you put this aspect of your poetry into perspective for us



P: All the little things that happen to us in our lives never get recorded. I try to get some of them into my poetry, so that they won't get lost. All that is not recorded--and there is so much--needs to get a look in now and then. You can't get it all down or we'd all drown in the trivia, the boredom and the chowder as well as the 'deep and meaningfuls.' I want to preserve things, some of the rich experience of these past decades, some of the sacrifice, learning and struggle, some of the things that never get into messages and letters. I want to keep this recent history and keep it in context. My poetry provides a host of contexts for our Bahá'í experience. Generally the contexts are three: my own life, my community's, my society's and the world's.



Also, and finally with respect to your question, language, the language I use in poetry, is a way of defining who I am, of defining what holds us together in our communities as Bahá'ís, of specifying identity. To do this I have to relive history, to relive the big and the small. They are both part, important parts, of the complex and simple world we live in.



I: Isn't there something in your poetry about making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar, to choose someone's clever phrase?



P: No question about it. But it's time for my afternoon walk. I've had about five hours of pushing words up a hill or down a hill or along the plane and it's time to take by body, the temple of my soul, and give it something to do other than sitting, walking around this house and talking to you.



I: Can I join you?



P: If you don't mind listening to my saying prayers out loud. That's one of the main functions of my walk.(the two go off on a walk and return)



P: That was a pleasant hour. It is an important hour to me to get that exercise, to do some deep breathing to counter a COPD(chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), to say some prayers for a range of purposes not the least of which is protection, the purposes are multiple and are indicated by each prayer and too many to outline here. The prayers also allow me to finish off the eight hours that are my working day. With the interviews I hear on the radio, the news programs, the dinner and lunch, the domestic work and a little TV, the day passes very pleasantly. This is how I am spending my recuperative period, my preparation period, my time of an intensive writing of poetry.





I: Two more questions: one is a similar one asked of Australian writer David Malouf by Helen Daniel about the stillness in his novels. Do you think your poetry slows life down or moves things along?



P: I think it does both. With many of my poems I want time to stop completely so that I can move into the moment, explore the second, the event, over many stanzas. At other times I want my poem to survey a vast track of land, of space, of time and only this poem can take such enormous distances and focus them as succinctly as I do on, say, one page. Time and space are dimensions in your hands as a poet which you can play with great freedom and purpose.



I: Finally, I understand you have been working on an autobiographical narrative. Could you tell us a little about it?



P: There is a strong autobiographical aspect to my poetry. After twenty years of working on my autobiographical narrative and feeling it was an inadequate piece of work, I was finally able to come up with an approach which gave me some personal satisfaction. I was able to combine poetry and narrative, analysis of autobiography from what has become an extensive literature and commentary on the Bahá'í Faith and society. The mix is not quite right yet, but the base is there for future editions. It needs to be trimmed back a little. At 500 pages I don't think anyone would want to read it!5



I: Thanks, sounds interesting. I think that is all for now. I look forward to returning to these and other themes in the years ahead. Happy writing and happy living, Ron.



P: You, too! What was your name again?



1 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Haifa, 1978, p.111.

2 idem

3 The Universal House of Justice, Century of Light, p.108.

4 ibid.,p.111.

5 This autobiography can be found at my website: go to 'BOOK' and 'chapters.' URL: http://bahaipioneering.bahaisite.co





Ron Price

16 March 2003



                        INTERVIEW 19

The interview below is intended to provide some helpful perspectives in relation to my poetry. Anyone interested in following-up on this interview, in obtaining more details on my approach to poetry, can read a number of the other 18 interviews, book reviews, history, poetry, etc. available on the Internet at: ronprice@ozemail.com.au



Note: All 'interviews' are simulations and this one was prepared as part of a package inclusion in a booklet called Twenty Years On for the Bahá'í Council of the Northern Territory late in 2002.



Interviewer: (I) Would you say your poetry has evolved, especially in the last twenty years, to serve specialized uses that cannot be served by other means?



Price: (P) Poetry, for me, serves many uses: some academic, some exegetical, interpretive, imaginative, some narrative, some active, some polemical, some autobiographical, some creative, some communal-community oriented, some confessional, some conversational, some identity defining: my identity, my society, my religion, my ideas. I think I can achieve these ends, serve these uses or purposes in other forms of writing but not as efficiently, as conveniently, as succinctly, as through poetry.



I've tried novels, some dozen efforts in the last twenty years but the furthest I've got is about 30,000 words, perhaps twice; I've tried autobiographical narrative twice: 30,000 and then 60,000 words in a second edition. Maybe someone will publish it long after I've gone. I've kept a journal, a diary, off-and-on, even retrospectively, becoming a narrative in the century 1944 going back to 1844. This loose, drifting material of life, as Virginia Woolf calls it, this place where one flings a mass of odds and ends, I only turn to occasionally, perhaps half a dozen times a year these days. Maybe I'll utilize this genre in my later adulthood. I've never counted the words but it occupies four volumes here in my study.



Essays give my poetry the only real competition it needs to concern itself with. I must have 150 essays unpublished and another 150 published. I tend to turn to the essay for some extended piece of thinking and writing. It is about as extended as I want to be, say, two or three thousand words. This amounts to two to three hundred thousand words. I write short, two to three hundred word, items for magazines and letters to family and friends, publishers and magazines. Finally, I keep notes on a myriad subjects in over one hundred binders in my study. But, without question, poetry is king for me and has been for ten years: 1992 to 2002.



I: Could you comment on the notion of form in your poetry?



P: Over these ten years a poem has become for me, firstly, a combination of prose and poetry. I usually introduce a poem with a prose epilogue, often quite a long epilogue, one of fifty to a hundred words and sometimes two hundred or more words. I think my poetry has as its first major feature this prose-poetry form. Perhaps the word category is better than form; it is certainly another word I'd use to provide some typology, some organizational model for what I call poetry. My poems are conversational, autobiographical. They are my way of telling the story, a story, my story, or, as Robert Pinsky calls it, they are each a thing in itself, not a member of some category. Each poem is an organic crystallization of experience and thought. It involves the play, the interplay, of imagination and thought. The result is the experience of the power to discover form. For me, though, a poem's content is largely, though not entirely, independent of its form. I agree with poetry critic Jonathan Holden who says that the main anxiety of modern or postmodern poetry is "anxiety with respect to poetic convention." What is the most suitable form for my verse, for what I want to write? Since there is no sure sense of what poetic form should be, what are the most favourable conditions for my poetry? In the last ten years I found a form, a style, that was suited for where I was at in my life--a man in his fifties on the edge of retirement from his profession-- and where society was at, if I can be so presumptuous to define such a complex thing.



I: Since so much of your poetry could be labelled conversational poetry, could you tell us a little about how you see it in overview?




P: In conversational poetry the poet or the speaker in the poem is not famous or well known. They are ordinary men and women, unless the persona they create for a particular poem is famous in some way. In my case the ordinary person is myself sharing the same quotidian life as my readers. If I am to get the attention of the reader I must establish some element of extraordinariness in my poem, in my conversation. Unless it is at least equal in value in some way to the best or the most useful conversation the poem has no raison d'etre. I'm sure that is the main reason why most of what I write, what most poets write, fails to attract a readership. People find other art forms, other activities including conversation, quite simply more attractive, more engaging. For the most part, there is little I can do about that. Wordsworth and many since him in the last two centuries wrote conversational poetry, but their language is now seen as hackneyed and obsolete, at least for most readers. Wordsworth's vision was lofty but it does not capture the modern imagination.





I certainly have vision in my poetry but getting the attention of readers is no simple art today. My free-verse, narrative, conversation poem or voice, what you could also call 'prose lyric,' establishes its authority, its arousal of interest, by means of some narrative, some ethical, tone inherent in the voice and sensibility of the poem. It's very informality and familiarity is its strength. Another type of conversational poem is the rhetorical, with its heightened and dignified language. It is digressive, abstract, meditative, speculative, philosophical in type. It establishes itself through an aesthetic, intellectual voice.











I colour my conversation like some stained-glass window which colours the daylight and, whereas conversation is generally lost to history, I see my poetry as more enduring since my intentions are to a large extent communal. My work is part of a texture of community, in this case the Bahá'í community, with its pretensions, aspirations, to a long range future and role to play in the history of global civilization.




I: The poet Robert Hillyer sees poetry as a more natural form of expression than prose. Poets often turn to what you might call non-literary analogues such as conversation, confession and dream to recover some of the favourable conditions for poetry. Do you agree with Hillyer?



P: He certainly tells it as I experience it. Of course, not everyone sees it the same way. But there is certainly a naturalness to poetry for me, unquestionably. But there is a naturalness for me in writing letters and essays too, but little naturalness in writing novels and diaries. Poems furnish a subtler vocabulary than other forms of writing for my experience, for how I want to write about my life, any life, any thing. My poetry is not narrowly self-involved, although some critics may find it so. It is not self-pitying and whiningly confessional, although occasionally it may slip into that niche. There is playfulness here and a facing of life's issues squarely, at least sometimes, like everyone else. I have been hurt, cowed and intimidated along with the rest of my fellow man by various situations in life and this rich, but not so happy experience, is reflected in my poetry. Yes, to answer your question, I think my poetry has that naturalness.



I: Do you think interviews like this help others to get into your poetry more easily?



P: I'm sure some will find interviews like this invaluable. They help provide a critical context and introduce readers to poems that might have eluded their notice. Here is someone explaining a context for my poetry and giving readers a certain illumination often before they have even seen the poetry. The aim is to enlarge the vision, the appreciation, of the reader. It is all part of trying to win over the reader. He or she has a lot of people playing for their attention. I know I have to work at it and, even if I work hard and do my darndest, the great bulk of the reading public in these early years of the twenty-first century is going to pass me by.



It's a ticklish business trying to describe poetry, trying to find the right words. The effect on a reader of a fully achieved poem can be no more rationally explained or methodized than a composer can explain a haunting melodic line, although one can try--and many do--I among them. I sometimes think I have analysed my poetry too much, that I have not learned to shut up.



So, perhaps, on that note, I'll shut up.



I: Thanks again, Ron, for your time. I'm sure we will pick up some of these threads again at a future interview. Happy writing!




INTERVIEW NUMBER 20

This is the 20th interview in nine years and the first since late in 2002. This interview was stimulated by reading some interviews in the poetry magazine called Poets and Writers and it was conducted over a period of about five weeks. In the last two years I have created and developed two volumes of interviews with poets and writers. These volumes serve as my archive for interviews with poets. There are dozens, no hundreds, of interviews available on the internet and in the last two years I’ve read many of them. I’ve been reading interviews for, perhaps, forty years. But this focus on interviews with poets is, at the most, ten years in the making: 1994-2004. I think this is part of my reason for continuing this interview process.







In interviews one frequently has the opportunity to reflect on what one is writing, compare and contrast it with the thoughts of other writers and poets and get as precise a view as possible of what one is writing, how one is going about it and why. The interview, simulated or otherwise, gives me the opportunity to synthesize my ideas, deal with questions and issues I have not dealt with before quite as specifically and gain fresh perspectives on the writing process.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, November 18th to December 25th, 2004.







Interviewer:(I) I understand your poetry writing has fallen off somewhat in the last two years, 2003-2004. Why is that?







Price:(P) I wrote an 800 page autobiography and spent six to eight months posting dozens and dozens of pieces of poetry and prose on internet sites. I’ve still managed to put out three booklets of poetry since the last interview in late 2002 and I’m working on a 4th with some fifty poems thusfar in this new collection, a collection which may take me over the 6000 poem mark. The work goes on.







I: Do you have a program, an outline, something you are aiming at in your poetry?







P: Yes and no. My poetry is its own program. It speaks for itself. I also try and take the hermetically sealed autobiographical poetic mode and give it a good mix and shake with the historical, the psychological, the sociological, the spiritual, so much that exists in the world of the social sciences and the humanities. That is quite a conscious part of my program, my aim, my purpose in writing. I try to make use of what is known and give a fresh take on it by means of juxtaposition, blending, contrast, comparing, mixing, et cetera, and take what is not known and give readers a sense of surprise. I create, in the process, what you might call my own personal aesthetic, my voice. I define my heritage, my historical inheritance, my life and my community. Some readers can come with me and others, inevitably, can’t relate to my voice. Such is life. Such a situation is as common as air.







I: A memoir, a poem, presents an opportunity to think, to remember, to put into motion the engine of imagination—it’s revisable or at least it should be so. Is that a summary of much that you have been writing lately?







P: Yes. I could say a great deal more, but the short answer is ‘yes.’







I: The poet Richard Howard said in a recent interview that “one writes the way one has to.” He also made the point that in recent years the manner of his prose has simplified and become a little stronger and more direct. He said he was pleased with that process, that direction to his writing. He also said that he thought his poetry was getting a little better with the years. This is Howard’s description of how his writing is coming along, how it is changing. Are these sentiments helpful to you in any way, to help you reflect on your own work over the years?







P: Well, there certainly seems some inner imperative when one writes. I’d have to agree with Howard there. I think, too, that my writing has got simpler with the years, both my poetry and prose. I find it hard to evaluate what I write. Something inner comes out, but whether it is good, bad or indifferent seems to be largely defined by the readers and there are such different views on that. In the end the term quality is a bit of an enigma. Some of the joy in what one writes lies, as W.B. Yeates put it, outside oneself and some of the joy lies within and other stuff is found in the mix between the two.







I: What constitutes a "failed" poem to you?







P: I’m not sure I could define or describe a failed poem, although I can easily say some things about poems that move me, that have special meaning and ones that don’t. There are some of my poems I particularly enjoy when I reread them and others which don’t seem to give me the sense that I am saying something interesting, unique, persuasive, provocative. I wrote one today, on this the last day of this interview. It was based on the movie The Way We Were. I even had my wife help me after the first draft. I rarely do this, but we shared a common experience and I thought she could be helpful. And she was. But the poem was still flat and ultimately not very satisfactory.







There are several internet sites at which I am asked to give an evaluation of someone else’s poetry. What gives me the sense of a fine poem that someone else wrote is when I feel the person is saying something new or any one or mix of those adjectives I referred to above. Poetry which says stuff you know only too well, poetry which is banal, trite, commonplace or, on the other hand, is so complicated you can’t understand it--that is poor poetry or failed poetry. It’s a poem that fails to attract my attention or give me pleasure.







I: Would you recommended that poets give their craft the same attention and discipline as, say, a violinist or a ballerina? What does discipline and attention in a poet look like? How do you "practice" poetry?







P: There are probably as many ways of practicing poetry as there are poets. Some poets don't think they have to take themselves as seriously as other artists do. They think that just because they feel something, they can turn that feeling into a poem. They have not got a sense of apprenticing themselves to their art. They need to be like violinists and ballerinas as well as carpenters and mechanics. Poets have to keep their tools sharp, immerse ourselves in good and great poems, good and great literature, be ready to respond to the life’s stimuli and be sensitive enough to be stimulated in the first place. The poet’s world is words, not paint and visual forms, or needle and thread or clay or cloth. One’s heart and head has got to be full or, at least it helps to have something going on in these departments.







I wrote poems from 1962 to 1992 and, looking back a dozen years later in 2004, I have a sense of those first thirty years serving me as apprentice-poet. For the sort of poetry I write I need to draw on a vast range of print: books, articles, essays, poetry, magazines; much from the electronic media: film, TV, radio, CDs, et cetera and a good deal of everyday life. I was nearly 50, the middle of middle-age, before I took my first steps as a serious poet.







I: Do you go out and look for experience to write about? You know the way some writers do: they search for the weird and the wild, the strange and the amusing so they can put the experience on paper.







P: By the time, as I say, that I began writing in any serious way, I was nearly fifty and by the time I retired from full-time employment and had the time to write in any full-time sense I was in my late fifties and I had had enough experience of the strange, the weird and the wild for a lifetime, for my lifetime. I wanted to stop having experience of that kind. I felt no need to travel, to have deep and meaningful relationships; I could get that from the print and electronic media if I wanted to see the bizarre, the eccentric, the romantic, the unusual. I was beginning to feel old. Retirement is not a word I back away from; rather, it is a word that aptly describes my current state: I have retired from so many things in life that filled my days to overflowing: teaching, meetings, endless chats/conversations, going-out, going somewhere, going here, going there, worrying about not enough sex, not enough money, not enough fun/excitement, et cetera.







I: We have discussed this question before, but how would you characterize the position of poetry in these earliest years of the new millennium?







P: I think Dana Gioia put it well in her recent essay in The Hudson Review(Spring, 2003). The average amount of time people spend with print is much less than an hour a day, with several hours devoted to the electronic media. In the last several decades there has been a shift from print to electronic media as the medium for information and entertainment--and poetry. Gioia defined the shift as ‘the end of print culture.’ I would not be as bleak. I think there is a lot of print being consumed, not much of it is poetry. Celebrities, personalities and human drama are all the rage in the media and, if poetry gets a mention at all, it is usually in the context of these rages, these themes. But, as Gioia emphasizes, the bulk of the new poetry today is not literary poetry but popular; it is oral: rap, cowboy poetry, slam poetry and the poetry of song, says Gioia; even advertising and sociology could be added as poetry, if one can believe some critics. And much of it is to be found in the oral media, the electronic media. This oral poetry is a big money spinner and is found in cafes, bars, on TV and the radio. It courts the public and the emphasis is on entertainment.







I: Where do you fit into this new mix?







P: I started writing poetry, first casually and then seriously, when this picture I have just described got going and became what it is today over the last several decades. My work, my poetry, is not part of this popular poetic culture, although I did play with this culture on its edges with several poetry readings beginning in the 1960s and 1970s continuing into the ‘90s, with playing the guitar, with sing-alongs, with listening to popular music for 40 years before writing poetry seriously. My work is predominantly written not oral. It fitted into the post-secondary and secondary educational scene where I worked for decades. Whatever reputation I have--and it is quite small--has been made in print and, for the most part, on the internet not in academia and not in the popular culture.







If I want to fit my poetry into popular culture I will have to make a move back into the oral domain or write about other topics. If I do, this will be at some time in the future in performance, oral, poetry. If I am able I may get into an audio-visual and visual poetry. How successful I will be at engaging a wider public remains to be seen. I am certainly not going after it these days.







I: The poet Anthony Hecht once said that W.H. Auden’s poetry infused the public domain with the private. Do you think this is an important part of your poetry?







P: Without a doubt. That is part of the core of what my autobiographical poetry is all about. I also infuse the contemporary with the historical, the simple and the complex. I mix the pot alot. Poetry, for me, is about words and ideas inspite of Mallarme’s view to the contrary.







I: Since you have written so much poetry--some 6000 poems in the last 25 years--several million words, how would you categorize it?







P: I’ve always liked Auden’s fourfold division which he outlined in the preface to his 1945 Collected Poetry. My division is not the same as his, but I am indebted to his idea, his concept, some of his framework. The first category is “pure rubbish” which I regret having conceived. The second is poetry containing good ideas but “never really coming to much.” The third are “satisfactory poems,” the bulk of my poetry, “but not important” in any way. The fourth category contains those poems for which I am “honestly grateful.” I could also make a twofold division of my poetry: “Baha’i themes and secular or non-Baha’i themes.” I have a “time-frame division” in which my booklets of poetry are divided into four time periods beginning in 1980 and ending in the present. One could also divide my poetry up into “historical time periods,” some involving the Baha’i Faith, some involving history’s phases.







I: Recently the New Scientist(2004) had an interview with a psychiatrist who also suffered from bi-polar disorder. Part of the interview involved an attempt to distinguish mania from exuberance.



I know you have suffered from this disorder. How would you make this distinction and how important is exuberance in writing poetry?







P: A significant percentage of people who have manic-depressive illness also have an underlying exuberant temperament at least at the high end of their swings. But most people who are exuberant do not have manic depressive illness. So exuberance is far from a pathological state for most people who have it. It is a highly valued and integral part of who they are. And if you understand the role of exuberance in manic-depression then you do get a perspective on exuberance because extremes in behaviour will always illuminate normal behaviour. Of course, there are limits to the comparisons. Exuberance, energy, enthusiasm, intensity were critical to my success as a teacher and in other roles in life. But after 20 years of bi-polar experience(1962-1982) I came to know when the energy was pathological. After 40 years(1962-2002) of life in the bi-polar world, I preferred the energy to be expressed in solitary pursuits like writing rather than the social where they had been centered until at least my mid-fifties from, say, 15 to 55.







I: When the Argentinian writer Jorge Louis Borges was interviewed in Montreal in 1968 he was asked by the interviewer why the knife as an object appeared so frequently in his short stories and if he was obsessed with the knife. Borges gave a fine, a logical answer. It seems to me that if you have any obsession in your poetry it is not with an object, but with a process: time. Do you agree?







P: I admit to a certain obsession which derives from a number of sources. I think I have answered this question before in previous interviews somewhere. I grew up in the shadow of the H-bomb; I was a teacher for 30 years; I’ve been a Baha’i and my adult life has been divided into plans, epochs, stages and phases, 19 day months, annual holidays, holy days, birthdays, equinoxes, solstices, seasons, sunset times, sunrise times, endless meetings, my culture worships the clock. I could go on and on. I think that’s enough.







I: You have such a range of titles: some fabulous, some downright obfuscating, some complex, some simple, some suggestive, some direct. They unfold and reverberate in the reader on so many levels at once. Sometimes the reader simply stops reading because he or she can’t connect with a particular title. I like to think of your titles as bridges or walls, bridges between your life, your society, your religion, your notions of the political, the social, the individual, or walls that can’t be jumped over without a lot of work. They seem to create a meeting place, at least for those who want to try, between all of the titles when they are put in a booklet or a book. Would you talk about what work, what job, what purpose, you intend for a title in an individual poem or between poems or even in overview for your whole epic collection of poetry: Pioneering Over Four Epochs?







P: Sure! I think this is one of the most interesting of the questions I’ve discussed in the first 20 interviews I’ve had in the last dozen years. A title involves the meaning of a thing, its happening. It occurs or predicts something that is going to occur with the language itself and with the subject matter. Finally, a title really ought to bring into balance the whole, the rest of the poem. The title is associative, as opposed to figurative. Quite literally something results from the title’s association with something else or its association with the specificity inherent in the title. Sometimes in selecting the title I am interested in raising difference and sometimes in comparing one thing to another, directly or indirectly. A title needn't be picturesque, although sometimes I aim for that quality. I also aim for what you might call an independent gesture, one that is sure, fresh, provocative, humorous. Even indifference in a title is a form of distance which I believe a poem requires occasionally in its title. This indifference, even disinterestedness, will eventually collapse, if the poem works. The title becomes a small, dignified ritual and is therefore not servile in relation to the whole poem. It is substantive, sometimes displays intention.







I want my poems to be as intimate as a couple making love at night on a beach, and I'd like the reader to roll off of them afterward, completing the triangulated relationship, to feel the sandy curve of the earth with his or her own belly. Of course, I don’t always or even often acheive this aim. I could also express my aim in more intellectual, more cognitive terms. But I want to be as brief as possible. The height of a warm summer and the cold mathematical abstraction of a winter in one of my poems are meant sometimes as a commentary on our lives and sometimes as an experience of them. The rhythm, the beat, of the poem is but another way to interpret the beating of the heart. I am trying to make, to bring, something alive, to be experienced physically, in the mind or the feelings. Roland Barthes talks about how this moment is like a child pointing to an object, but the object itself is nothing special. I like to think I am providing a moment of enlightenment about our age, our natures. Yet it's "nothing special," simply beautiful. This is the work, that is, the play, of language, the meaning of my life and, hopefully something of meaning to readers.1







I: Could you talk about the concept of identity which is important, not only in writing poetry, but also in one’s sense of self, of history, of culture, of so much of what makes us human?







P: Sure! I’ve been teaching about it, talking about it and thinking about it for decades. I’ll probably be a little complex here, but let me forge ahead anyway. I’ll try to be brief: my religious identity as a Baha’i acknowledges the place of history, language and culture in the construction of my particular subjectivity, my particular sense of who I am. I also acknowlege that all discourse, all writing, is placed, positioned and situated and all of my knowledge is contextual. I find it helpful, fertile, useful if this way of looking at my Baha’i identity is contested, subjected to a dialectic, if it arises from an assertion of a difference, a clash, of opinions. In this way my identity is based on, develops from, is clarified by a process of engaging and asserting difference rather than suppressing it. But this process of assertion requires an etiquette of expression, one that most people have yet to develop. And, of course, we don’t want to disagree on absolutely everything we say.







This identity acknowledges the reality of decentralised, diffuse but sometimes systematized knowledge; power which also has a diffuse set of sources and at the same time accepts the useful concepts of perifery and centre, margins and depths, surfaces and heights. Once we clarify the notion of identity, once it is redefined in a universal and non-derogatory way, once it engages difference without implying superiority and hierarchy, with due regard for the tenderness of language and the fragility of human personality, it is hoped that this will help the Baha’i community express its group consciousness, help it to develop in a manner which is unfettered by the accrued and often inaccurate associations of history and culture, tradition and ignorance.







I: You said that idea would be a bit complex and I can see what you mean. Anyway, thanks Ron. I look forward to continuing this discussion in the months and years ahead.







P: Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.







FOOTNOTES



1 I would like to thank Jane Miller, “An Interview with Jane Miller,” Electronic Poetry Review, 2002.



2 I would like to thank Emma Heggarty, “Native Peoples of Canada: Rewriting the Imaginary,” 14th April 2003, Internet, 2004.







Ron Price



December 25th 2004




INTERVIEW NUMBER 21:

WHAT IS BAHA’I ABOUT THE POETRY OF A BAHA’I?

Recently I read an interview with Diane Wakowski, poet and academic, in the journal of The Poetry Society of America. The interview was entitled: “What is American About American Poetry?” The interview got me pondering as to: “What is Baha’i about the poetry written by Baha’is?” Since Baha’i artists, poets and musicians, Baha’is involved in the creative and performing arts, have a bond between their work and the Baha’i writings and teachings there are two kinds of relationships from which, within which, the Baha’i teachings become manifest: one connects the artist with a world-wide social and artistic setting and the other relates his work to the ultimate Source of its inspiration. One has an outward reach and the other an inward one; one is basically social and the other mystical.1 It is this dual focus that provides the matrix for what constitutes the Baha’i component of the poetry written by a Baha’i, by this Baha’i. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Tudwig Tuman, Mirror of the Divine: Art in the Baha’i World Community, George Ronald, Oxford, 1993, p. 191.







I: How much has Tudwig Tuman contributed to your understanding of the characteristics of the social environment from an artistic point of view and of the basis for a durable relationship between society and the artist.







P: I first came across Tuman in an article in World Order magazine in 1975. I found his views provided a comprehensive, a historical, a Baha’i perspective that I have drawn on in my writing, in my poetry. This was reinforced when he published his Mirror of the Divine in 1992 and again in 2000 in a paper he delivered on the arts at a conference in Florida. Of course there are others who have contributed to my understanding of the arts, the artist, the poet, the writer and the role, the activity, of the Baha’i in these domains. Roger White, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and John Hatcher in poetry and literature; Bill Hatcher in philosophy, Will van den Hoonaard in sociology and Douglas Martin in history--to name just a few of the many I could name, all of whom have helped provide a cross-fertilization of artistic perspectives.







I: Are there essential ways in which you consider yourself a Baha’i poet?







P: I use the figures of the Bab, Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi--and their writings--in my poems time and time again. They contribute to the creation of what you might call my personal mythic self. This mythic self is a particularly Baha’i self. My poetry contains many of the archetypal Baha’is, heroes, saints, famous personages in Baha’i history. My writing contains the landscape where this Baha’i history--and mine--has taken place: Haifa, Iran, parts of the USA and Canada, England and Australia, et cetera. I draw on the language of the Central Figures of this Faith and I mix it with the essential everyday language of my society, my time, my culture. I have been a Baha’i pioneer now for over forty years and been associated with this Faith for more than 50 years. I see myself as part of the warp and weft of this new Cause, a Cause I believe will have an important role to play in the future of humankind.







I: When you consider your own “tradition” do you think of Baha’i poets primarily?







P: Only to some extent. Obviously there are some poets in Baha’i history who have contributed to my sense of poetry and I write out of their perspectives, people like: Tahirih, Na’im of Sidih, George Townshend, Roger White, Ruhiyyih Khanum and Michael Fitzgerald to name a few, but only to some extent. This is quite a complex question and difficult to answer in a few words. I write out of, draw on, many poetic influences, many non-poetic influences. I have written about this before and commented on this theme in other interviews so I will leave this subject here and invite readers to examine some of the previous twenty interviews and how I answered this type of question before.







I: On the one hand you seem to be distinguishing between a special poetry with a Baha’i idiom, a Baha’i language, lexicon, framework, et cetera and another poetry which may define you individually but not in an overt Baha’i sense, a poetry which celebrates, which comments on, your humanness, the Baha’i teachings which connect you to everyman but not necessarily the Baha’i-man and woman. Is that a fair distinction to make?







P: No problem. As Tuman points out and which I have mentioned above: there are two kinds of relationships from which, within which, the Baha’i teachings become manifest: one connects the artist with a world-wide social and artistic setting and the other relates his work to the ultimate Source of its inspiration. One has an outward reach and the other an inward one; one is basically social and the other mystical.1 It is this dual focus that provides the matrix for what constitutes the Baha’i component of the poetry written by a Baha’i, by this Baha’i. And so, much of what I write has an explicit Baha’i focus and another aspect of my poetry connects me with the wide, wide world and all that is therein, well, at least some of that which is therein. So it is that I can place my poetry in a wide variety of journals, magazines, newspapers, web sites and someone reading it will have no idea I’m a Baha’i--and initially I often do this--and then bring a Baha’i focus in later after I have got to be known.







I: Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating a distinctly Baha’i poetic?







P: Whatever I say here must be prefaced by the notion that there are Baha’is who are poets, who are poetic in temperament and interest, rather than there being an explicit ‘Baha’i poetry.’ At this early stage of the development of this Cause there simply is no such thing as ‘Baha’i poetry.’ It’s the same in music or any of the arts. The poets I named above have all played a role in generating something distinctly Baha’i in their work. I have drawn on their work, especially White’s, Townshend’s, Rabbani’s and Nakhjavani’s, each in different ways, of course. The story is too long to deal with here, so I’ll pass on the answer to this question which could occupy too much of this interview if I let it--and I’d rather leave it for now, if you don’t mind.







I: Not at all. I’ve got lots of other questions to keep us-to keep you-busy today. We could talk about regional poetry, popular culture and poetry, Baha’i pioneers and poetry, aspects of your life that relate to your poetry: sex, gender, nationality and the constellation of your personal interests, for example. I don’t want to go over old ground, ground from previous interviews. Rather than me ask the question, what would you like to comment on in relation to your poetry?







P: Well, thank you very much. Yes, I’d like to say a few things about seemingly non-religious sources of inspiration in my poetry. It should be remembered that the significance such things hold for me depends on my vision of life and my understanding of reality. And reality’s most luminous expounder is the Word of God. What I absorb from the Baha’i Writings determines to a significant extent the spirit and form of my work. I could quote Tuman here for he expounds this influence beautifully: the rich ocean of unimaginable allusions and references in the Baha’i Writings. John Hatcher has also provided a marvellous analytical base for understanding this matrix of influences.1







I: Tuman says that the greatest challenge facing the artist, the most central and distinctive problem, is how to develop a manner of expression that reflects the radiant spirit of the Faith and embody its life-giving teachings. He says this is essentially a spiritual problem not a technical one. Could you comment on this challenge?







P: I think it took me at least two decades, perhaps even four(1953-1992), although I’m not sure I would have been able to put the problem quite as clearly as Tuman does. I remember trying to write about the Cause back in the early 1960s, about 1962, and over the next two decades there was a slow and invisible growth in this capacity. By the early 1980s I found I was beginning to work out what Tuman calls “conceptual foundations” of my artistic style; I was working out, at long last, spiritual understandings of life into analogous works of prose and poetry. By 1992, some forty years after I had my first contact with the Faith, what the Guardian calls “a natural cultural development” had taken place in my life vis-a-vis my writing. But however “natural,” however “organic” the process, however ill-defined, subtle and complex the artistic journey, the manner of my literary expression involved conscious decisions and choices made along the way. The affirmation of values and beliefs, ideas and concepts, the defined and redefined artistic ideals, the casting and recasting, the moulding and remoulding of what now seems like an endless, a bottomless, ocean of words that were part of my cultural inheritance took place again and again.







In my search for artistic, literary, solutions I turned inward, turned to prayer and outward into the world of other writers, other artistic practices. I also turned into the wider world of human expression and endeavour which in the last forty years has presented a burgeoning picture of virtually infinite variety. I drew on the tried and tested poetic forms and adopted the models that had been proven over time and made my own recipe from them. I had a positive, broad-minded and receptive attitude to the literary heritage that was part of the foundation of my own expression. Again Tuman describes these processes in some detail and I hesitate to repeat what he has already said so well--and which I have also commented on its previous interviews.







I: If service to humanity is the fundamental concern, the principal purpose, of the Baha’i poet, then self-expression is simply an adjunct of the service you perform. Yes?







P: Exactly. I select from the past and present what seems appropriate; I adapt and synthesize the material into the poetic forms I desire. I try to see everything I select through the discriminating window, the sifting mechanism of the Baha’i teachings. Does what I’m sifting through fit into the guiding lines laid down by Baha’u’llah and His appointed Successors? The Book of God is the unerring balance for weighing whatever evidence is put before it.







I: Tuman talks about transforming one’s art into a mirror of the divine, about placing that mirror within a social context and turning its light upon the many facets in the life of the individual and the community, cutting across the geographical and historical diversity of human culture and fusing the new and the familar, the recent and the ancient. Do you feel your poetry reflects this transforming process?

















P: I supppose I’d feel somewhat pretentious in claiming that my poetry mirrored the divine. I certainly like the idea and sometimes I do feel that the mirror is in place. My poetry certainly cuts across cultures, across historical time-zones, across a range of philosophies and religions, disciplines, private and public life--mine and the Baha’i community’s. There is much synthesis in my poetry: synthesizing the distinguishing facets of my own experience with the ennobling aspects of the spiritual realities of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation.; synthesizing the particular aspects of my life with the unifying features, the commonalities of people everywhere. There is both my own, my limited, voice, my personality; and there is also the expression of a soul attempting to identify itself with the divine, with eternal truth.







I: Tuman lists 11 perspectives on art derived from the Baha’i teachings and contrasts them with 11 stemming from a materialistic philosophy.2 Do you find your approach to poetry is consistent with these several perspectives Tuman outlines?







P: One could write a book on these 11 Baha’i perspectives. They are wonderfully comprehensive and provide an excellent philosophical base for the explication of what I am trying to do. They are not the only word or the last word on the subject, but they are a fine beginning point. I could elaborate on each of the 11 perspectives, but I will desist from doing so out of fear of prolixity. I would, though, like to comment on what he calls ‘Baha’i-engendered-art,’ ‘serrafic art’ and ‘donnic art.’ These latter two terms cover the spiritual and the mundane. Tuman wants to forge a spiritual perspective in contrast to the secular world of art where the transcendent seems to have little to no place. I think I shall stop here. There is so much to say and I will leave that until another day.







Our time, it seems has run out. It’s time for me to help in the kitchen, to attend to some of my basic domestic tasks that are part of the core of my activity in these early years of my retirement.







I: No trouble. I must run, too. Life beckons as it always does in some direction or another. Thanks for your time, Ron.



P: It’s been a pleasure, as usual.

_____________________________________________________FOOTNOTES_______________________________________



1 There are many Baha’i books, Baha’i writers and interpreters now who can help would-be-poets on their way. I shall not make any attempt here to list any bibliographical references.

2 Ludwig Tuman, Mirror of the Divine,George Ronald, Oxford, 1993, pp. 125-126.



Ron Price January 6th, 2005




INTERVIEW FOCUSING ON POETRY & PHENOMENOLOGY

I have written a great deal on my philosophy of poetry. It is a philosophy of organism, drawing on A.N. Whitehead, in which creativity is guided by purpose and is expressed by two capacities: loving and knowing. It is a philosophy which draws on many thinkers, writers, artists, sculptors, philosophers, historians, sociologists, psychologists, too many to summarize here. This interview, though, focuses on one particular philosophy which is a part of my approach to poetry. It is a complex one with very large words, but I want to give it special attention, special focus here. In addition, this interview closes with a brief discussion of some of the psychology underlying my poetry. Please note that this is a simulated interview.

Interviewer(I):

Over the years you have been aware of the philosophy of phenomenology as an influence on your poetry but, more recently, it has become more obvious, more articulate, more specifically influential. Could you describe this development, this increasing focus on, and inspiration from, phenomenology?

Price(P):

Yes, it wasn’t just phenomenology. During all my teaching life my focus was in the social sciences. It wasn’t until the last decade of my career as a teacher than the humanities, literature and poetry, found a place. And they found a place in an interdisciplinary mix. I came across phenomenology when I was teaching sociological theory in the mid-1990s. I had been writing poetry seriously for two or three years by then. I had just started working on a collection of poetry that came to be called The Terraces. The relationship between the poetry I was writing and the ideas in phenomenology did not really begin to come together, to connect, until after I had retired from teaching in 1999. It was then that I was able to focus on the philosophy of phenomenology and underpin my writing with a clear and articulate set of ideas albeit complex and not all that easy to put into words. Anyone familiar with my work will know that many strands of philosophy and psychology, indeed from a number of the social sciences, make up the basis of my writing, but phenomenology has come into focus more recently, say, in 2000 and 2001. I think it is interesting that this happened just as the Arc Project was completed. Phenomenology involves the study of how perception shapes a person’s reality and the tapestry of beauty that was created in the 1990s on Mt. Carmel had a profound affect on me—as a man who was coming to the end of his working-employment life, to the end of the process of raising three kids and was devoting his time increasingly to writing.

I: The history of the philosophy of phenomenology goes back to the early years after the passing of Bahá'u'lláh. I understand you see an interesting parallel development between significant events in the history of this philosophy and the history of the Bahá'í Faith and your own life.

P: Yes, phenomenology began as a movement, a strand, a field, in philosophy about three years after the passing of Baha'ullah and spread, like the Bahá'í Faith did, to many countries in the next few decades. One of the first major books in the field was published when 'Abdu'l-Bahá was on His western tour, in 1913. It was called Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology by Edmund Husserl. A second major book by Martin Heidegger was translated into English and published the year I began my pioneering life, 1962. It was called Being and Time. Phenomenology is now in the first decade of its second century. I don't want to highlight or summarize this history here. The story is too long. The above will suffice for now.

I: I believe there are several tendencies or stages in this multidisciplinary movement called phenomenology. Your poetry seems to fit into two of them: existential phenomenology and hermeneutical phenomenology. The first, the existential strand, focuses on the issues and questions of existence; the second on systems of interpretation. It draws on thinkers like: Heidegger, Marcel, Gadamer, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Ricoeur. For the most part, their writings came after WW2. Do you see this as an accurate overview?

P: Yes, I don't have any trouble with that. But when you start to examine the details of the writings of these thinkers and how their ideas are expressions of the philosophy of existential phenomenology or hermeneutical phenomenology you get into a long and complex story. It is hard enough just saying the words, the basic terms. A poetry which is based on an existential phenomenology emphasizes the tension between existence and essence. It also emphasizes choice, responsibility, freedom and the joys and angst of existence. A poetry which draws on a hermeneutical phenomenology emphasizes the poet's interpretive systems, his flexible orienting frameworks, his own changing perspectives, the illumination and the dark patches in individual experience and a concern for and an interest in virtually every aspect of existence--on some sliding scale of varying degrees of course.

Let me outline some core ideas, core concepts, in phenomenology to give you an idea of what it is about. There is an emphasis on 'pure description.' In my poetry, therefore, I place a strong emphasis on the pure description of experience. In phenomenology there should be an attempt to manifest what is hidden in ordinary, everyday existence. In my poetry, then, I try to get at what might be called the structure of everydayness, an interconnected system of things, ideas, roles and purposes and an introspective examination of my own intellectual processes as they experience the phenomena of existence. That's enough of a mouthful for now.

I: There seems to me to be a very strong social construction to reality, what you might call a sociological phenomenology. The means by which humans orient themselves to life situations through their stock of knowledge, their store of experience, their structure of experience, the historical patterns of life-experience, the landscape of judgements by which they fix their place in the world, the inner stream of consciousness. All these strands of thought seem to be involved in what phenomenology is all about.

P: You put it well. There are many ways of expressing phenomenological philosophy. One of these ways is by means of the discipline of sociological theory. Much of it seems to be useful in expressing what I am trying to do in my poetry. The process involves what it means to be human, to be alive, to find meaning within life; it involves pursuing concepts; it involves the possibilities that flow from perceiving, believing and thinking. It involves truth as process and emerging as a person in the process of describing experience. Many of the names I mentioned earlier in this interview one can find in the field of philosophy or in sociological theory. I have found in the years since I wrote my first poem in the early 1960s, that there is a strong interdisciplinary tendency in the social sciences. My poetry is partly a reflection of this.

I: For Heidegger an intricate and mysterious connection existed between finding a sense of self and the natural world. He sought refuge from the pervasive hauntings of the idle chatter of town and group life. This was also true of Thoreau. This is also true in your poetry as well, is there not, a search for solitude, a fatigue with chatter?

P: Yes, both Thoreau and Heidegger sought refuge in withdrawal from the social domain, into nature, into solitude, into silence, into reflection, into writing, into moments of vision of what it means to be human, to ask the questions in order to situate oneself in the world, to pluck the finer fruits of life, to move beyond the factitious cares and the superfluously coarse labours of life, beyond the slumber, the mindless mechanical motions of living, and so enter the poetic, the divine life. In a perpetual openness, like Thoreau and Heidegger, my life becomes my stage and I become both actor and audience. And involvement in what Horace Holley calls 'the social religion' requires the kind of solitude and silence I am talking about here from time to time. In life one needs both: the social and the solitary. Over the last 60 years I’ve had plenty of both.

I: So your life becomes your amusement, your novelty, a drama of many scenes with fresh and often not so fresh prospects every hour. You become the artisan of your own reality in which you hear faint echos of simplicity winding their way through the paths of complexity in your everyday life. Your poetic understandings revolve around the mystery, the simplicity and the complexity of being itself. This poetry also revolves around analysis and juxtaposition. Life itself becomes a poetic dwelling, with its sometimes mundane and simplified moments, its sometimes etherial and complex moments. They all sing and reverberate the meaning of one’s existence. That is how Timothy Riley describes the process in his article "Heidegger and Thoreau: Questing for the Authentic Translation of Dasein." Does this come close to your way of experiencing it?

P: I like the way you put it. It's a little complex, but then phenomenology as a philosophy of poetry is not simple. Phenomenology provides for poetry a philosophic-poetic base which creates, as Heidegger puts it, a world space that sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. It also involves seeking our humanness, our mortality, in a relation to the immortals which in a Bahá'í context is a relation to the Central Figures of the Cause and those who have been faithful to the Covenant and have passed on to the next life. They are the sources of inspiration for the poet who is a Bahá'í. They are also the source of inspiration to Heidegger, although he would call them angels or muses. The poet occupies his private space only by simultaneously occupying the space of meaning belonging to the wider community. Community and privacy is a dichotomy that must be integrated in the life of the poet as well as anyone else.

I: There is another aspect of poetry that has its roots in a philosophy or sociology of phenomenology and that is its subjective orientation. Subjective meaning in the interpretation of social action, of history, of life and of reflexivity is at the centre of this poetic philosophy. Would you agree?

P: There is no question about the essentially subjective nature of this poetry. There is also an objective aspect, a facticity, the kind of objectivity that Ricoeur emphasizes. The self which writes or is written about exists in an institutional system, a complex of relationships, dwells in a pattern of social control exerted by the poet, the person himself and by others. This self is defined and described through the centrality of language as the organizing medium of the lived-in-world. There is an essential precariousness, an ultimately symbolic aspect, to the definitions of reality, to the social worlds, described by the poet. Truthfulness lies in this mix, in this complex web. And I like to think for my particular philosophy there is some truth in every manifestation of existence, of the human spirit, however polarized, eccentric and apparently absurd that manifestation is. Synthesis, amplification, engendering, context—all these are words that are representative of my aim not obliteration, criticism, blight.

I: Of course, there is much more to the philosophical underpinnings of your poetry. Could you comment briefly on these other bases?

P: I have written thousands of words on the philosophy behind my poetry. I seem to have developed a concern for writing poetry and for commenting on its nature, its purpose, its philosophy, its direction, et cetera. I would encourage readers to dip into my poetry. I've got some two hundred thousand words at a website: poetry and prose. It explains a great deal of what I'm trying to do. Phenomenology is a key but, for me, there are many keys. The whole thing is far too complex to reduce it to one approach, no matter how big the word is and how subtle, intricate and useful its reach. I like to think the philosophy behind my poetry goes back to both Plato and Aristotle and the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, at least in the Western tradition.

I: We could approach this whole business of the underpinnings of your poetry by means of psychology instead of philosophy or sociology. What sorts of things would you say, if we were to take this approach?

P: In my four years of tertiary education and training(1963-1967) I studied psychology in three courses. In the 1970s and 1980s I taught psychology six or seven times as part of social science and behavioural studies programs and twice as courses in psychology itself. The notes from all these courses are lost to me now. From 1992 to 1994 I taught an introduction to psychology unit at Thornlie Tafe College in Perth. I kept a core of the notes from that course when I retired in 1999. In the decade since last teaching psychology I have widened the scope of my notes, especially since my retirement in 1999.

I have found psychology to be a fertile field of study during these initial years of my retirement. As was so often the case when I taught a subject, I never really had a chance to get my teeth into it with one eye on the student and another on just getting "up" on the basic course content. Now that is still the case but for quite different reasons, the main one being an interest in a host of other subjects as well, subjects that occupy my attention across a wide spectrum of disciplines.

There is always so much to learn and the focus on. It has been forty-two years since I first came across this subject at university in the autumn of 1963 and it would appear this interest will continue well into the future. It certainly provides some useful foundations to my poetry. But what specifically would you like me to focus on here?

I: There are so many ways of looking at it. Why don’t we do the same as we did with philosophy and sociology, that is, look at some of the theoretical stances, ideas, concepts in psychology that you find useful, relevant to your writing of poetry?

P: Fine. Back in those eight months of 1963-64 when I was first introduced to psychology we just touched on the field of theories in psychology. Even now I recall the following from that first dalliance with psychology: learning theories, personality theories, trait theory. As the years went on: leadership, interpersonal, socio-historical, cultural, gestault and transpersonal theories, good-god, the list is as long as your arm. I think each one of these theories contributes something to my understanding of self, society and my value system—the basic content of my poetry writing. I don’t think I could even begin here and provide a succinct statement. I’d need several pages,

I: Okay; let’s take a different tack. Let’s look at some of the major thinkers who have had an influence of some significance.

P: Fine. I’ll list a core of psychologists but, again, it might be difficult to be brief in articulating their influences. Adler, Freud, Jung, Fromm, May, Rogers, Erikson, Piaget. I’ll stop there because these eight men have written enough stuff to sink a ship and each of them has at least two or three central ideas that I can not ignore in their influence on both what I write and how I write it.

I: Fair enough. Why don’t you pick your favorite over the years and talk about his influences?

P: That would be easy. I have enjoyed Rollo May, the man who introduced existential psychology to America. I came across his book Love and Will in about 1970. I had started writing poetry in the early sixties and, by 1970, I had entered the longest period when I actually wrote no poetry, the years 1964-1979. But when I did start again in the 1980s and 1990s, I found May’s analysis of self, society, values, beliefs and attitudes in his many books very helpful. In 1992 Roger White sent me a copy of May’s The Courage to Create. It was about the psychology of the creative process, about courage, about much that is involved in living, working, loving and being. It is difficult to summarize May. I think the best I can do is encourage others to read his books.

I: I think that’s enough for now. There is so much we can explore and we will do so in future interviews. I’ll come back to these issues and I look forward to future exchanges on the philosophy and the psychology underpinning your poetry, Ron

P: No problemo, as the governor of California once said.
_____________________________________________________________________
FOOTNOTES

The bibliography that could be written here is extensive. The reader is advised, should he or she want to follow-up on the subject of phenomenology, to go to a good university library or look it up on the Internet using some of the key words from this interview.



-Ron Price, Begun: 23/12/01
Completed: 11/6/05.


AN INTERVIEW: COMMENT ON TITLES OF POEMS

I: Your poems have such a range of titles: some fabulous, some complex, some simple, some suggestive, some direct! They unfold and reverberate in the reader on so many levels at once. I like to think of your titles as bridges, bridges between your life, your society, your religion, your notions of the political, the social, the individual, et cetera. They seem to create a meeting place between all of them when put in a booklet or a book. Would you talk about what work you intend for a title to do in an individual poem, between poems or in overview for the whole epic collection of your poetry: Pioneering Over Four Epochs.

P: A title, I suppose, involves the meaning of a thing, its happening. It occurs or predicts something that is going to occur with the language itself and with the subject matter. Finally, a title really ought to bring into balance the whole, the rest of the poem. The title is associative, as opposed to figurative. Quite literally something results from the title’s association with something else or its association with the specificity inherent in the title. Sometimes in selecting the title I am interested in raising difference and sometimes in comparing one thing to another, directly or indirectly. A title needn't be picturesque, alt6hough sometimes I aim for that quality. I also aim for what you might call an independent gesture, one that is sure, fresh, provocative, humorous. Even indifference in a title is a form of distance which I believe a poem requires occasionally in its title. This indifference, even disinterestedness, will eventually collapse, if the poem works. The title becomes a small, dignified ritual and is therefore not servile in relation to the whole poem. It is substantive, sometimes displays intention.

I want my poems to be as intimate as a couple making love at night on a beach, and I'd like the reader to roll off of them afterward, completing the triangulated relationship, to feel the sandy curve of the earth with his or her own belly. The height of a warm summer and the cold mathematical abstraction of a winter aren't meant as a commentary on our lives as much as an experience of them. the rhythm, the beat, of the poem is but another way to interpret the beating of the heart. I am trying to make something alive, to be experienced physically. Roland Barthes talks about how this moment is like a child pointing to an object, but the object itself is nothing special. I like to think I am providing a moment of enlightenment about our age, our natures. Yet it's "nothing special," simply beautiful. This is the work, that is, the play, of language, the meaning of my life and, hopefully something of meaning to readers.

INTERVIEWS WITH OTHER POETS/WRITERS

As I said in my introduction to this section of BARL, when these interviews began I had been listening to interviews and reading them for some 40 years. The following were just some of the interviews I kept notes on.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Volume 1: interviews with poets

section 1.1

1. David Malouf
2. Robert Bly
3.1 Sherod Santos
3.2 Richard Harvard
4.1 Lisel Mueller
4.2 Grace Paley
4.3 Jamaica Kincaid
5.1 Richard Wilbur
5.2 James Ragan
6.1 James Ragan

...and many more...too many to list...

COMPUTER-ASSISTED PERSONAL INTERVIEWING

Given that my interviews are all simulated, readers should be aware that this is but one of a number of new formats and techniques used to assess applicants for positions.There are an increasing variety of computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) techniques. CAPI is an interviewing technique in which the respondent or interviewer uses a computer to answer the questions. It is similar to computer-assisted telephone interviewing, except that the interview takes place in person instead of over the telephone. This method is usually preferred over a telephone interview when the questionnaire is long and complex. It has been classified as a personal interviewing technique because an interviewer is usually present to serve as a host and to guide the respondent. If no interviewer is present, the term Computer-Assisted Self Interviewing (CASI) may be used. An example of a situation in which CAPI is used as the method of data collection is the British Crime Survey.

Characteristics of this interviewing technique are:

Either the respondent or an interviewer sits at a computer terminal and answers a questionnaire using the keyboard or mouse.
Help screens and courteous error messages are provided.
Colorful screens and on and off-screen stimuli can add to the respondent's interest and involvement in the task.
This approach is used in shopping malls, preceded by the intercept and screening process.
It is also used to conduct business-to-business research at trade shows or conventions.

This form of interview is substantially cheaper when a large number of respondents is required, because:

There is no need to recruit or pay interviewers. Respondents are able to fill in the questionnaires themselves (only true for CASI).
There is no need to transcribe the results into a computer form. The computer program can be constructed so as to place the results directly in a format that can be read by statistical analysis programs such as PSPP or DAP.
The program can be placed on a web site, potentially attracting a world-wide audience.

The survey is likely to attract only respondents who are "computer savvy", thus introducing potential bias to the survey.
The survey can miss feedback and clarification/quality control that a personal interviewer could provide. For example, a question that should be interpreted in a particular way, but could also be interpreted differently, can raise questions for respondents. If no interviewer is present, these questions will not be answered, potentially causing bias in the results of the questionnaire (only true for CASI).

The information on a variety of interview formats is increasing as the decades of this 21st century advance. I will not add any more information here, but will leave it to readers with the interest to further their knowledge on this subject.

I will now close this page of interviews with several prose-poems.

SOMETIMES NOTHING TURNS UP--SOMETIMES YOU FLY

A film with some of the flavour of the Western, this gangster movie set in the 1930s in a small Texas town had some good lines. In the midst of the violence, blood and guts some finely scripted lines stood out. They were useful lines for the troubled world I live in with its own forms of violence, blood and guts and the troubled souls whose paths I cross, have crossed and will cross. I will conclude this opening preamble to my poem with two of these somewhat simple, yet philosophically relevant lines:

Sometimes you just have to play a bad hand.
and
......something will turn up. It always does.
-Ron Price with thanks to Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing(1996), WIN TV, 10:30-12:30 am, August 16th, 2004.

No matter how difficult your life
the movies you always have with you.
No matter what you don’t understand:
your wife, your children, your life,
the technicolour treats still surround you.

Scripted, flawless and implausible
poetic creations of a different sort
than yours you’ve put on paper---
in a profession nothing like this one
which requires you to be alone---
more the product of a group.

An enthusiasm for poetry
is not like an enthusiasm for movies,
somehow the poet has to find a way
of keeping that spark, that fire, alive:
to keep on writing with the years---
even when the hand you’ve got is bad
and even when nothing turns up.

I find I can escape into some aeroplane
when I watch a good movie,
but in poetry I can fly after a lifetime
of crawling on my hands and knees.1

1 James Dickey in Poets At Work: The Paris Review Interviews, editor, George Plimpton, Viking Press, 1989, p. 361.

Ron Price
16 August 2004

                                                                                                                                          READING

Q: How would you describe the way you read and have read Baha’i literature?

A: The primary answer has to be recitation. For about 30 minutes every day I recite familiar passages, prayers for the most part, the names of Baha’is who have passed away for whom I pray and to whom I ask intercession and various invocations. After more than fifty years of association with Baha’i literature I now tend to (i) look up passages I want to use in my writing, (ii) read articles on the internet and very occasionally (iii) read a new book available in the market. I brood over and about the great themes and the minor themes that are expressed in Baha’i literature, although I’ve been brooding for decades. Now, in retirement, I have more brooding time. Insensibly in the years 1953 to, perhaps, 1972 I came to a largely unconscious epiphany. After 19 years of being affected by the music of Baha’i literature, mostly prayers, I had a more meditative phase of 19 years to 1991. Then, a third phase opened in 1992 in which it could be said that an accumulated potential1 was unleashed: 6000 poems, hundreds of essays, an autobiography, literally millions of words. Something happened to me in those years between the two Holy Years: 1952-3 and 1992/3.(1Ridvan, 1992, p.4)

I had been reading books by the bucketful from 1973 to 1992, with smaller buckets from 1963-1972 and only little spoonfuls from 1953-1962. But in the years since 1992 I’ve been reading interviews, essays, reviews and summaries in and about many fields and disciplines: several of the social sciences and the humanities. There is so much that vivifies and pleases me: some of Freud, Jung and Adler; Fromm, May, Frankl in psychology. I’ve been dabbling in their books for over forty years. There are many sociologists I’ve been playing with, so to speak, for an equal length of time: Simmel, de Toqueville, Mills, Nisbet, Bendix, many others. Since the late 1980s I’ve been reading more poetry and analysis of poetry and literature. There are too many names to list here, although Dickinson, Wordsworth, Rilke and Shakespeare would be high on the list. Then there are historians, philosophers, media studies analysts, experts in religion and autobiography and biography.

The most powerful, nonfictive prose in the English language is, for me, the writings of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha. So much of the social sciences and humanities that is written today or has been written in recent centuries a kind of vehement satire, critique of religion and it makes me face what is often my inadequacy of perspective. These writers force me to search for a context to deal with relevant fundamental questions. I have been a utopian, a visionary projector, an idealist since at least my early to mid-teens, and so I figure such literature is a good tonic and corrective for me.

I don’t re-read books any more for several reasons: there is so much I want to read for the first time; I stopped being a teacher after thirty years and, not being a fiction reader, I was never a big re-reader of books anyway. I read Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha every day and have for years, perhaps 25 of the 50 that I have known of this Faith. I recite Their words to myself daily, as I said above, but that's both a personal enthusiasm and a religious commitment, an important one in the list of spiritual prerequisites for a Baha’i. In the last decade or so I have probably read both Toynbee and Gibbon more often than other historians. This answer would be endless if I fine-tuned it any more since I do very little now besides read and write, about eight hours most days in these early years of my retirement, in these early years of my late adulthood at 61. –Ron Price with thanks to Harold Bloom, “A Conversation with Harold Bloom author of How To Read and Why,” Book Browse Internet Site, 1997-2005.

And you are still going, Harold!
Fifty years of teaching and all those books1
while I ran out of gas after thirty years,
got out of the classroom and hear I am—
reading about you and your life of reading.

1the list of books he wrote or helped author is longer than your arm.

Ron Price
August 8th 2005

                                    BIZARRE INSANITY SYMBOLISED

Poetry is like opera, it’s over the top, intense, excessive-Ron Price with thanks to W.H. Auden in Poets At Work: The Paris Review Interviews, editor, George Plimpton, Viking Press, 1989, p.298.

It would appear that in the end Ezra Pound felt he had wasted his time in writing the longest poem of the twentieth century, some eight hundred pages, the Cantos. T.S. Eliot said that any honest poet wonders about the permanent value of his writing and may feel he has wasted his time.-Ron Price on a comment by Eliot in ibid., p.45 and in Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano, John Tytell, Doubleday, 1987, NY, p.338.

When You1 got out of prison,
poetry seemed to find a new voice,
as Pound and others made a new choice,
a new language-quality was unleashed
and they gave it a name when you came
to the West: Imagiste.2 An intellectual
and emotional complex presented in
a moment of time, giving a sense of
sudden liberation, sudden growth.

Who could this be but ‘Abdu’l-Baha?
Of course noone knew, not then.
The image was the word beyond
formulated language. They might
have said ‘Abdu’l-Baha was the
word made flesh: but, of course,
they didn’t. And as He wrote His
historic Tablets Pound was writing
his first Cantos to canalize into language
the great forces altering his world and ours.

His Cantos took the first stages of its final
form as the new Order the first stages of
its final form largely unknown to the wider
world. To find the meaning of existence is
the goal of the Cantos and the assumption
was that it could be found in this world by
the examination of one’s experience. And
so the poet goes off on his journey to find
the meaning and that meaning was ‘order’.

But by 1937 you knew the ‘order’ had nothing
to do with the enlightenment; that other Order
was just taking off on its global Plan. As that
Order moved from strength to strength you
wandered and wandered, being in a mental
hospital when the Kingdom of God on Earth
made its quiet appearance; your creative impulse
then was daily lacerated and frustrated making a
consecutive quality of feeling impossible: your
Cantos a seemingly bitty and fragmentary world.

Your search for an energy-rousing faith, an awe-
inspiring holding-together of all that is, eluded you.
That final summer of your work, 1959, I joined the
Faith that might have brought it all together for you.
And finally, you asked to be forgiven for what you
had made while I began to teach high school in 1972:
did you think of it all as a waste of time?

You symbolize in your wildest and most energetic
search some bizarre insanity at the heart of this century
that has turned away from its God and sought other
orders, other gods: classical and historical, secular
and oriental, but now this new Order has a form up
on that hill which shows how far we’ve come by a
series of incremental steps: ages, plans, epochs, stages.

Ron Price
16 June 1996

1 ‘Abdu’l-Baha in 1908
2 Pound coined the term in 1912 according to Peter Makin in Pound’s Cantos,Allen and Unwin, London, 1985, p.29.

                  THE MYSTIC

Poets don't have an "audience". They're talking to a single person all the time....All the so-called great artists were trying to talk to too many people. In a way, they were talking to nobody. The really great poets have a source in the primitive, the prerational....poems insulate themselves in time. That's why real poems travel.-Robert Graves in Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Fourth Series, editor, George Plimpton, NY, 1976, pp.52-53.

In these days before this Cause explodes

onto the world, these decades of slow growth

like some tree in the garden, unbeknownst,

some tree and a garden, our new garden,

our life-giving garden, His garden, their

garden, that of the Concourse on high Who

circle in adoration above this sacred spot--

I write because of the exquisite pleasure I

enjoy that my Lord has, at last, a befitting

home, nest, Qiblih, sacred precinct, most

holy court, enclosure with its peculiar charm.



No, Robert, I do not write for an "audience".

I write for my Lord, for One with Whom my

soul would rendezvous, my Source of light

and life, from the retreat of my innermost being,

that interior to which He has summoned me. What

you call the prerational, the primitive, is for me,

the mystic and it calls me like some powerful

indwelling force, a seed, endowed with a quietness,

a solemnness, a joy I would reserve for Him alone.



But Robert, I am often tired, sometimes afraid,

frequently sad, conscious of lust. My battles

have not ended, Robert. Happiness is not glitter

and tinsel, an ever-present tranquillity, but it is

partly based on my sense that these poems may

travel in small time-capsules to epochs and ages

I know not, nor can scarcely envisage; and that I

may live in some sublime station, some august seat,

at this stage utterly perplexing to me in its billowing

ocean of effulgent beauty, in its splendour that can

not be clouded and with a fire that can never be quenched.



Ron Price

15 March 1996



            IF ONE IS A POET

I realise from time to time that certain poems were written for the wrong reasons and feel obliged to remove them; they give me a sick feeling. Only a few necessary poems should be kept...If one is a poet, one eventually learns which they are.-Robert Graves in Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Fourth Series, editor, George Plimpton, Viking Press, NY, 1976, p. 65.

One day I may feel the way you do, Robert.
But in these early years I just want to write
poem after poem. If I am truly a poet, as you
say, I will learn which ones to keep and which
ones to throw away. The very thought of reading
my great bundle of poems makes me feel tired,
slightly nauseous, remote, like the sign 'wrong way-
go back', weighted-down with baggage. Perhaps if
I am not a poet, Robert, I may just keep it all. I'll
call it autobiography. That's how I feel, Robert.

Ron Price
15 March 1996

GETTING OLD: LEUNIG AT 51

The miracle of creativity is that it can awaken in others the spirit of life, of well-being, of understanding, of joy, of laughter. -Ron Price with thanks to Peter Leunig in interview with Philip Adams on LNL, ABC Radio, 10:57 pm, 28 November 1996.

There was more reverence in his life,
he said, after so many years of a more
cynical bent, a striving for simplicity
and the sacred in the everyday(Thoreau
would have liked this). There was more
openness, too, to the inner man, capable
of self-revelation after years of sphinx-like
inarticulateness and obscurity. There was,
what shall we call it, a sense of oneness,
an oceanic feeling, even, and a thoughtful-
nes about conscience, the indwelling God,
vulnerability and the many roads and byways
of creativity—and still he writes letters, attends
interviews and churns out his books-Leunig at 51.

Ron Price
28 November 1996

POEMS3

I think writers are the most important members of society. Good writers must have and stand by their own ideas, but be willing to discuss them in an open way that can stand the heat of the dialectic process. I like everything there is about being a writer, although sometimes I feel a certain loneliness and social isolation that is juxtaposed to the intensity and concentration of writing. I often go into the lounge room while I am writing to hold my wife's hand and say 'hello'. I seem to need the contact. Also, the social interaction in lecturing/teaching makes me crave the solitude of writing and reading. Many days of writing make me crave the social, but only a certain type of social setting. A lot of social life is boring, tedious in the extreme. Getting that solitude-social balance right is difficult.

Many people find my poetry irrelevant at best and totally incomprehensible at worst. They simply do not like my poetry for all sorts of reasons, reasons which I will never know. They instinctually don't like reading poetry; they have little interest in my several passions and subjects; they don't read much anyway; my poetry is not to be found between colourful covers on small pages, or on short lines. I use words that are too big. The list is endless. So inevitably I write for a coterie when I'd really like to make it with the mass. -Ron Price with thanks to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in The New Fiction: Interviews with Innovative American Writers, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1974, pp. 206-207.

THAT PRECIOUS ENDOWMENT

Writing poetry, said the poet W.S. Merwin, is a direction not a decision. The reality of poetry does not come out of the interest people have in this art form or their need to indulge in it or, indeed, the interest of poets in their own popularity; rather it comes out of the argument poets have with themselves and their desire to address those subjects that most resolutely deny being spoken of. It also comes out of that precious endowment: the need and the ability to organize thought and speech into form and measure, to define what one thinks and remembers. The poet also feels an enormous thrill, a sense of vision, of hope and of energy from bringing the past, the present and the future into some kind of correlation. The process does not make anything happen, anything in the partisan political sense, as Auden emphasized, but it certainly does in a very basic spiritual sense.-Ron Price with thanks to the poets Philip Levine, Anne Stevenson and Yusef Komunyakaa, Interviews on the Internet, 1999-2000.

It is not so difficult to write poetry
without the confidence in readers
one day appearing on the horizon.
For I write with vision, hope, energy
and all of time being brought together.

I read and read mountains of stuff,
have a great deal to say
and try to tame the wildness
in the fields where words are made.

Perhaps I am too ernest,
not enough lightness and play,
but there is acute awareness
along the base of my poetry’s spine.

I try, too, to fill that air pocket
that exists between my words and me
with a draft from an ice blue sky,
as clear as a mountain stream.

I’ve spent a lifetime pleasing people
and mulling over my self and my times.

I’ve immersed myself in timelessness
and the pastness of the past.
So much occurs to me now1
and I put it in my poetry,
as I address the temper of my time.

1 “How much has to happen before something occurs to you?” Robert Frost.

Ron Price
15 December 2000

THAT DAILY INELUCTABLE CLUTTER

The former American poet laureate Robert Pinsky once said that our great task as poets is to keep "an art that we did not invent, but were given, so that others who come after us can have it if they want it, as free to chop and change it as we have been." He also said it was good "to be a little driven" so that you wouldn't be "defeated by neglect." The Irish poet Eamon Grennan said that the "daily ineluctable clutter of our lives"1 is a background to our poetry and it is sometimes this very clutter which reminds us of what is important in our lives. In the end, though, writing poetry is a need and we would not do it at all because, as Shelley once wrote, "nothing is so difficult and unwelcome as writing without confidence in finding readers." But, however difficult it may be, it consists of focusing, as David Malouf once wrote, "on reality, on what is in your head, your world.-Ron Price, "Notes from Interviews: 1990-1999", Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 16 November 2001.

I've chopped and changed the medium
as I've defined the important again, again,
mulling and getting in touch with myself
and the timelessness and pastness of history.

My words, my poetry, became a description
of the personal revolution that was my life
as I moved insensibly through all of life's stages
and entered a conversation with everything
that delighted my fancy in poetry and prose.

Astonishment is not something I find
in the daily round of experience,
in that ineluctable clutter of my life,
but I find it in the words and ideas
that people use to describe life.

It gives me a way of grieving
and fixing what is permanent
with language which obsesses me
so that I can be truthful, my way.

And so I follow the impulse
to capture what excites me
and in the process I define
how I got to be the person I am
in a medium with no laws or standards
and no expectation of recognition or return.

Ron Price
16 November 2001

SNAPSHOTS

Novelist and culture critic Fay Weldon has just written an autobiographical work called Auto da Fay: A Memoir. In discussing her work and her life1 Weldon made a number of points that related to my own autobiographical project, my other writings and my life. Fay said she rarely shows her work to others; she often feels in the act of writing or after, while reading what she wrote, that what she has written is a work of art; she wants to be liked and approved of and has a fear of rejection; childhood often comes back in snapshot form and is entered into her writing; her script-writing, which she no longer does, was often rejected; she sees her writing as a craft heavily influenced by fate; she sees style as the way writers say what they want to say in the smallest space and shortest time; she sees people as individuals with many selves and so the process of finding yourself is an illusion at worst and immensely complex at best. Rachel Kohn sees Weldon as a relentless observer of human ideals and their accompanying conceits. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Fay Weldon and interviews on, "Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 30 June 2002 and Rachel Kohn, "The Spirit of Things," ABC Radio National, 19 March 2000.

The year the House of Justice
was first elected Bob Dylan
prophesised that:
Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall.1

The years that the rains
stayed over the land
in the days of Noah
were a hundred and fifty.2

Ed Muttart theorized
this could mean that
in our time, our days,
we could have hard
rain until 2113 A.D.

This is what I want
to say about Muttart,
Noah, rain, our time
and prophecy using
my craft but without
a sense of fate, just
a snapshot of my life,
of one of my many selves.

1 The name of the song written in 1963 and published that year on Dylan's album The Freewheeling Bob Dylan

2 Book of Genesis, Chapter 7, Verse 24. Ed Muttart told me his theory when I last met him in Perth in the mid-1990s.


Ron Price
3 July 2002

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