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Emergence of a Bahá'í Consciousness in World Literature:
The Poetry of Roger White

by Ron Price

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Chapter 11

LIPSTICK AND BRUISES

Although this book is devoted primarily to the poetry of Roger White, I have added special chapters to focus on a small selection of his letters, on his books of prose and here in this chapter on some of his other activities involving writing and poetry. I have done this to place his poetry in additional perspectives, those of a creative and imaginative life.

In a book celebrating the first hundred years of Hansard in Canada's parliament, John Ward wrote that Roger White was "acknowledged by his colleagues as one of the finest shorthand writers ever to serve his country."[1] He also served as the official reporter for the Supreme Court of British Columbia. These were some of the skills White brought to the Publishing Department at the Bahá'í World Centre where he was editor-in-chief of several volumes of The Bahá'í World in the 1980s. He wrote the lyrics for 'Songs for Solo Voice' by Jean South in Luxembourg and the text of a book Forever in Bloom: The Lotus of Bahapur.2

In 1989 White gave a poetry reading in Haifa. He had been at the Bahá'í World Centre for eighteen years by that time. The evening's program was called 'Lipstick and Bruises.' The tone was entertaining with a gentle satire in the air as he read and spoke. White was a sit-down, not a stand-up, comedian. He really was quite funny, not a surprising quality to anyone who knew his poetry and had received some of his letters. White satirized almost everything that the Bahá'í World stood for but, in the end, everything and everyone's emotions and standards were left intact. Most contemporary comedians leave not a stone or an institution standing after a thoroughgoing evening of satirical work is done. Not so with White. He certainly turned stones over with his satire but the process was gentle and embodied an etiquette, a refinement, of expression.

I was reminded, as I listened, of the Jews who for centuries have been 'the funny guys,' the comedians. There seems to be something about suffering that brings out the lighter side of life as a survival mechanism. It seemed most fitting that two hundred Bahá'ís should join White in an evening of laughter and pure delight. Somehow it was a sign of the maturity of the Bahá'í community, so often measured in blood, sweat and tears but, this evening, measured in, as White put it in the title he gave to the program, 'Lipstick and Bruises.'

White read many of his old favourites and the audience's. He also read some new material: from letters he had received, from his experiences and those of others. He joked; he played the raconteur, the provocateur, the stimulator, the titillator, the poet-who-lives-here, the kind man that he was.

I was not present at the evening's entertainment which was organized, White informed us, by the Department of Organization and Personnel. I was one of those who received a cassette-tape with the background music of the Iranian musician Masoud Rowshan who played the santour. I was one of those who heard the voice of the poet, I think for the first time, after enjoying his many voices in poetry.

There was a dryness in his voice, a little like the dry humour that comes out of Canada. But there was that kindness, the kindness that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had pointed to when He visited Canada in 1912. White was one of those "kind friends' that 'Abdu'l-Bahá had raised up just about the time when Canada was forming its first National Spiritual Assembly in 1948. With a lifetime of service, over forty years, and the experiences of lipstick and bruises behind him, White was a veteran. He was also greatly loved. There would be four years of 'lipstick and bruises' to go before his innings were to be completed.

I wish I could have been there, although I was able to savour each line as it came off my cassette tape. I felt as if I finally had White to myself after all these years, such are the illusions of technology. Nineteen months after this poetry reading White would leave the Bahá'í World Centre. With a quadruple bypass operation under his belt, so to speak, which he likened to "being struck down by a herd of stampeding rogue elephants or perhaps a small Sherman tank,"[3] he still had a little left. He put that little into three books of poetry which were published within three years of this public reading at the Bahá'í World Centre.


Notes:
[1] John Ward, The Hansard Chronicles: A Celebration of the First Hundred Years of Hansard in Canada's Parliament, Deneau and Greenberg, Ottawa, 1980, p.173.
2 These items I have on papers Roger sent to me in the years 1981 to 1993. I am confident that a more comprehensive search through his archive and a thorough investigation into his biography would reveal his contributions, literary and otherwise, over a wide field.
[3] Roger White, White-Price Correspondence: 1981-1993.
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