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."
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
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
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
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.
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.
Roger White, White-Price Correspondence: