This is the 2nd in a series of prose-poetry selections written during the Five Year Plan (2006-2011).
The poetry here was written during the last four years of the Five Year Plan (2006-2011). The first poems I wrote were back at the start of my pioneering life in 1962, but none were kept until 1980. This Plan has shown an "eloquent testimony to the spirit of devotion" and has opened up "avenues to guide souls to the Ocean of His Revelation." (Ridvan, 2007)
Prose-Poetry of the Five Year Plan: 2006-2011:
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and A Study in Autobiography
, Section VII: Poetry
I want to say a few things here about the prose-poem because the form which my following pieces takes is more prose than poetic. I could insert the following pieces in a more traditional poetic form, but I choose not to here. The prose-poem is a form I like to use a lot, because it blends poetry and prose, without being purist about either. The prose-poem is still a somewhat controversial form that some poets will even deny exists. It had its origins, arguably, 150 years after it's origin in the prose-poems of Bertrand and Lautremont and Baudelaire. It can do things with words that more boxed-in forms cannot. One can move between poetic syntax and tone, into more prose-like sections, and back again, at will. I use it in several ways, the one here being dense poetic prose.
One of the 20th century's exponents of the prose-poetic form is Antoni Artaud, a revolutionary figure in the literary avant-garde of his time(1896-1948). He created a new, multigenre, form in which essay, dictation, poem, letter, dream, and glossolalia, in varying combinations, are present in a single work. I draw on his examplefor several reasons one of which is that Artaud symbolizes for all the generations of our time an exceptional fidelity to a very great belief, a life devoted to a cause and an unflinching persistence in extolling the cause.-Ron Price with thanks to:(1) Clayton Eshleman, The American Poetry Review, Jan/Feb 2005.
Let me add a little history of this form before I include some examples from my own work. The earliest writer credited with writing prose-poems, as a distinct genre, is Aloysius Bertrand, whose collection of prose poetry, Gaspard de la Nuit, was published in 1842. The prose-poem emerged in part as a reaction against the strict rules and conventions, and definitions, of French Neoclassicism. Originally the idea was to write in a poetic prose using elements of language considered more typical of pure poetry: rhythm, metaphor, surprising imagery, rhyme, musical form. But it was Charles Baudelaire who gave the form its characteristic shape and definition, when he introduced his collection of prose-poems, Paris Spleen, by asking: Which one of us, in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of the miracle of poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough to adapt itself to the impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience?
Paris Spleen was published in 1869, two years after Baudelaire died. Only two years later, Artur Rimbaud, then 17, was trying his hand at the form. His seminal book of prose-poems, Illuminations, was published in 1886, by which time Rimbaud had long since given up poetry. We have a clue to what Rimbaud was thinking from letters he wrote in may of 1871. Rimbaud wrote: "To arrive at the unknown through the disordering of all the senses, that is the point. The sufferings will be tremendous, but one must be strong, to be born a poet: it is no way my fault. It is wrong to say: I think. One should say: I am thought..." I found these words heuristic, seminal,stimulating because of my own bipolar disorder which certainly disordered my senses. I wont go in to detail here. Suffice it to say that Rimbaud's words struck a chord. He went on to add: "The poet searches his soul, he inspects it, he tests it, he learns it. As soon as he knows it, he cultivates it: it seems simple: in every brain a natural development is accomplished. . . . The poet makes himself a visionary through a long, a prodigious and rational disordering of all the senses."
After these beginnings, the prose-poem explodes. It seems to be a form many poets find congenial precisely because it allows them to say things not possible in the more constricted conventions of traditional verse. It expands both mind and perception, as Rimbaud intimated, and allows one to view life from new and different angles. Under Modernism, the prose-poem becomes more explicitly anti-authoritarian again, because it is flexible enough to transcend convention. Even a partial list of poets who have tried their hands at the prose-poem can make up a list of some of the greatest writers of the past 150 years: Stephane Mallarme, Guillaume Apollinaire, Antonin Artaud, Andre Breton, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rene Char, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Lawrene Durrell, Oscar Wilde, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Italo Calvino, James Wright, Robert Bly — to name only a few.
Anthologies of prose-poems sometimes attempt to trace its history as well as provide a sample of more contemporary pieces. Such anthologies highlight the prose-poems variety and history, so rather than getting many pieces by the most important prose-poem writers, we get a few by very many writers. One anthology along this line is: Models of the Universe: An anthology of the Prose-Poem. It is edited by Stuart Friebert and David Young, Oberlin College Press, Oberlin, Ohio, Field Editions, 1995.
Here is an excerpt from the editors introduction:
The prose poem is a very special invention, like a chair that flies or a small dish that produces food for forty people. In turning to it the poet seems to put aside the discreet or flamboyant costume of poetic identity and, in a swift and unpredictable gesture, raids the other world, the world of prose, subverting categories and definitions, defying the drag of the prosaic, turning everything inside out for a moment. It shouldn't happen, this gesture; it upsets the makers of categories and the givers and second-guessers of prizes. If poets don't even stay where we put them, among their lines, then there is no way to account for and contain their doubtful magic, their darting forays into the language whose meanings and habits we work so hard to categorize and make stable.
Poetic innovators and explorers write prose-poems because adventurers and innovators also tend to ignore the rigid boundaries of categories and rules. Innovation almost always comes from the margins, the yawping barbarians at the gates, not from the center of the mainstream. Indeed, these works "upset the makers of categories." But if there is an upset here, the problem is not with the prose-poem as a form, but rather with too-rigid definitions of what poetry is or isn't.
When I encounter a category that is too rigid, a boundary that is too fixed, I feel the grip of death around my throat, around the singer's throat, the lark's throat. I want to ask, what is the maker of such a rigid boundary afraid of? For fear is at the root of such rigidity, always. The usual dictatorial regime that would try to dismiss, diminish or deride the makers of prose-poems is a regime based on fear of change, fear of difference, fear of---ultimately---wildness. In the end, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." That means inner wildness, too, not only the national parks. Real poetry is not tame, polite, mannered, or snivellized. That's a battle we still fight against the forces of entropy. Prose-poetry is a tactic of real poetry, then.
This wildness is aptly summarized by the editors of Models of the Universe: They conclude with the following comment: "That prose poems still provoke snarls and yelps is an excellent sign of their fundamental health and success.
A SINE QUA NON
Harold Pinter opened his 2005 lecture for the Nobel Prize in Literature with the following words: “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.” He went on to say that he believed that these assertions made by him in 1958 still made sense and still applied to the exploration of reality through art. He said that as a writer he stood by these ideas, but as a citizen he could not do so. As a citizen, he said, he had to ask: What is true and what is false? And so do I. And as a citizen I ask the question and I answer: the Baha’i teachings.
Truth in drama as in poetry is forever elusive. You approach it, but you never quite find the whole of it. The search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly one of the major forces that drives the artistic endeavor. The search is a major task both in life and in art. Sometimes you stumble upon the truth in the dark, sometimes in the light; sometimes you collide with it or just glimpse an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art, as Pinter concluded or in poetry as I must conclude after more than 40 years of writing. There are many facets, angles, views or perspectives on truth. These perspectives on truth challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.-Ron Price with thanks to Harold Pinter, “Nobel Lecture: December 7th 2005,” The Nobel Foundation, 2005.
I have often been asked
how my poetry came about.
I have tried to answer this,
but I cannot say. Nor can
I ever sum up my words.
I often try, again, again.
I have often said that
such and such is what
happened. That is what
these poems have said,
what I think they have done.
I believe that despite the odds
against us, we need unflinching,
unswerving, fierce intellectual,
determination to define the truth
of our lives and our societies.
It is a crucial obligation which
devolves upon us all.
It’s mandatory, compulsory,
a sine qua non of our lives.
If such a determination is
not embodied in our vision
we have no hope of acquiring
1 Harold Pinter, “Nobel Lecture: December 7th 2005,” The Nobel Foundation, 2005.
January 2nd 2006.
During the lifetime of Shaykh Ahmad(1753-1826) the individual self came to be of great interest to the public at large. This was partly due to the Protestant Reformation, partly due to the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution and an emerging capitalism, as well as advances in agriculture and medicine. The soul came to be seen as a lone entity making its way through a vast and confusing landscape. Into this landscape of new and emerging forces as well as old forces which were themselves changing their complexions, came a new kind of literature, the novel, the prose narrative, which explored the interior life of characters, the ordinary life of people, the real rather than the imaginary worlds. It was a celebration of the individual and a placing of the group into a secondary role. In some ways, autobiography is basically a sub-genre of the novel. With autobiography, the main character is the writer.
But autobiography is not history; indeed, it is regarded as the least convincing of all personal records and a source that should be given little attention by students of the record of our past. Before this new development in the eighteenth century, in both the novel and in autobiography, the story that was told century after century was that of a group, a community, a nation, an idea, an institution, a philosophy, a virtue, but not a person.-Ron Price with thanks to The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer, W.W. Norton & Co., NY, 2003, p. 60.
Back then in Homer’s time
a good poem was not about
accurate reporting of the past
and the details in its happenings,
but about a poetic inspiration
and the effect of the poem and…
now I deal in narrative poetics,
narrative autobiography with
a technology Homer did not have--
writing--and it helps in an accurate
reporting or a cognitive poetics.
In my time, the 8th, 9th and 10th
stages of history, I do not report,
as the print and electronic media do
their stimulating stories turning
people on with their reality, escape
from reality, their amusement and
seriousness, I tell of the diffusion
of a planetary radiance whose
suffusing splendour has just begun
a journey of several millenniums.1
1 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, Wilmette, 1965, p.82.
When the Harlem Renaissance began in 1917, the Baha’i Faith in America had begun to go through a transition from a loosely connected, informal network of groups to a well- organized religion with a national consciousness.1 During the Harlem Renaissance this process, this transition, could be said to have taken place. The philosopher Alain Locke, the first Negro Rhodes scholar, was both a Baha’i and a prominent participant in this Renaissance. Robert Bone in his The Negro Novel in America2 wrote that the dominant tendencies of an era are to be found in its little magazines. This was true of the literary and artistic community in Negro dominated Harlem and the Baha’i community of the USA. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Peter Smith, “The American Baha’i Community: 1894-1917,” Studies in Babi & Baha’i History, Vol. 1, editor, M. Momen, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1982, p. 135 and 2Robert Bone, The Negro Novel in America, Yale UP, New Haven, 1965.
We had our little magazines, then,
and we have them now and they
tell a story of these and those epochs,
of the birth and rebirth of art, literature
and the growth of a new religion.
There was an optimism back then
after the Great War and being black
was fashionable, in certain circles,
and being a Baha’i was still a little
strange, then and now, but you came
to accept that, it was part of the deal.
As the Harlem Renaissance began
to take shape, this new Order began
to take shape, form and stability
around a theory that had already
been put on paper for more than
three-quarters of a century.
This was no epistemological,
doctrinal, individualism with
its liberal anti-authoritarian
stance—this was a union of
opposites around a structured
religious entity with mechanisms
for orthodoxy which devout
as far back as 1917 and which
remains with us today as part
of our very raison d’etre and
the renaissance goes on and on.
September 17th 2006
In 1962 I was 18 and my family moved to a nearby town as pioneers in the Baha’i community. I did my matriculation studies that year, the entrance year to university. Also that year Jacques Ellul, philosopher of technology, in his Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, used the term "the propaganda of integration." It applied to: biased newscasts, misinformation and political education which worked over time to shape the individual to suit the needs of society’s social mechanisms. Ellul argued that propaganda is necessary, unavoidable, in a democracy, even though it contributed to the creation of citizen zombies. Propaganda is used everywhere in the exercise of authority and power, indeed, it is impossible for it not to exist.
In 1962 another philosopher and sociologist Herbert Marcuse was finishing his One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society which he had started writing in the 1950s. This book analyzed whatr Marcuse called the "voice of command." This voice is used, Marcuse argued, by managers, educators, experts, politicians, people in a multitude of social roles. It contains a style of address, appropriated from advertising, which has a hypnotic effect. The syntax of this speech and writing is abridged and condensed, gives language more directness and assertiveness. It also uses an emphatic concreteness, constant reference to "you" and "your," and endlessly repeats images to fix them in people's minds. This style of rhetoric helps to create the "one-dimensional" citizen who is incapable of protest or refusal. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, April 7th 2006.
It was not until years later that
I even heard of these books
since the courses I took never
mentioned them and I was as
busy as a beaver fighting my
manic-depression, the ups and
downs of my libido, the balance
between self and other and trying
to attend lectures, write essays and
pass exams. My role in the Baha’i
community was more conceptual
and attitudinal than active in the
normal sense of the use of that word.
I got into books, lots of them,
no doubt about that, gave up baseball,
bought ten volumes of Toynbee
and tried, without much success,
to read him. I did come to reinforce
my understanding of the inevitability
of world government, the bleak
condition of western civilization,
the dream of planetary unity,
the harmonious variations
of the major religions around
a single, divinely inspired theme
and current, the multitudinous
movement of history, civilizations,
generations and complexity: part of
God’s idea and purpose.1
1 Pieter Geyl, “Toynbee as Prophet,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol.16 (1955), pp.259-274.
April 8th 2006
THE WALL AND THE WINDOW
The Berlin Wall was erected on the night of August 13, 1961. I began my travelling-pioneer life for the Canadian Bahá’í community in a weekend afternoon in late August 1962. That August night in 1961 was on a weekend when most Berliners were sleeping. The East German government began to close the border. In the early morning of that Sunday most of the first work was done: the border to West Berlin was closed. The East German troops had begun to tear up streets and to install barbed wire entanglement and fences throughout Berlin. The first concrete elements and large square blocks were used on August 15, 1961. Within the next months the first generation of the Berlin Wall was built. It was a wall consisting of those concrete elements and square blocks.
A second Wall was built in June 1962, two months before my personal window of travelling-pioneer life opened. That second Wall was constructed in order to prevent East Germans escaping to the West. That first Wall was improved during the next several years. It is difficult to distinguish between the parts of the Wall that constituted its first and the second generation. These two first generations were torn down when a third generation was constructed beginning in 1965. This third generation of the Berlin Wall consisted of concrete slabs between steel-girder and concrete posts with a concrete sewage pipe running along the top of the Wall. In 1965 my travelling-pioneer life opened up an even larger window than it had enjoyed for three years. That window looked out into the Canadian Arctic on Baffin Island.
In 1975 a fourth generation of the Wall replaced this third generation. New concrete segments were used which were easy to build up and were more resistant to breakthroughs and to environmental pollutions. Over these years, 1961 to 1975, the East German government spent 1 billion dollars a year on the Wall. By 1975 I had travelled, pioneered, from the Canadian Arctic to the outback of Australia. Windows of opportunity had opened in my life but I, too, had suffered from months of mental illness institutionalized inside the walls of four hospitals. -Ron Price with thanks to several internet sites on the subject of “The Construction and Fall of the Berlin Wall,” 8 November 2009.
That Berlin Wall was far-away
during those years when I had
my own walls to contend with.
I was as busy as the proverbial
beaver just getting through the
walls erected in my own life!!
But gradually, year by year, a
series of windows opened-up
giving me opportunities I had
never dreamt-of: getting a BA,
then a teaching qualification, a
series of jobs from one end of
the earth to the other so that by
1975 when the final generation
of Berlin walls were built I was
well on my way into a career of
education, of learning & of time
in classrooms for over 50 years.
From the perspective of these years
of my retirement in a late adulthood
and on two old-age pensions those
early walls have all come down and
by 1989 that one in Berlin was down.
The revolutions of 1989…the Fall of
Communism, the Revolutions over
Eastern Europe: a new paradigm was
emerging in the international world.
And as it did so, too, did a paradigm
emerge in the embryonic world order
of the Baha’i Faith which has been in
my life now for nearly sixty years!!!!
20 October 2010
In the century after Columbus arrived in America(1492-1592), the concept of the planet as one system began to take form. It is not the purpose of this prose-poem to outline all the features of this slowly evolving concept of the earth as the heritage of all humankind. The metaphysical poet John Donne(1572-1631) wrote: “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness …No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
--John Donne from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, ‘Meditation XVII’.
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) worked as a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law. He was also a philosopher, theologian, Christian apologist, playwright, and poet. Nicolas Copernicus' epochal book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, published just before his death in 1543, is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the scientific revolution.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 9 September 2010.
So it was by the time Shaykh Ahmad
set out to prepare the way for that new
spiritual revolution in the middle of the
19th century, the world had been slowly
moving toward and seeing itself as one
integrated whole, one planetary system.
The process has been slowly evolving
now over more than five centuries, say,
1492-1992---planetization of mankind.
And in the middle of this great, epochal
shift, the 600 year period from 1492 to
2092, two precursors and two-god men
appeared on history’s stage to provide
the key integrating mechanism for the
unification of the world in one common
faith, one common system, the political
and religious unification of the species.
This spiritual revolution was universal,
out of people’s control…was inevitable
for the very survival of humankind was
at stake after unity of chiefdoms, clans,
tribes, city states and nations had been
achieved in the millennia-long history
of this planet. This is the road toward
which a harrassed humanity, travelling
it would seem oft’times at the speed of
light, bleeding & wretchedly oblivious
of its God from its calvary to its ultimate
resurrection. Ours is the duty,…however
dismal the scene, to labour serenely now
to lend our share to the operation of forces
which are leading humanity out of valleys
of misery and shame to the loftiest summit
of its power and glory in the future years!!1
1 Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, Baha’i Pub. Trust, New Delhi, 1976(1941), p. 129.
Ron Price 9 September 2010
ALL IS GESTATION
As the Baha’i community was launching its world-embracing spiritual crusade in October 1952 and commemorating the centenary of the first intimations of its Founder’s glorious mission in the Siyah-Chal, Ernest Hemingway’s book The Old Man and the Sea was in its first weeks in the bookshops having been published to wide critical acclaim. Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in 1954.
The Baha’i community had a battle ahead in the Ten Year Crusade: 1953-1963 and many future Plans. Hemingway’s book was about the battle each individual must fight in the world of reality, about endurance and about leaving traces that will last forever. So, too, was this same battle, this same experience, these same traces at the core of the Baha’i Plan just beginning. The establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth was just about to begin and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea could be seen as a metaphorical story of the journey toward that unearthly sovereignty. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, March 27th 2006.
Yes, Ernest, to write what
is true to your nature,
what becomes part of
the experience of others,
what you believe, short
sentences and paragraphs,
alone, something never done
before and, yes, it is difficult.
Everything that endures is
worthwhile and is difficult,
all is gestation and bringing
forth, especially this unearthly
sovereignty in these pioneers
There’s an isolation in pioneers
as they dwell in houses, on streets
and in the forest of this passing world.
Pioneers are to be found in teachers,
nurses, doctors, engineers, a dozen
walks of life. Pioneers will find that
reality comes infinitely slowly
and requires patience as they hew
and mould their visions all their days.
AN INTANGIBLE SOMETHING
My son stayed in Perth and my wife and I moved to Tasmania on 12 July 1999. It was exactly 28 years after my arrival in Australia. Now, after ten weeks of travelling and beginning to settle into our new home in George Town, Tasmania, I get the occasional ‘attack-of-nostalgia’. This afternoon I got one while I was supervising two young six year old kids in a park by the Tamar River. One of these children was my step-grandchild, Tobias Wells. While I watched and occasionally chatted with these two children from middle-childhood, I began to think of my own child now grown up but who, less than twenty years before, played in these same Launceston parks while I also watched and read.
Perhaps it was my reading the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel prize winner for Literature in 1995, that stimulated the following poem. For while the children played, I read, as I often am want to do. It is often difficult to know why a poem arises when it does. What actually arises is not a poem: it is a feeling, a thought, a memory, an intangible something, that becomes a poem.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
After his early years,
he always slept with his door quite shut,
emerging in the morning,
as if from his chysalis:
egg, larva, pupa, adult,
a quiet process,
Now I miss the noise
of his growing,
of his wit,
for he was,
if nothing else: funny,
always seemed to fit my mood,
a clever dude,
where did he go this young son?
Surely, our life together is not done?
this is a 19 line poem, otherwise known as a vahid (i.e. unity) a form that evolved in the first decade of serious poetry writing, 1992-2002.
BAHA’I LITERATURE: 1906-2006
I’d like to make a short summary statement, a sort of postscript to some 6000 prose-poems I have written since 1980. It is a post-script not merely to this body of poetry but also to the incredible output of prose and poetry that has emerged from the Baha’i community in the century since the heart of the troubled times of ‘Abdul-Baha’s ministry1 to today: 1906-2006. I have sometimes heard it said that the twentieth century, in the matter of purely Baha’i literature in English, has been dull and uninteresting; that it is even an uninviting domain. As a teacher of literature I have often heard this also said of Shakespeare and the Bible, especially the King James version. Another criticism I have heard is that most of the Revelation is, as yet, untranslated and unavailable and that we are still working with a small portion of the sacred text. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that, given the small percentage of translated writings from the original Persian and Arabic, it is really idle and unprofitable to spend one's time with what is available. It would appear to me, though, that the opposite is the case.
The 20th century saw an immense literature become available to the Bahai community, too much for it to cope with. The staggering Revelation of Baha’u’llah, the body of sacred literature from the other Central Figures of the Baha’i community and the literature of authoritative interpretation by Shoghi Effendi and those trustees of that Revelation, the Universal House of Justice; as well as the commentaries from within and without the body of believers is just about beyond the capacity of the individual to take it all in. Indeed individuals cannot; they must pick and choose.
The 20th century to which may be credited translations of the major works of Baha’u’llah and the innumerable writings of the Central Figures as well as the writings of the Baha’i Cause’s chief interpreter from 1921 to 1957 and of the trustees of the sacred texts, in addition to the many secular commentaries, poetry, music in many forms and styles, plays and several other genres and forms of literature and the arts has laid a solid foundation for the future. In their present form Baha’i literature and the several forms of expression in the creative and performing arts will more than hold its own in relation to the history of Baha’i literature in any previous or future century if we traverse the years to the golden age centuries hence. Baha’i literature is not deficient either in variety of utterance or in many-sidedness of interest. It is full of that sense promise that all periods of transition possess. It’s actual accomplishment is not something that is beyond criticism for, given the sheer quantity of printed matter, there are many things one could find to say of a critical nature, but many of its products are possessed of both beauty and relevance. -Ron Price with appreciation to Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, Wilmette, 1957, p.267 and thanks to “Political and Religious Verse to the Close of the Fifteenth Century,” The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes: 1907–21, Volume II: The End of the Middle Ages at Bartleby.com, Great Books Online, 2006.
The self-chosen place of the autobiographical mode, the point of real reference, is the act and the situation of writing, which provides a sense of coherence. Coherence can be obtained in many ways in life. But, for me, the autobiographical mode, the situation of writing and its products are an important aid. The recent increase of writings in the autobiographical mode, perhaps as far back as the early 1960s, seems to represent both a reaction to the so-called crisis of the novel and a possible artistic solution to the fragmentary nature of human experience. Yet at the same time the autobiographical turn reveals the paradox inherent in this form insofar as it reflects a nostalgia for stability, continuity, the past experiences and its memories as well as life’s vacuous, empty, semblances of reality, absurdities and vanities.
If conventional autobiographies could be regarded as the proper medium for the realistic representation of a self and for the narrative recovery of past events from the perspective of the present, contemporary autobiographical texts stress the illusory nature of such mythopoetic endeavours. Due to the breakdown of a clear demarcation between reality and fiction or reality and imagination, the traditional conception of the autobiographical genre has lost its degree of certainty and truth. Any sense of perfection, of completeness, of comprehensiveness cannot be achieved in written works and most certainly not in these kinds of writings composed of thousands and thousands of potential scraps of recollection. Memory follows exactly the course of events and chronology, but that which emerges from it is totally different from the actual happening.” –Ron Price with thanks to Alfred Hornung, “Fantasies of the Autobiographical Self: Thomas Bernhard, Raymond Federman, Samuel Beckett,” Journal of Beckett Studies, 1989.
BURSTING THE WALLS
In June 1852 Karl Marx obtained an admission card to the reading room of the British Museum. There he would sit from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. every day, pouring over Blue Books of factory inspectors and perusing the immense documentation about the inequities of the operation of the capitalist system that was to become an important part of Das Kapital published in 1867. Here also, filling notebook after notebook, he deepened his knowledge of the British political economists whom he had begun to study during the Paris days. -Ron Price with thanks to Lewis A.. Coser, Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context, 2nd ed., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., Fort Worth, 1977, pp. 63-65.
In that same June 1852 Baha’u’llah began His last two months before His imprisonment in the Siyah Chal on August 16th 1852. He stayed at the summer residence of the brother of the Grand Visier in Lavasan outside Tihran. During this summer He was kept informed of the rising and ultimately engulfing tide of anger and hatred against Him, especially from the Shah’s mother. We are informed by Balyuzi that “Baha’u’llah remained calm and composed.”1 Baha’u’llah’s enemies wanted to arrest Him and while they were looking for Him Baha’u’llah rode out toward them without fear or panic.-Ron Price with thanks to H. Balyuzi, Baha’u’llah The King of Glory, George Ronald, Oxford, 1980, p.77.
So much had got going back in ’44,
manuscripts produced in that spring
and summer, a fertile partnership,1
one in Paris and one in Shiraz,
would transform the world.
Much more got going in ’52
when a Revelation flowed out
from His travailing soul,
piercing the gloom of that
pestilential pit and bursting
its walls to propagate itself
to the far ends of the earth.
And from that museum, too,
something would infuse the
entire body of humankind
with its potentialities shaping
the course of human society.
1 Marx’s first writings The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts date from the summer of 1844; the Bab’s manuscript, the Qayyum’u’l-Asma, written in May of 1844 was read later in the summer by a scholar named Qujjat and 1000s of Qujjat’s fellow townspeople in Zanjan became Babis.
July 15th 2006
CAN’T GO ANY HIGHER
I’ve often thought that the Baha’i writings and teachings provide what Saul Bellow said human beings need. Bellow, an American writer and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976, once said that he thought there existed in society “an immense, painful longing for a broader, more flexible, fuller, more coherent, more comprehensive account of what we human beings were, who we were and what this life was for." –Ron Price with thanks to Saul Bellow in “Saul Bellow: Celebrating His Life and Literary Legacy,” A Discussion With Gregory Bellow, Ann Birstein, Herbert Gold, & Steven J. Zipperstein. Moderator: Michael Krasny, November 2, 2005, Stanford Education, Department of Jewish Studies, Internet Site.
You said fiction was a
a tool for studying society,
for searching a way to see reality.
Autobiography will do it for me.
You saw yourself, when a youth
in Chicago, as unsophisticated.
Me too, Saul, me too: the son of
a Welshman and English woman,
good people, tried hard, solid stock.
You said a writer was on track
when the door of his native,
deeper intuitions was open.
His sentences had to come
from that source and then
he could build around them.1
I have to settle for autobiography,
poetic and prose forms, Saul.
I don’t seem to be able
to write fiction, Saul.
To each their own, Saul.
to each their own, eh?
1 Michiko Kakutani, “A Talk With Saul Bellow: On His Work and Himself,” The New York Times on the Web, December 13th 1981.
February 10th 2006
A DEVELOPMENT THEORY
Recently I came to see the writing process and how it manifested itself in my life in what might be called a developmental, a stage, form. Like Piaget or Erikson and their theories of human development by stages, I came up with a four stage model of development based on the resources and technology available to me. The last, the most recent stage, I call the ‘word processing stage’ and it has been in place for 20 years, 1986 to 2006. The ‘typewriter’ stage lasted from 1966 to 1986, my last year at university until I began a fine job in the far NW of Australia as a lecturer in management studies at the age of 42. The ‘pencil and pen’ stage took place, arguably, from 1946 to 1966, from some embryonic, beyond memory form, in the utilization of pen, pencil, crayon, etc. in my early childhood to the completion of my BA degree in sociology at age 22. And, finally, what I refer to as the ‘genetic’ stage from conception to age two, 1943-1946, was based on the energies, writing instincts and inclinations of the three chief socializers in my life during this period: mother, father and grandfather.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, February 20th 2006.
What is memory except
a starting from a taste,
a scent, a sense, from some
clamour of bells in the depths
of years, a grand movement,1
reminiscence, a feeling for form,
like a rocket taking off at last
from a small place in my head,
perhaps touching my heart
or even raising an excitement
in my groin and, in so doing,
revealing a fan of memories,
a pattern, some coherence,
more fully synchronized,
crystallizing indications into
a recognizable reality, marking
measures of time, comprehending
the magnitude of what has been
accomplished, pondering circumstances
attending seminal happenings in my past,
awakening appreciation for the wonderful
consequences in life,2 in the place of
wholesale forgetting, at a site
of emptiness, of anxiety around
which, pearl-like, poetry3 forms
and fills what was before just
a lot of time and space and place.
1Georges Poulet, Proustian Space, trans. Elliott Coleman, John Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1977, p. 304.
2 The Universal House of Justice, 14 January 2001.
3 Chris Wallace-Crabbe in Poulet, op.cit., p.23.
February 20th 2006
A DIFFERENT PENETRATION
Shortly after I retired from full-time and part-time work as well as much of the voluntary work I had done for decades, I saw a documentary film1 entitled The Weather Underground. I felt a certain nostalgia as I watched this television documentary since the complex and historical origins of the group at the centre of this TV doco, the Weathermen and later the Weather Underground Organization, could be traced back to the 1960s and particularly my second year at university, 1964-5, when I was a history and philosophy student at McMaster University in Canada.
The Students for a Democratic Society(SDS) was first formed in 1960 and the Weathermen was a split-off from the SDS in 1969. The academic year, 1964-5, was the year of the free speech movement centered at the University of California, Berkeley, the SNCC: Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee and other groups concerned with civil rights and anti-Viet Nam protests. Although I never joined any of these groups, I did take part in two demonstrations in Hamilton and Toronto in the spring of 1965. I attended one conference in Ottawa concerned with civil rights, voter registration and specifically the treatment of Negroes in Selma Alabama, among other concerns. As a result of an all-night vigil I took part in on the steps of the American embassy in Toronto I got my picture on the front page of the Hamilton Spectator. It was the only time in my life I made the front page of any paper. -Ron Price with thanks to 1“Hot docs: The Weather Underground,” SBS TV, 10:00-11:35 p.m., August 15th 2006 and Pioneering Over Four Epochs, August 16th 2006.
By the time you1 got going
in that summer of ’69 I was
heading for Cherry Valley to
teach kids from the farms of
southern Ontario in grade 6
and play soccer at recess….
and the world was on its way
to the moon.
You were right, the revolution
was on its way and you played
your part by blowing things up
and I played mine by working
within the nucleus and pattern
of a new world order born in
the Siyah Chal in 1853 ground
in the mill of adversity, such a
different scene than yours.
And, yes, the revolution goes on,
quietly in some places, noisy in
others, largely unnoticed, in the
hearts of millions with no commitment
to the status quo and who spiritually
dropped out with a withdrawal that
is almost deafening from a world
they have long found to be meaningless.
The revolution goes on just about
entirely out of our control as we
work to produce a new pattern
of human life, little by little,
day by day with a social model
and a vision that penetrates
to the very purpose of life.2
1 The group known as the Weathermen.
2Douglas Martin, “The Spiritual Revolution,” World Order, Winter 1973-4, pp. 14-21.
August 16th 2006
On Nov. 20, 1962, in the midst of the Soviet Premier Nikita S. Krushchev's de-Stalinization campaigns, Mr. Solzhenitsyn's short novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was published--with, it is said, the Premier's explicit approval. Solzhenitsyn became the lion of Soviet letters and "Ivan Denisovich" the first novel to deal with the acutely grim realities of Soviet labour camps. The book was also the account of his eight years experience in such a forced labor camp. The book won him the praise not only of politically motivated de-Stalinizers but of literary critics around the world.
I was only 18 at the time, doing my matriculation studies in Ontario and eleven weeks into my life as a Bahá’í pioneer. Four years later my lecturer in the philosophy of education at Windsor Teachers' College sold me a copy of this book. I had just left the towns where I had grown up in southern Ontario and nine months later I left Ontario for Baffin Island and a job teaching Inuit children in a grade three primary classroom. -Ron Price with thanks to James F. Clarity,"Unpublished At Home," The New York Times on the Web, 9 October 1970.
No one told me and I never asked
about the novels coming out of
Russia back then--or anywhere else
for that matter. I was as busy as
a proverbial beaver getting through
9 subjects in my last year of high
school, wishing I could have it off
with some girl somewhere, anywhere,
but keeping my libido well-under
control in those early pioneering
days at the end of the 9th stage of
history and the outset of the 10th.
Labour camps would never be part
of my story, although there would be
much labour and many camps, none
of your physical pain and torture,
but more mental tests that I could
ever have imagined back in 1962,
tests that would last for some 50
years and, indeed, much more??
20 December 2006
The popular doll, Barbie, artifact of female representation and identity, of depiction and posturing of women, has evoked a steady stream of critical attention since her debut in 1959. I have not been that conscious of this critical attention involved as I have been since 1959 with issues relating to my education, my career, my family and my religion. If millions of pre-pubescent girls have lived imaginatively and vicariously through Barbie this has not really concerned me. The world is burgeoning with issues and this was one far removed from my flight path. In 1959 I joined the Baha’i Faith and the agenda that has concerned me has only on rare occasions and only very peripherally involved the barbie doll. –Ron Price with thanks to “The Wonder of Barbie: Popular Culture and the Making of Female Identity,” Essays in Philosophy: A Biannual Journal, Vol.4, No.1, January 2003.
The essence of feminine beauty
is vigilance and artificiality.
Men may be expected to enhance
their appearance, but women are
supposed to transform themselves.
Who is the fairest of them all.
The mirror replies, “Before I
answer that, may I suggest an
Revlon spray?…this lipstick?
Where have you been Barbie?
You popped into my life when
I visited those kids in Whyalla
and when I went shopping more
than usual between marriages.
Images of maleness were many
and varied: my dad, grandfather,
uncle, those westerns on TV back
in the fifties and all those old chaps
in Baha’i history--unquestionably--
subtlely, insinuating themselves into
my imaginative faculty on cold
Canadian evenings; Jim Gibb
reading poems, John Dixon’s
quiet kindness, Douglas Martin’s
clever use of words, so many
ordinarily ordinary men, artifacts
of identity, of depiction and posturing:
nothing like Dick, his relentless jollity,
his banklike security and his always
impeccable decorator and merry picnic.
2 October 2006
BEGINNING IN ’59 OR WAS IT ’69?*
* In 1869 Baudelaire, arguably the founder of modern prose-poetry, published his Petits Poems en Prose. In 1959 Charles Simic published his first poem and I became a Bahá'í.
American poet Charles Simic's first works were published in 1959 when he was twenty-one. Between that year and 1961, when he entered military service, he churned out a number of poems, most of which he has since destroyed. My first poems came from these years as well. They were never published and they were thrown away soon after they were written. I was 15 in 1959 and had just joined the midget baseball league and the Bahá'í Faith, in that order.
Simic and I earned our BA degrees in 1966. I was 22; he was 28. Simic went on to publish poetry and I went on to the teaching profession. His first full-length collection of poems, What the Grass Says, was published in 1967. Simic's quite original poetry in English and translations of important Yugoslavian poets began to attract critical attention by the time I had moved to Australia in 1971. In The American Moment: American Poetry in the Mid-Century Geoffrey Thurley notes that the substance of Simic's earliest work was “European and rural rather than American and urban. The world his poetry created was that of central Europe and its woods, ponds and peasant furniture."
Simic's work defies easy categorization. Some poems reflect a surreal, metaphysical bent and others offer grimly realistic portraits of violence and despair. Hudson Review contributor Vernon Young maintains that memory with its taproot deep into European folklore is the common source of all of Simic's poetry. Simic is a graduate of NYU; he is married and a father living in pragmatic America. When he composes poems, Simic turns to his unconscious and to earlier pools of memory. I am a graduate of McMaster in Hamilton. I, too, married and became a father in pragmatic Australia. When I compose poems I turn to memory and to my experience in the Bahá'í community.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, May 5th 2006.
We both wrote a type of prose-poetry
whose rules are never clearly defined,
no resolution of its issues of meaning,
of its short expressions of feeling,
its stylistic, imagistic density,
its ornamental variation of prose,
its passionate promptings, undulations
and intimately inward contours.
Some say prose-poetry is not poetry;
it fights against the mainstream, flaunts
and flies in the face of poetic purists.
Evolving and elusive and valid, I’d say.
There’s a sort of formal speech here,
not metered but a natural rhythm,
identifying with the lyrical impulses
of the soul, revery’s ebbs and flows.
Some say it started with Bertrand
and Baudelaire in the 1840s-1850s
or the 1890s and others say you can
go all the way back to the Old Testament.
Our work is motivated by many
things: to turn the gaze inward
and trace the movement mind
and the gaze of readers, to turn
thought to the ills of society
and graphically describe in order
to analyse with a personal voice,
intimate matters, autobiographical
detail, a certain psychic weight,
I want to ponder…..
….and I ponder using this
inherently ambivalent, hybrid,
generic instability, duality, traces
from two worlds, cross-discursive
discourse, with contradictions,
paradoxes and complications,
the sentence and the line with
loose borders between journals,
diaries and a lot of other stuff
right back to the birth of this
new Revelation when things
were separated and put together
again in new forms, ways, styles.
May 6th 2006
Back in the years 1977-78 I used to drive to Warrnambool from Ballarat in Victoria Australia in connection with some teaching activity in the Bahá'í community. In Warrnambool I got to know a lady named Camilla Fleigelman. She was the wife of a medical doctor and she was just beginning her involvement in the Aboriginal community. In the early years of the new millennium, some 30 years later, she published a book on an Aboriginal elder. The book was well received in Australia both in the Bahá'í and the wider community. The poet Vergil has a maiden warrior named Camilla in Book 7 of his Aeneid. The Bahá'í Faith had been in Australia for over 80 years before the book was published and some 40 or more in Warrnambool.
Camilla occupies a place of no little significance in the Aeneid. She occupies a place reserved in epic poetry for a warrior of great merit and reputation. But she behaves more like a man than a woman for she is both hunter and warrior. She is a woman of action. In the Aeneid she is a marginal character, troublesome and hard to understand, like the Aeneid itself. Others in Vergil’s epic are amazed at Camilla; they marvel and gape at her. She is mirabile dictu and mirabile visu.1 I find the parallels between this ancient Camilla and this modern one whom I came to know briefly in my early thirties in Australia are heuristic. -Ron Price with thanks to 1 Trudy Becker, “Ambiguity and the Female Warrior: Vergil’s Camilla,” Electronic Antiquity, Vol. IV, No.1, August 1997.
Materialism in Rome brought
material chaos in a world
crying out for unity and insight
into the human predicament
not cleverness and a good laugh
as you wrote your great epic.1
So much unreconciled back then;
it permeates your epic as it
permeates our world. And so
you sought a unity in the great
multiplicity of your Roman world.
As I, too, seek this same unity.
My world had a Camilla and yours,
your Aeneid both women of action,
of merit and reputation--2000 years
apart, mirabile dictu, mirabile visu.
1 Vergil wrote the Aeneid from 29 to 19 BC.
June 17th 2006.
This Latin expression, carpe diem, applies to many a facet of life-some of which I write about in the following prose-poem.
Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson set to work early in 1963 putting their radio astronomy receiving system together. I had no idea at the time since I was 18 and studying nine matriculation subjects in the most demanding part of my formal education. My interest in sport and girls back then far exceeded my enthusiasm for either physics or astronomy. In the early months of 1963, as the Baha’is of the world were preparing to hold their first international election, these two American scientists, Penzias and Wilson, were most concerned about the quality of the components they were adding to the system they were developing. It was a system they had been given to do their work and the existing components of that system had superb properties for the work they were engaged in.
These two men began a series of radio astronomical observations so as to make the best use of the careful calibration and extreme sensitivity of their system. Of the various projects they were working on, the most technically challenging was a measurement of the radiation intensity from the Milky Way galaxy at high latitudes.1 This endeavor resulted in the accidental discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation. Wilson gave a detailed description of the development of their system in his 1978 Nobel lecture.2 Their discovery established the Big Bang theory as the unquestionable and leading contender by far for the explanation of the origins of the universe. For this discovery they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Arno Penzias, “Autobiography,” Nobelprize.org; and 2Robert Wilson, Nobel Lecture, 8 December, 1978.
The balance of opinion
was now shifting to the
Big Bang hypothesis,
just as the apex was finally
placed on this System and
that charismatic Force was
finally and fully given the
seal of good-housekeeping,
institutionalized in a unique
victory of consolidation
beyond the reach of our
understanding in these years
at the start of the tenth,
the tremendously long
final stage of history
which was finally off
and running, in the first
Plan launched to which
we were asked, yet again,
to: carpe diem--seize the day;
seize the day and go forward.1
1 This was an important part of the philosophy of the apostle Paul as expressed in Philippians 3:7-16. Carpe diem, seize the day, has been an important part of Baha’i philosophy as I have understood it in my life. The Universal House of Justice wrote in its first Ridvan Message in April 1964: “we must seize the opportunities of the hour and go forward…..” Wellspring of Guidance, p.27.
March 26th 2006
In October of 1965, after a twelve year association with the Baha’i Faith, six as a declared believer, I finally decided to make the commitment a full-on one. That full-on-ness took the initial form of deciding to take the Baha’i Faith, to pioneer as Baha’is call the exercise, to the northernmost part of Canada and the Inuit. During that previous twelve years, 1953 to 1965, the Baha’i Faith meant various things to me at various times, involved various types and degrees of activity and engagement and gradually came to occupy the central focus of my life. By the closing years of the third and final stage of the initial epoch(1937-1963) in the evolution of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Master Plan I had certainly caught the fire of, and been influenced by, the propelling forces mysteriously guiding the global, the Ten Year Crusade(1953-1963). I was scarcely conscious of the long road ahead, a road on which that commitment would again take many forms of expression. Forty years later, in 2005, I had given up full-time work, part-time work and much of my volunteer work, avenues wherein I had taught the Cause for many a year(1965-2005), to focus on yet another form of service. –Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, August 20th 2006.
Forty years ago this month,
in August of 1966, I sold my
last truck-load of ice-cream.
My time as a Yummie-Man
had ended and I moved to
Canada’s most southerly city.
It was not all peaches-&-cream
as I took my clapped-out car
down the road and left my mother
crying as her only son left her
alone and by herself for her last
years in Hamilton Ontario:65-78.
And today, after 40 years on the road,
I look forward to what I hope is 40 more
years travelling in my head and writing it
down and taking me into the world of the
centenarian and the 200th anniversary of
the commencement of the most turbulent
period of the Heroic age of the Baha’i Era.
The 200th anniversary of the opening of the
most glorious epoch in the greatest cycle
which the spiritual history of mankind has
witnessed, of the most spectacular, the most
tragic, the most eventful period of the first
Baha’i century and unique in the whole
range of man’s religious experience.
August 20th 2006
COHEN’S SHISH KEBAB
After finishing my writing and reading last night it was a little after 2 a.m. I went downstairs and turned on the TV to rest my eyes and brain before going to bed. I was surprised to see Leonard Cohen in an interview on one of the Australian TV stations.1 The interview inspired me that same afternoon to read about Cohen on the internet. The material here comes from several interview sites.2 “I feel tremendously relieved,” said Cohen in 2005 at the age of 70, “that I’m not worried about my happiness. There are things of course that make me happy…..But what I am so happy about is that the background of distress and discomfort I had had in my life has at last evaporated. It’s not that I don’t feel distressed or sad about things that I see and know and what happens to people around me. It’s not that the emotions don’t come, it’s just that the background is clear. Before…it was very dark. I could pierce the darkness. Before…..there was a kind of mist, a kind of distress over everything, but that has lifted at last. –Ron Price with thanks to 1Leonard Cohen, Interview with Leonard Cohen, August 2nd 2006, 2:00-3:00 A.M. TV; and “An Interview in 2005,” Kari Hesthamar, Los Angeles, 2005.
You’ve been writing poetry
as long as my life’s been
associated with the permeation
of that light, with that most
wonderful and thrilling motion
with the very inception of the
Kingdom of God on earth
when the manifest Standard
began waving in the centre
of the great continent where
we were born and raised.
It’s been a heavy trip for you,
Leonard, and I’m so pleased
your distress and discomfort
has evaporated at last—me too,
Leonard, me too: at last a lifting,
an ease,a tranquillity never known,
forgiveness and an early peach
with all labour put away---well,
not quite all, eh Leonard, eh?---
the heart still cooks, sizzling like,
how did you put it—shish kebab?
August 2nd 2006
CUTTING THE MILLENNIAL DIVIDE
One of the most beautiful objects in the heavens is Saturn. It has 34 moons and one is called Titan, the second largest moon in our solar system. It was discovered in 1655, some 350 years ago. Beginning with Voyager 1 and Pioneer 11 in the late 1970s spacecraft have been taking photos of Saturn and its moons so that a great deal is now known about this planet and its systems. This is especially true since the most recent pass-over by the spacecraft Cassini in 2004 and the descent of the Huygens probe in 2005. A day on Titan is 16 Earth days.-Ron Price, “Internet Sites,” Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 26 September 2006.
We were beginning to get
a handle on Saturn and its
34 moons just as that long
Seven Year Plan started:
getting launched back in ’79.
We were just beginning all
those buildings on the Arc,
impressive tapestry of beauty,
when that Saturn program
had its start and the voyage
to Titan was well on its way
when an unfolding magnificence
of Terraces was helping us enjoy
a coherence of vision and action
that defined portentous events
cutting across the millennial divide.
We were learning things on Earth and
in the heavens that would shed light on
centuries to come and lift us slowly from
forecasts of doom and a slough of despond.
September 26th 2006.
DRAMATIST AND TRANSFORMATION
“This Nobel Prize,” said Eugene O’Neill in his banquet speech on receiving the Nobel Prize in literature, “is a symbol of the recognition by Europe of the coming-of-age of the American theatre. For my plays are merely, through luck of time and circumstance, the most widely-known examples of the work done by American playwrights in the years since the World War--work that has finally made modern American drama in its finest aspects an achievement of which Americans can be justly proud.”1 These were this famous American playwright’s words on December 10th 1936, spoken while the American Baha’is were preparing to launch their first Plan in April 1937, another stage in the greatest spiritual drama in humankind’s history.
Whatever the source of this playwright’s pessimism, his sense of the tragic—and there were many--the line of his development was marked out until his death in 1953. He was political, but not in the partisan sense. O'Neill became by degrees the uniquely and fiercely tragic dramatist that the world has come to know. He appeared on the drama's stage with his first play in 1916. By then the tragic realities of the first 70 years of the Babi-Baha’i experience had set a stamp on Baha’i history, as had the secular history of the previous two years of WW1. His finest play, a tragedy, appeared on the eve of WW2. The conception of life that he presents is not a product of elaborate thinking, but it has the genuine stamp of something lived through. It is based upon an exceedingly intense, one might say, heart-rent, realization of the austerity of life, side by side with a kind of rapture at the beauty of human destinies shaped in the struggle against odds. The Nobel Prize was awarded to O’Neill for dramatic works of vital energy, sincerity, and intensity of feeling, stamped with an original conception of tragedy.1 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Eugene O’Neill in Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, editor, Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.
I’ve often felt you were
one of the finest Baha’i
dramatists; of course we
don’t have explicitly Baha’i:
poets, dramatists, artists,
musicians, etc., et cetera.
We just have Baha’is who
are inspired by a new spirit,
in a new age, with a new
cosmology and we have
people like you Eugene
who had died many times
before you even put pen
to paper and documented
the tragedy of our age
as Aeschylus did long
ago in another tragic time,1
a religious dramatist, too,
documenting the verities
of our human universe
when another world was
being transformed before
our eyes--part of the complex
evolution of the history of the
units of social organization
on this dear, dear, planet.1
1 Aeschylus(525 BC-456 BC), the great Greek tragedian and powerful dramatist. This was a critical period when Greece was moving from the family and clan to the city state as the unit of social organization.
February 27th 2006
I FOUND A POEM
I found a poem in that conversation.
It was not buried deep in the soil
of my brain.......it just popped-out
really with some juxtapositioning
from one word really of that movie
enabling this mental-scrawling and
stretching across the years, reaching
upwards to those luminous lights
which have been there since the ‘50s.
With new, wonderful configurations
I embellished the movie’s meaning,
gave it a fresh grace, even a splendour
deriving from the power of thought
alone and its dazzling rays, strange
really, the whole process, like some
godlike impulses radiating perhaps.
And yet, I still drift on the wings of
passion and vain desire striving to
obtain more and more of the arts of
living and civilization using senses
and faculties devoted to the service
of the general good and those many
safe strongholds and multitudes of
knowledge’s impregnable fortresses.(1)
(1) This poem was born from two sources: (a) Jessica Wilkinson’s poem “Posy” in philament: An Online Journal of Culture and the Arts, December 2009 and (b) ‘‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970(1875), pp.1-3.
1 January 2009
I first came across Thomas Hardy in grades 11 and 12 in Burlington Ontario. His novels The Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the D’Urbervilles were the novels we studied in those last two years at Burlington Central High School. I was a good student, near the top of my class, but I remember finding Hardy: heavy, cumbersome, difficult reading, although nowhere near as difficult as the Shakespeare play we also studied each year. I did not come across Hardy again until some thirty years later in the early 1990s when I taught matriculation English at a technical and further education college in Perth Western Australia. Again, it was Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
And so it was, when I saw this novel brought to life by some of Britain’s best young acting talent, filmed in the U.K. in 2008 and shown on ABC11 this week, I could not help but reflect and so wrote this prose-poem. Greek humanism and not Christian revelation, in the end, stands out in Hardy. It is a road I would have gone down myself had I not discovered a new Flame-Voice and Its extreme solutions, a new prophet placed in Israel’s oven where the heat consumes everything but compassion.2-Ron Price with thanks to 1 ABC1 TV, Sunday 8:30, 11 April 2010 and 2Roger White, Occasions of Grace, George Ronald, Oxford, 1992, p.102 and p.97.
How could one forget your words:
happiness is but one occasional....
episode in a general drama of pain!
No wonder I found you ponderous at
the age of 16 when the oils of youth
were bulging out...seeking to grease
and light my life beyond that world
of sport, school, girls and endlessly
familiar stuff that was my life then.
Your reputation for extreme pessimism,
your pessimistic pantheism, precedence
of feeling over thought.....religious and
metaphysical uncertainties...a nostalgia
for the things of everyday, a longing for
lost faith, seeing change as superficial in
your world—its doomed stronghold of
ancient ways of life, morbid in a way, but
also sublimely compassionate: your many-
sided personality, Thomas, very attractive.
Your sense of dignity, of awe and a power
of endurance in a timeless universe: what a
grand and strange place which we glimpse
only momentarily through the accidents and
coincidences, the tragic fate and a series of
kicks on the long road, long haul to disaster:
no light at the end of your tunnel, eh, Thomas?
16 April 2010
When my mother and father were first getting to know each other back in the early 1940s, Philip Larkin was publishing his first poems. In the early to mid-1950s when my mother investigated and then joined the Baha’i Faith in Canada, Larkin began to establish himself as one of the foremost figures in 20th century poetry. Of course, I was not interested in any of this, still in my childhood playing in the streets, watching my first TV programs and becoming increasingly aware, even then, of the beauty of the opposite sex. By the time Larkin died in 1985 at the age of 63, he was still not on my radar screen. The serious study and writing of poetry had, by then, just begun. My mother had also, by then, died and I had taken up her interest in the Baha’i Faith. I was a pioneer for the Canadian Baha’i community and living in Katherine in Australia’s Northern Territory.
When I retired after 50 years in classrooms as a student and a teacher, when my three children left home and my wife and I took a sea-change in Tasmania, I got to be more acquainted with the poetry of Larkin. I had become a poet myself; my acquaintance with the Baha’i Faith by 2003 was in its 50th year and I had hundreds of thousands of readers on the internet. This prose poem was written in my 65th year in appreciation for the poetry and life of a man whom I had just begun to get to know.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs: My Memoirs, 16 November 2008.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I began asking and answering these questions about myself and writing in 1998 and added more in the summer of 2009/10. This is the 26th simulated interview in 14 years, 1996 to 2010. There is no attempt in this particular series of Qs &As to be sequential, to follow themes or simulate a normal interview. I have attempted a more logical-sequential pattern in most other interviews. I have posted literally millions of words on the internet and readers who come across this interview of 5000 words will gain some idea of the person who writes the stuff they read at sites on this world-wide-web, sites they can access by simply googling the words: RonPrice followed by any one of dozens of others words like: poetry, literature, philosophy, history, religion, cinema, inter alia.
1. Do you have a favourite place to visit? I’ve lived in 25 cities and towns and in 37 houses and would enjoy visiting them again for their mnemonic value. There are dozens of other places I’d enjoy going circumstances permitting, circumstances like: lots of money, good health, lots of energy and if I could be of some use to the people in those places.
2. Who are your favourite writers? Edward Gibbon, Arnold Toynbee, Ortega y Gasset, the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, Rainer Maria Rilke, Emily Dickinson, Rollo May, Alfred Adler, inter alter.
3. Who are your favorite artists? There are several dozen art movements and hundreds if not thousands or artists. I will name two famous artists whose work I like and two whom I have known personally: Cezanne, Van Gogh, Chelinay and Drew Gates.
4. Who are your favorite composers, musicians, vocalists and singer/songwriters? How can one choose from the thousands in these categories? Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Hayden come to mind as composers but, goodness, there are simply too many to list.
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 and many more that I come across in reading history, the social sciences and the humanities.
6. Who has been your greatest inspirations? Roger White and John Hatcher in my middle age, Jamie 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 65.
7. If you could invite several people(a dozen) for dinner from any period in history, who would you choose and why?
I’d chose the following people 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.
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.
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.
8. What are you reading? At the moment, in 1998, my last year of full-time employment, I have fourteen books on the go: eight biographies, four literary criticisms, one book of philosophy and one of psychology. Now in the first year on two old age pensions a decade later, I am reading only material on the internet and that reading list is too extensive to list here.
9. What do you enjoy listening to in the world of music? I listen mainly to classical music on the classical FM station here in Perth as well as some from the folk, pop and rock worlds. Now that I live in George Town northern Tasmania this is also true only much less pop and folk and more jazz.
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 ten years later) now that I live in northern Tasmania I rarely eat Persian and Mexican food. Now that I am retired I hardly miss these foods.
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.
12. How Important is Life-Style and Freedom From the Demands of Employment and Other People?
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. He 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.
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.
13. Were you popular at school, in your primary, secondary and university days?
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 things. 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 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.
14. You did not flower early as a writer. Tell us something about the origins of your prose and poetic writing.
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. 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.
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—and I had to work at the process back then. Any significant literary success did not come, really, until I was nearly forty.
15. What sort of relationships do you have these days?
I was reading about the Canadian writer George Woodcock whom I have 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 a listening post for so many years I was a burnt-out case and wanted to shut my ears to the endless chatter of life.
If I wanted to know about stuff 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 but 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.
16. How would you describe the social outreach in your poetry?
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 several times in this series of 26 interviews. It is an important question because the wider world often judges a person by the extent to which one engages with or in the quixotic tournament of social and 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 and, in the process, probably little depth in those prose-poems of mine either.
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, habit, leisure. 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 even authentic historical documents, mine and those of others, are products of a human mind and its language, not of reality itself. Reality could be seen as a white light which each person sees on a spectrum of colour.
17. Do you think travelling has been crucial to your writing?
The Canadian poet Al Purdy(1918-2000) admitted pretty 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 these places. 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, and for a great many reasons until I was too tired, 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.
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 and 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 you wanted to meet Larkin then you had to make sure you didn't ever talk about poetry. You could talk about jazz and anything else. So these friends arranged this meeting and left the two of them in the pub. Finally, after a few beers, Larkin leans across the table and says, "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 spirit I read his poetry or I read about him but I have no strong desire to meet and have a chat. But I like to talk about poetry and that is why I’ve simulated these 26 interviews.
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 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. The poets I do engage with hit home quite deeply, but they are relatively few.
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 the writer and the reader here is not due to being taken to another realm, although this can occur but, more importantly or just as importantly, it is due to seeing meaning, hidden meaning, meaning that did not exist before, in one’s experience, in the things and thoughts themselves, to go beyond the familiar, to make 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.
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.
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 beloved Guardian(Bahá'í leader from 1921-1957) saw such spiritual power in the arts that he predicted they would eventually do much to help the Cause spread the spirit of love and unity.
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.
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.
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 90 and lives in a little town called Beauty Point in northern Tasmania, 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. Talk a little bit about the types of poetry written and read today?
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, coffeehouses, galleries and bookstores.
I used to go to such places in the early to mid-1990s. I don’t have the social-synergy to do so any more. If I had come to them sooner and to poetry sooner I might have found them right up my alley.
I’ll close with some words from American poet William Carlos Williams:
It is difficult to get
the news from poems yet men
die miserably every day for lack
of what is found there.
26. Talk a little about courage, creativity, ecstasy and fantasy if you can.
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. “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 our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”
“A chief characteristic of this courage,” he went on to say, “is that it requires a centeredness within our 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 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.
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?
In recent years, since my early retirement from FT and PT work in my late fifties as we entered the 3rd millennium and even more so now that I am 65, on an old age pension 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. 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, sister and 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.
This background created in them a disposition against popular culture, a fear that common tastes might make them appear undiscerning and unworthy, although this was not entirely true of my father who had a number of working class jobs, was a passionate gardener and read the newspaper more than books. At the same time, they listened and danced to popular music, loved motion pictures, and played and followed sports.
The years after World War II transformed popular culture in important ways. The enormous expansion of consumer spending, the rise of new communications media, 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 of baseball, hockey and football players whose pictures were printed on the backs of cards. 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.
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 of an interest in both popular and high culture and not been an authority on either.
I began asking and answering these questions in 1998, as I indicated in the preamble to this simulated interview. I added more questions and answers, as I also said at the outset of this interview, a decade later in 2009 and 2010.(Last update made: 24 February 2010. Total: 4900 words)