After 30 years of writing occasional pieces of poetry(1962-1992), I have now written poetry 15 years much more extensively and intensively(1993-2005). The poetry here comes from just one year, 2002. It does not represent all the poetry I wrote that year.
The poetry in this section was written in 2002 and is part of Section VIII of a larger autobiographical work: Pioneering Over Four Epochs. The poetry in this section also contains much prose and tries to integrate the Baha\'i Faith, the events of secular history and my own life into a comprehensive whole. The completed Arc Project was clearly a major inspiration in this whole exercise.
Autobiographical Poetry 2002:
Pioneering Over Four Epochs, Section VIII: Booklets 48-51
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and a Study in Autobiography
, Poetry: Section VIII
Chris and I have been back in Tasmania for just on forty months, August 1999 to December 2002. During that time I have visited the Hobart environs four times, twice with Chris and Dan, once with just Chris and once by myself. It is a three hour drive including half an hour to stop, refresh and eat if necessary. For various reasons it seems difficult to make the trip; the trip seems to be a long one, an effort and so every ten months on average is the best we have been able to do, thusfar. Going to Hobart seems to be a big-deal; I'm not sure what sort of poem will come out of this experience.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 12 December 2002.
After travelling and living
in distant Baffin, Van Deiman's
Land and a dozen other places,
here I am nearly sixty
and finally settling down,
wanting to stay home and
communicate-commune on paper
with every corner of the world.
I am not alone when by myself
in the tranquillity of retirement
where the enthusiasm for writing
poetry has not been quenched
these ten long years,
the understanding of my time
increases and I discover who I am.
For the real travelling
turns glimpses and feelings
into images and form1
as smoothly as our car
speeds along the highway
to its several destinations.
1 Poets at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, George Plimpton, editor, Viking Press, 1989, p.327.
12 December 2002
DEEP DARK EYE
"A great painter of men," wrote the 19th century essayist and critic Walter Bagehot, "must have a faculty for conversing, but he must also have a capacity for solitude." For, although much can be learned from talking to others, there is much that can only be learned by oneself. We seem to have, thought Bagehot, an external self which we lead in company and another which we lead alone. "A certain constitutional though latent melancholy is essential," Bagehot wrote, "to cultivate a nature that combines the capacity for musing solitude with that of observing mankind."1 -Ron Price with thanks to Walter Bagehot, Literary Studies: Vol.1, Longmans, London, 1879, p.153.
There's been a joyful gaiety here
for years and years with enough
talking to and with others
to bring an excess of speech
and its deadly poisons.
Gaiety's softening, by a tinge
of musing sadness, pervading
and chastening whatever sagacity
and shrewdness I had found
making them warmer, smoother
that they otherwise would have been
had they not been refined by
that regret and remorse
without which weakness
would have prevailed
and won the day.
There is so much in my head
and easy sayings on my tongue,
for I aim for a full mind and
a deep dark eye that plays
in fanciful solitude,
in cheerful society--
from the deep to the trivial,
from a tear to a smile.1
1 Bagehot's comments on Shakespeare. ibid., pp.171-2.
29 November 2002
A DIFFERENT PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
It is difficult not to regard, indeed it is quite fitting to regard, James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in autobiographical light. It would seem that Joyce intuited this autobiographical reality early on and most certainly was consciously aware of this personal nature of his writing by the time he undertook the novel. This book is, I think, a sort of 'Pilgrim's Progress' from the world of objectivity to the world of Einstein's relativity which had entered the world more than ten years before Portrait. I could illustrate this by dealing with several facets of the novel, beginning with the overarching guide through the novel: the narrator. The first chapter of Portrait, too, begins with a montage of memories of very young childhood. If Joyce first approached his autobiography through this novel, I first approached it through a narrative of my life and this led, by 1992, to a poetic narrative of literally thousands of poems. -Ron Price with thanks to "The Dedalus Factor: Einstein's Science and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist," Timothy D. Clark, in Joyce's Papers on the Internet, 20 December 2002.
Here you will find my life and times,
but my account is flawed and fails,
as life itself fails and is flawed
and, for the most part, apparently
makes nothing happen of consequence.
But the potential is there
for much good, much effect,
if only, if only the reader
can be part of it, and then
the most self-centred poet
becomes the most universal1
and a life, of little apparent
ultimate significance, keeps
a now for then, a music
that all can use and words
that are, strangely, the poet's
last will and testament.
1From The Poet's Notebook: Excerpts from the Notebooks of 26 American Poets, WW Norton & Co., 1995, p. 219.
20 December 2002
A DYNAMIC CLUSTER OF VOICES
In a studio in Paris, the writer Gertrude Stein tried to do with words what Picasso did with paint. Stein's language was more a creative art rather than a mirror of history. In my poetic language I try to do both: formulate a creative art and mirror history. The individual characteristics of artists were not as important to Stein as how artists went about accomplishing their work. I share this same interest in the process of art and a lesser interest in the personality producing the art, although the two are often inseparable. Stein did not want to simply describe her daily life; she tried to make her mark by making the language she used have a life of its own. This, too, is my goal and it is difficult to know just how you're going..
Stein attempted to combine two topics in her writing: intellectuality and domesticity. I attempt to combine: intellectuality and the quotidian. Her style went against many traditional literary forms and challenged the reader to think differently. My poetic style combines prose and poetry, narrative and analysis, the individual and society. My entire poetic opus is clearly a challenge to readers. Few at this stage and, I am inclined to think, perhaps forever, will ever engage themselves in my poetic work. Readers and critics wondered, "How can Stein's work be considered an autobiography when the narrative voice is not her own and the events discussed are mainly those of other people?". About my autobiography, readers might wonder: "How can Price's work be considered an autobiography when, although the voice is clearly Price's, the narrative goes all over the place, without sequence, without order, without a body of material that solidifies or gravitates around a point?" -Ron Price with thanks to Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933 and Cope, Karin Marie. Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, The Love of Error, Baltimore, Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1993.
This is a new autobiographical form
and I am that form.
It tells so much more
than I could ever say
in any other way.
There is here a crystal residue,
indissoluble in memory's stream,
part of a dramaturgical scene
of martyrs and messengers,
prisons and pioneers
that is filtered year after year
through a dynamic cluster
of interacting voices,
sometimes trivial, apocalyptic,
in a sea of billions of stories
from these several epochs.
23 March 2002
A FALLING INTO PLACE
The Dean of Architecture, Planning and Conservation at Columbia University, Bernard Tumey, was talking this morning about his identification with cities and apartment blocks. He has lived most of his life in Paris and New York and he identifies with these cities much more than the countries in which they exist. Listening to this radio interview made me think about the equivalent sources of my own identity. Apt blocks are quite periferal to my sense of identity and place. I have lived for perhaps two years of my life in apartment blocks spread over three towns. The vast bulk of my life has been spent in houses and large complexes of buildings associated with my places of work.
As I scan my memory horizon and collect about myself the accoutrements of my sense of spacial identity: perhaps four dozen houses, some two dozen schools and other places of employment, an equal number of towns and cities, two countries and this planet earth occupy the solid ground of my spacial identity. The pilgrimage, the journey, that is my life dwells in this physical architecture, in these physical places. The religion I have espoused is one not so much of origins or destinations but one of journeys, paths, roads, valleys, processes. At least that is how I have come to identify with it, with its meaning and with life's meaning.
-Ron Price with thanks to "Arts Today," ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 3 January 2002; and John Gillis, A World of Their Own Making: A History of Myth and Ritual in Family Life, Oxford UP, NY, 1997, p.62.
There is something about
the entire universe that
seems humanly significant.
This is not audacious;
it's just a natural falling into place,
a natural part of that Oneness
which is at the centre of my journey,
the one I travel in my head
in what often seems an ephemeral,
fragmentary existence with its convoys
of people with whom I have shared my life.
And yet, yet, this journey has brought
sacred and resplendent tokens
which have attracted me
to some mysterious place, some road
of holiness, and nearness and beauty1
which seems to have no connection
with any and all of the landmarks
of my life, these towns, cities, houses
where I have lived my days, my hours.
1 Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p.3.
3 January 2002
A POET AT LAST
Stephen Coote writes in his biography of John Keats that Keats "was battling to preserve the integrity of his vision, and what he described as the pride and egotism of the writer's solitary life formed as a protection against the intrusion of merely practical matters."1 Keats saw his development as an inward process, a long and patient observation of the rhythms of his consciousness. True poetry, he believed, came from this, not from manufacturing verse for the marketplace.
Ron Price had battled for years, at least until 1999, to acquire that solitary life which was protected from the intrusion of the endless and inevitable practical matters of life. For nearly four years now, April 1999 to April 2003, he had been able to focus on that inward process of development for at least eight hours a day keeping practical intrusions to a limit. He felt he had written about that process as much as he had written poetry itself. Poetry, he had concluded, was impossible to define. At best, it served for him as a form in which he could deal with that first attribute of perfection which 'Abdu'l-Bahá describes, and which it was his task to acquire, in The Secret of Divine Civilization: learning and the cultural attainments of the mind.2
-Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p.268; and 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, Wilmette, 1970, p.35.
By the time I had arrived here
in this town by a river by the sea,
at the bottom of the Antipodes,
I had defined and refined
that inward process
and the rhythms
of my consciousness.
I had found the form
in which I could deal
with the vast tracts of learning,
the cultural attainments of the mind
and life's horrors which occasionally
dotted my personal landscape.
I sometimes toyed
with essays and novels
but, in the end, returned,
always returned to this form
and these processes which
enabled me, at last,
to declare myself a poet.
16 September 2002
A FRESH IMPULSE
The five years which followed his drive to Yerrinbool from Ballarat in December 1977; and the five years which followed his first days at university in September 1963 were without doubt the years of his life in which he experienced his most intense and extensive depression, confusion and disorientation. These years of internal and external crises, of varying severity were devastating in their immediate effects. Each of these five year periods resulted in the complete breakdown in his capacity to earn a living and function in day-to-day society. But by December 1982 and September 1968, it could be argued, these crises were beginning to release a corresponding measure of divine power. His life could and did continue unfolding his potentials, his capacities. A fresh impulse had been lent to this process of unfoldment by these same crises. It took him some years to understand what could be called this 'life process;' some years to begin to regulate his life to its rhythm. It became his view, his understanding, slowly with the years, that his very happiness as a Bahá'í depended, in part at least, on the extent to which he understood this life process.-Ron Price with thanks to the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Canada, "Letter to All Pioneers," Pulse of the Pioneer, January 1979, p.2.
I was stimulated to write the above paragraph by reading a paragraph in a biography of the English novelist Thackeray(1811-1863), the first novelist to "hold a mirror up to real life." It was a paragraph which began "......The five years which followed his night flight to Paris were bitter and restless ones for Thackeray." (Ann Monsarrat, The Uneasy Victorian: Thackeray the Man, Cassell, London, 1980, p.121) For some reason my own mind immediately switched, on reading this line about Thackeray, from his bitter five years to some of my own. I believe my journey, intellectual and otherwise, becomes more complete through the study of biography. Our personal troubles are, partly, public problems. Such was the view of sociologist C.Wright Mills in his Sociological Imagination(1959) written the year I became a Bahá'í.
It's about linking happiness
and the keenness of our tests,
the test to be happy
both within and without
the Bahá'í community,
a whole of life process.
you're not responsible
for the present condition
in the community,
only a small part.
Trust to the life processes
set in motion by the Cause.
22 January 2002
TRAVELLING LIGHT--INTO WAR
Sometimes the word one is looking for is elusive; it seems to possess a certain obstinacy, a certain hidden quality. To curl the word around some sensations or thoughts is impossible; for others the process is easy. As I grew into my fifties I became conscious of an increasing richness and boldness, a greater sensitivity and subtlety in the poetic process. Themes and rhythms, ideas and experiences appeared for my use from books, life, the past, the future; I seemed to have access to a greater range of emotion and intellectual resources, what 'Abdu'l-Bahá called 'the cultural attainments of the mind.' I was able to take the ordinary and invest it with a peculiar quality of reality, of freshness and sometimes of orginality. But however profound the investment that took place the greater part of reality seemed to remain, always, untouched. One could only go so far.
-Ron Price with thanks to Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, The Hogarth Press, London, 1991(1940), p.296.
Give yourself up, each day,
as if going to war, but…..
travel lightly and simply
with an attitude of
and affection, feeling
reverence and a resolute
persistence to overcome
and, oh yes, you must
have a chart to live by.
A shield from the slings,
the arrows of outrageous fortune
is poetry as it helps the mind
to react rightly to life
and--in the end--
what is important:
the feelings and pleasures
that are your companions
along the way
which you need to keep,
as I said above,
affectionate and kindly.1
1 J. C. Powys, In Spite Of: A Philosophy for Everyman, Village Press, 1974(1953).
--Ron Price 17 December 2002
TWISTING TO AND FRO
Like Henry James, a century before me, the subject of my written work, my poem, is the fundamental, the vital matter, which most concerns me. Like James, too, "a particular detachment" must operate or what I would prefer to call an alternation of passion and dispassionateness. James wrote of "the great stewpot of the imagination, of the observant, the recording and the interpreting mind" which must intervene and play its part. Finally, James exhibited "the eargerest interest" in the activities of "his contemporaries." They flickered over the surface of his mind, twisted to and fro in his brain and revealed his own inwardness as they played with his impulses and the reactions of his mood. -Ron Price with thanks to Percy Lubbock, "The Point of View" and Edith Warton, "the Man of Letters" in Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1963, Leon Edel, editor, pp.31-38.
Nose-dives into your history
brought treasure after treasure,
the story of those 'classic years'
and of 'the American-European legend.'
And here, at the end of the Antipodes,
I write of the ninth and tenth stages
of history as he outlined them in Chicago
in '53 and as I've lived them since
that wonderful and thrilling motion
appeared in the world and they discovered
the great building-blocks of life: DNA,
twisting to and fro.
Pioneers we were,
you in the rediscovery of Europe
and the spiritualization of America
and me, thousands of us,
streaming out of America:
the first stirrings of
a spiritual revolution,
twisting to and fro.
6 October 2002
TURNING GRASS TO DIAMONDS
So much of my poetry has a cerebral quality. Occasionally nature in all its grandeur comes under my purview. The following poem, written one Sunday morning in early aumtumn, is one such poem.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 24 March 2002.
Off in the distance
a tree stands against
a clear blue sky,
denuded of verdure
in its autumnal loneliness-
The fence, here in my garden,
blocks out much of the three
protecting the flowers and shrubs
and my own aloneness.
a bird flutters in the bushes,
a fly buzzes,
a bee flits from flower to flower.
They, too, alone in
a magnificent symbiosis,
so subtle, so gentle,
so naturally unobtrusive,
shimmer in the dew-drop morning
as the sun turns the grass to diamonds.
24 March 2002
It is difficult to grow up and live your life in the half century 1953 to 2003 which I have been associated with this new world religion without involvement, in varying degrees, with the world of buyers and sellers, advocates and clients, pushers and users. It is a world of competing experts, prophets and neo-tribes, each promoting its ideology or its ethnicity or its cure for the world's ills or its style of clothing or its fast-food outlets or its better brand of soft drinks. Within this world scene, the blandishments of the market where lifestyles are for sale are interwoven with the threat of violence and oppression. Warring tribes aggressively compete for space and attention and do harm to anyone under their control who does not fit in with their ideas. Within this world scene, too, the Bahá'í, who has as his goal, the goal of the Revelation he is associated with, the oneness of mankind, aims toward a "dynamic coherence between the spiritual and practical requirements of life on earth."1-Ron Price with thanks to Dennis Smith, Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory, Sage Publications, London, 2001, p.127; and 1 The Universal House of Justice, 20 October 1983.
Are these the tribes You spoke of
in that fierce onslaught we'd see
one day when they would arise with
all their power to resist His Cause?1
Is this the early stage, the first view,
of the cry of the European
and of the Turk, the groaning
of India and China? Is this
the embryogenesis? This chaos?
These fifty years have just been
a warm-up, a first flight, a start,
little did I know, a warm-up
after the first warm-up of two wars:
a beginning to the beginning
of the dark heart of an age.
For the wheels of God grind slow.
It takes so much living for us to know.
1'Abdu'l-Bahá in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p.16.
28 October 2002
"A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries." So wrote Thomas Mann at the outset of the Guardian's thirty-six year ministry. I feel this idea quite strongly in relation to my own experience, that of my Bahá'í community and the wider society I am a part of.-Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, 1924.
I write this poetry for me
and I write it for you,
for we are people
of the same world
and the life I live
is mine and yours.
I write because I must write.
This compulsion has grown
with the years back in the '80s.
Perhaps it was those souls who
have gone on--those faithful ones--
to whom and for whom
I have prayed and now
they give me all of this,
all this leavening,
all this manifesting
due to their power,
to something they have found
within me and they've turned the key.
And so my soul's connection
is found in their ascension
to undiscovered sea.
There's lightning on their landscape,
special sheets of place.
One can never quite suspect
what flash, what clicks,
will make them to appear.
But appear they will
in ways I cannot tell,
but there's something
about these words of mine
that come from Unseen Mine.
11 February 2002
I just returned from an evening stroll around Pipe Clay Bay. While walking in the cool of the evening with a strong wind blowing, with less than four hours left in a Tasmanian summer, I began thinking about T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. It achieved its final form in mid-January 1922, eighty years ago last month. Ten days before 'Abdu'l-Bahá passed away, on 18 November 1921, Eliot showed some of his poem to Ezra Pound in Paris.1 The Waste Land was arguably the most famous poem of the twentieth century. It was a poem that was unarguably right for the moment. After two manifestations of God and the life of the only human being who enjoyed what has been sometimes called a mystic intercourse with God's messenger, seventy-seven years of divine guidance, human society had indeed been laid waste. And T.S. Eliot described that reality of societal waste in graphic words that depicted the loathing and horror of life. His poem changed the direction of poetry and, as some critics put it, the direction of time itself. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Lyndall Gordon, Eliot's Early Years, Oxford UP, 1977.
It was a poem that spoke for "our time,"
for the sterility, the kaleidoscopic confusion,
the urban apocalypse, with echoes of Ezekiel,
of doom and the promise of renewal,
of the bleak and barren present,
of the pervasive failure of love
stretching all across this tour de force.
For, as those 77 years came to an end,
the world exploded in an orgy of death,
and a branch did indeed grow out
of the stony rubbish.1
The dead tree gave no shelter
and a pearl formed
out of Twin resplendent seas.
We were, as you said, in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.2
Civilization had gone rotten
and for men everywhere the abyss,
yawning for those in their twisted course
who never find a centre.3
And yes, they had become unreal:
Jerusalem, Athens, Alexandria,
The axis of the world was shifting.
London Bridge was falling down
and a new Centre was just forming,
chrysalis-like in some Holy Dust.
1 The Waste Land, lines 19-20.
2 The Waste Land, lines 115-116.
3 The Poem "Gerontion", completed May June 1919
Ron Price 28 February 2002
UNFULFILLED AND FULFILLED
Yesterday evening I listened to an interview with V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidadian writer who has been churning out novels since I was in my mid-teens. He made the comment, early in the interview, that people live half-lives, unfulfilled, incomplete, far from any sense of self-realization, self-fulfillment, with many of the needs in that hierarchy of needs that Maslow outlined far from satisfied. Their attempts to ameliorate this situation, this reality in their lives, are, at best, only partial. Naipaul felt the best we could do was to accept our limitations. Sometimes a sense of history helps. Developing what he called civilizing traits like learning and the cultural attainments of the mind, the capacity to assess oneself, to introspect, can be particularly helpful to the writer who can transform his experience, the few detailed strands of his life into words and thus help his frail self to cope, to enrich his life and partially overcome that sense of incompleteness. -Ron Price with thanks to "Books and Writing," ABC Radio National, 7:25-8:15 pm., 23 December 2001.
You can't finish it all here;
you only make a start.
Incompleteness is the core
of what you are.
The split between
actual and potential,
real and ideal,
choi ces and memories,
powerlessness and self-worth,
always the split, always polarity,
always a measurement
toward or away from a goal,
a cause, a companion, a creation,
always monstrosity, error, war
to make life more beautiful and full.1
1 Guy Murchie, "The Polarity Principle," The Seven Mysteries of Life, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1978, p.492.
24 December 2001
UNTIL THE END
Mozart's description of what happens to him as he composes has some similarities to the process of writing poetry as I experience it. "Once I have my theme another melody comes," Mozart begins. And so it is, for me, with writing poetry. I get the germ of an idea, some starting point, a strong note or theme. Then, another idea comes along linking itself to the first one in a similar way to the linkage of that melody Mozart mentions to his theme. By now there is emerging "the needs of the composition as a whole" both for me and for Mozart. For both of us, too, the whole work is produced by "melodic fragments," by "expanding it," by "conceiving it more and more clearly." Mozart finishes his work in his head. The composition comes to him in its entirety in his head. I finish my work on paper and I have no idea of the ending until the end. -Ron Price with thanks to the ABC Radio National, The Science Show, 10.1.98.
Dusty Springfield died three years ago. She had a singing life as long as I had been a Bahá'í(1959 to 1999). She exploded onto the stage of popularity in 1963, at the age of 24, in my first year of pioneering, the year of the first election of the Universal House of Justice. A sensitive and vulnerable woman, she pioneered, too, new attitudes to woman. She enjoyed many years of fame and stardom, inheriting as she did the mantle of the singing star of the forties and fifties, Judy Garland. By the 1990s her star was declining. She was found to have breast cancer in 1993 and she had an early death at 60 three weeks before I left the classroom in April 1999. Her greatest popularity coincided with the first years in office, the first two Plans, of that apex of the Bahá'í Order, the Universal House of Justice. -Ron Price with thanks to "Fabulous Women," ABC TV, 9:30-10:30 pm, 7 September 2002.
We both started to sing our song
way back then
in that ninth stage of history
in our vulnerability and pioneering
when our lives were young
and it was all ahead of us.
Noone I knew ever died, then,
well, not quite, Martin Enguire,
my Grandfather and, of course,
all those starving Chinaboys.
We sang and sang and sang
as the years rolled on
and we rolled on into glory years,
little did you know of that glory:
all glory be to this Day
the Day in which the fragrances
of mercy have been wafted
over all created things….
So many heights and depths
in those forty years
and then it was all over
for you and, for me,
the long evening hours waited,
for my song had not ended:
so much remained to be sung.
8 August 2002
WALKING DOWN DIFFERENT TRACKS
Today I have enjoyed reading Camille Paglia, perhaps for the second time in my life, the first time after Roger White sent me a flyer from her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson in 1992 just before he died. She is, as the dust jacket says, an intellectual provocateur. I won't try to summarize what she is saying for that would lead to prolixity, but, since she is from the same generation that went to university in the sixties as myself, she has had to deal with the woes and tribulations of the last forty years with a mind awake to the crises of our times as I have. I share with her a similar range of interests and concerns: job problems and career, sexuality and feminism, popular culture as an eruption of paganism in the West, inspirational mentors like Harold Bloom and Emily Dickinson, writing for the future, the energy of the sixties continued, for Paglia as well as myself, in the form of fast talking and lots of writing. -Ron Price with thanks to Camille Paglia, Sex, Art and American Culture, Viking, London, 1992.
She's really angry, thirty years on,1
still trying to change the world
or parts of it. I've had my anger, too,
but my demons were frustration,
fatigue and discouragement, as I too
have been trying to change the world,
little-by-little, day-by-day since '62.
I talk fast, too, like this lady of words
and sometimes they thought me weird.
We walked down different tracks
since Kennedy was assassinated in '63.
We worried over different agenda
since we were both in high school
in the late fifties and early sixties.
Manic-personality was part of her style,
part of how to win the day, any day,
and I found it the same in my own way
as I wandered down life's path
planting seeds that would one day
begem and brighten the world,2
2 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan,p.5.
or so was my hope, my faith, my whirl.
Rock-'n-roll music and TV(some of it)
has given us both much pleasure,
the first generation to experience both.
I wish you well, dear Camille,
for stimulating my mind to think
about so many things in a different way
especially my old friend Emily Dickinson.3
3 Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, 1992,pp.623-673.
Ron Price 18 January 2002
A WARP AND WEFT
Much has been made in social science literature, especially in the years since I came to Australia in 1971, of the inescapable grounding of all social scientific activity--and I would include my poetry here even if others would question this inclusion--in ideological structures imposed on practitioners by, and revealed in, the very narrative and rhetorical tools at their disposal. There are undoubtedly many manisfestations of this reality, of the inescapable grounding of my poetry in the ideological structure of Bahá'í paradigms.
Much has been made in this same period of time, since the 1970s, of the fact that all researchers, because of their long participation in particular groups, develop particular narrative and rhetorical styles that reveal their ideological position. My poetry is a type of research and I have developed a particular narrative poetic style that reveals beyond any doubt my ideological position.--Ron Price with thanks to Herve Varenne, "The Social Facting of Education: Durkheim's Legacy," Journal of Curriculum Studies, Vol.27, 1995, pp.373-389.
What we have here,
what we've had here
and what we'll have here
is a particular, one life,
example of a universal pattern,
call it an ideology if you will,
an encultured actor
with a specific identity
in an organized landscape
of institutions, a warp and weft,
across the face of the earth,
stuggling with self and world.
More than a verbal tie:
aims, beliefs, aspirations,
expectations,1 a transformation
grounded in history,
bafflement and prophecy.2
1 John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1966(1916), pp.4-5.
2 Tolstoi argued for an essential 'bafflement' confronted as we are with history's questions-See Geoffrey Nash, The Phoenix and the Ashes, GR, 1984, p.91..Ron Price12/11/02
WEAVING THE MACRO AND MICRO TOGETHER
The articulation of spaces, the naming of places, allows us to move, to come to grips with the world. At least that is how Australian writer David Malouf sees it. What is involved is a mapping of place through language. History is a subjective defining of communal understandings of space by weaving an explanatory narrative around events. There is a linear macro-history and a micro-history, a hidden history, which for the most part is not recorded. It contains repeatable and unique events of daily existence, movements of the heart, intimations of what is often close and inexpressible. It is what goes on under the noise and chatter of events. It is a private history and must be fitted to the macro-picture, to the rest of the world, so that you know where you are. The history of a place, of a life, is not static or settled. For each of us it is a different thread of meaning through space and time. There is the history in our books, the one we share, the common core. Then there is the multitude of competing and cooperating, highly diverse and differentiated individual narratives. They are the tangled wings, the inconsistencies, the conflicting interpretations of events on the birds of relationships. They are the strands, the threads, of love and compassion that everyone places as carefully as they can through the eye of the needle to sew the garment of our common existence. -Ron Price with thanks to Amanda Nettelbeck, Reading Malouf, Sydney UP, 1995
This one, this poetic, weaves
the two together--the macro
and the micro, takes
the Guardian and Nabil
and our own precious days
and tries to make a tapestry.
I come back again and again
to the same preoccupations,
the same things that make up
my world and I people it with
words, with the familiar
and I make it different, too,
because no one wants to read
the same poem over and over again.
In the process I keep my knowledge
of the world, of my being in the world,
real, at the edge of some imaginative
invention, at the edge of a journey,
an exploration, a creating. I find out
who I am. For at the edge there is
always someone and, if I am alone,
there is always the Friend, Life,
His eternal grace.
1 April 2002
WHAT IT MEANT: THE BALANCE
Russian poet, Boris Pasternak(1890-1960), had some views of the poet and poetry which resonate strongly with my own approach to the poetic process. Pasternak felt the poet must respond submissively "to a high and lonely destiny." He must "contribute in some vital way to the life of the times." At the same time, he must not project himself as a poet or be consumed by the fact of his being a poet. I like to think I achieve this balance between contributing in a vital way and not projecting myself, or at least I try to, by, on the one hand, sending my poetry formally to various Bahá'í libraries and individuals and creating a website; and on the other hand, by talking about this being a poet or writing poetry as little as possible, but going on with my employment, my life and my activities with a serious industriousness and light-hearted humour.
Being a poet was, for Pasternak, mysteriously connected with destiny. Pasternak was seized by an irresistible urge to write poetry. The act of writing poetry took possession of him in his early twenties. In my case I was nearly fifty when this 'urge' this 'possession' grabbed me strongly. Poetry seemed to come naturally, although whether others found it natural or meaningful was another question. The pitch of intensity that my emotions and perceptions had been brought to in my earlier days was challenged into education, career, marriage and family and building Bahá'í communities. Now, the impetuous flow of language, intensity and energy was released into a poetic eruption of several million words in the years 1992 to 2002.
-Ron Price with thanks to Olga Ivinskaya, A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak,Collins/Harvill, 1978, Introduction.
You1 wanted to give an account
of the revolutionary era
you lived through,
what it meant,
the years of terror.2
I wanted to give an account,
within my personal limitations,
of the revolutionary era
I lived though,
when an insignificant
and obscure movement
onto the global stage of history,3
what it meant in the dark heart
of an age of transition.4
1 Boris Pasternak
2 1936-1938, ibid.,p.xxxii.
3 1937 to 2002 in a series of Plans
1 April 2002
WHAT SHALL I DO?
Emily Dickinson's poem number 956 opens with these same words as in this title and it is her poem that provided the starting point for my own, the one below. "Poetry," for Dickinson "set her on a path of solitude."1 After thirty years of pioneering, the need for solitude insensibly arose in my life and with that need the path of poetry unobtrusively became an obvious one for me to travel down. And now, forty years from the start of that pioneering journey, I have established that degree of the solitary which is balanced with a necessary minimum of the social and which provides the seclusion, the privacy, to write. Dickinson's universe was, as some of her critics argue, a cosmos in tatters by the mid-nineteenth century in America. My universe is one that is exploding with knowledge and understanding, but it is also one that has a very dark heart, arguably the darkest in history. -Ron Price with thanks to Roger Lundin, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief, Michigan Press, Grand Rapids, 1998; and
What shall I do when this work ends?
What, when all this talking's done?
What, when there's no more marking
and I don't have to keep on the run?1
What shall I do when the sky's so blue
and the water runs down to the sea?
When the butterfly dances endlessly
and the birds fly and sing in the tree?
What shall I do when no one calls
and solitude lasts all day?
What shall I do when those Birds2
divine rush forth in Their mystic way?
I'll try to understand, my Lord,
all that you've given me.
I'll praise and thank you, Lord,
for all that you've helped me see.
1 This poem is written from the perspective of my last days as a lecturer/teacher in 1999.
2 Bahá'u'lláh, Book of Certitude, Wilmette, 1950(1931), p.175.
17 February 2002
WHEN THE RAINS COME
In Australia one spends many weeks and months waiting for rain; this is especially true in the northern half of Australia. Life, too, is, in some ways and for some people, like a long wait for the rains of heaven which come after death. The Bahá'í teachings paint an attractive picture of the afterlife to the devout believer. This poem examines this theme of the long wait for rain, with respect to both this life and the life to come, and draws on some of the imagery that 'Abdu'l-Bahá1 uses in His comments on the afterlife.-Ron Price with thanks to 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Memorials of the Faithful, Wilmette, 1970
At last the rains came.
It had been dry so long.
It just about made you dance
as the troubles of life
seemed to all slip away
and you gulped the fresh air
wafting off everything in sight
where the rain was pounding,
pelting down with great force..
At last the rains came.
It had been dry so long.
So many years on the dry land.
The rain was like pure heaven
and then the sun shone
and it was light upon light,
irresistable, gentle gales,
pure and gleaming beyond dust
and I drank from a brimming cup
after that heavy rain running
as it did over all that was on my earth.
3 March 2002
WHERE TO NOW?
Poet and literary critic Edwin Muir says that Chaucer lived in that long calm, thatpeace, of storytelling which ended with the Renaissance." Then the great meganarrative, the agreement about the great story, was broken. All stories had been seen as part of a greater story, a story which was the basis for a standard of proportion, for the narrative art of an age.1 Then the Renaissance and the Reformation ushered in the modern age with its multiplicity of stories.-Ron Price with thanks to Edwin Muir, Essays on Literature and Society, The Hogarth Press, London, 1966(1949), p.10.
GREAT-GREAT GRANDFATHER OR GREATER
In the two dozen towns I have lived in as a pioneer, relationships with neighbours form an interesting dimension to the pioneer experience. "Not togetherness, but avoidance and separation," writes sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, "have become major survival strategies in the contemporary megalopolis…Keeping the neighbours at arm's length"1 is what most people do most of the time in all of the places I have pioneered in Canada and Australia. Neighbours then become, for me and for most pioneers in western countries, a varied assortment of people who live all over the place: sometimes next door, as they were for me in Perth or in the same building as in Hamilton and Windsor; sometimes down the street as in Whyalla or Katherine; sometimes across the town, in the next town, the next state, the next country or halfway around the world. This is one way of expressing the world as your neighbourhood. These words of Bauman provide an accurate description of most of the relationships with (a) people next door, (b) people across the road, (c) nearby neighbours on the same street, in fact, most of the people who live in both the towns or the cities in which I lived. The very pervasiveness of what you might call wall-to-wall people raises fundamental questions about who is your neighbour and where is the best place for relationships to form. -Ron Price with thanks to Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences, Polity Press, London, 1998, p.48.
We haven't all become nomads,
travellers, have we Zygmunt?
So many of my contemporaries,
the Canadian's and Australian's
I have known these many years,
are not locally tied, keep busy,
enjoy ostentatious elegance,
refined pleasures and splendours,
are high up, can travel,
doomed to a life of choice,
their flesh and blood.
So many can be pioneers.
Then there are the vagabonds,
dark vagrant involuntary tourists
reflecting bright tourist suns,
the world's waste, millions now.
Dedicated to tourist services
the world around plays
to their hearts' desires,
their irresistible attraction,
knows they won't stay long.
Green light for the tourists,
red for the vagabonds,
and its restlessness, mobility,
its endless consumption,
uncertainty wrapping every choice,
adventure behind every pole,
such is their goal of choice.
And so they go on moving,
tourists and vagabonds
in a Gordian Knot, the schism
that can not be uncut, untied.
Then there is the pioneer,
here to untie that knot,
slow work, bringing it
together, into one whole.
Hard to see in daily round,
but spread over half a century
a slim gold thread,
some bricks for new buildings,
marble, pentilicon for pillars
and on the plain a mountain
green with gold on dome.
An immense, tremendous chair,
a seat for this new Throne
or Greater still of these Days
is He, of dawn, the Ancestor.
16 September 2002
WHOMSOEVER THOU WILLEST
There is, for me, little doubt that my decision to become a Bahá'í was one of personal investigation, personal temperament, personal decision-making, but that process was also a supplement and prolongation of a social condition, a collective inclination. My decision was but one element, an echo, of the state of society. My motivational apparatus, like everyone else's, partly comes from society, from the social forces acting at the time. Society fixes limits for us, sets certain perspectives and frameworks. Some call the process socialization; others call it fate or predestination or, again, the will of God. Bahá'u'lláh says "whomsoever Thou willest Thou causest to draw nigh unto the Most Great ocean." -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 22 September 2002.
'59 was a very big year:
we went to the moon
for the first time;
saw the world as a blue
sphere spinning in space;
held the third Conclave
just about the same time
I declared my belief.
The Frisbee got its name;
Bonanza and Rod Serling's
Twilight Zone came to TV;
the Ski-Doo and the integrated
circuit were made public;
three rock 'n roll singers died
in a plane crash in Iowa;
Liz Taylor married Eddie Fisher;
Vance Packard's The Status Seekers
was published, part of a high water
mark of social criticism by:
Goodman, Mills, McDonald,
Buckley and Reisman.
I played midget baseball
and hockey, started grade 10,
kept loving Susan Gregory,
watched my Dad retire
and went over to Rod and
Doreen Willis' house
about 7:30 one evening
to join a new world religion.
-Ron Price 22 September 2002
WHY THE AMERICANS?
The year that the Kingdom of God on earth had its beginnings, 1953, Daniel J. Boorstin published his The Genius of American Politics. A perusal of the contents of this book by this archtypal consensus historian reveals, to a certain extent anyway, why the USA serves as the model on which Bahá'í Administration is based around the world. Boorstin sees Americans has having fundamentally the same political beliefs inspite of an apparent polarized party politics. There is a sense of givenness, of automatically defined beliefs, an identification of the "is" with the "ought." Values and a theory of society are implicit in the facts about society according to Boorstin. Americans do not brood over historical alternatives to the given; they pursue both realizable and unrealizable dreams. There is an in-built utopianism in the USA. What can be built, ought to be built. Boorstin reveals the uniqueness and virtues of America just at the time when the Bahá'í vision was being extended around the world.-Ron Price with thanks to Richard Reinitz,"Niebuhrian Irony and Historical Interpretation," The Writing of History: Literary Form and Historical Understanding, editors, R. Canary and Henry Kozicki, the University of Wisconson Press, Madison, 1989, pp.103-110.
They'd been going at it for 16 years,
by then, by that auspicious year
when I was only nine
and they finished the Chicago temple.
That built-in utopianism,
that uniqueness would be
essential ingredients down
the long, tortuous and stoney road
toward realizable and unrealizable
dreams with only one result
in a golden age: the Most Great Peace
and its child—a world civilization.
28 August 2002
I noticed a pattern in my personal life which became evident to me by my thirties. I noticed that what was regularly my soaring spirit equally regularly sank into dust. Whatever joy and glory I had formerly found in life, in the exercise of my faculties, were trodden under foot and seemed to die without every having lived. The pattern continued into my forties. In my late forties I discovered the pleasures and peace of poetry and the inevitable lows of life which continued into my fifties did not seem to be suffered for as prolonged a period of time or as intensely. Indeed, as I neared sixty, the lows and highs of life had softened in their intensities. My poet-soul by 1994, at the age of fifty, was often struck and it yielded a music which caused my feelings to rise, in shadow or in sunshine, softening and brightening my world. The dark despondencies, then, which seemed to be part of that aforementioned pattern, certainly since my pioneering life began in 1962 at the age of eighteen, found relief in poetry. My poetry became, in the 1990s, no mere occasional effusion poured forth with little premeditation, expressing the passion, the opinion or the humour of the hour; but rather, as I saw it anyway, poetry had become the result of three decades of concentrated thought, extensive reading and a wide experience across two continents from the Canadian Arctic to the Antipodes. -Ron Price with thanks to Thomas Carlyle, Selected Writings, Penguin, Ringwood, 1971, p.43.
Can any fastidious student of poetry
pass these effusions by?
Is there something enduring here?
After two centuries of the wildest
vicissitudes in poetic taste,
will my words continue to be read?
Will someone find sincerity here
and the passion of a living heart?
Will someone find earnestness
and what ties us together, true?
Will someone find my own
consciousness revealed here,
honestly and without affectation?
New, simple, lustrous, clear?1
1 Carlyle's view of the poet Robert Burns
24 November 2002
WORDS BUT NOT THE WORD
Sociologist, Daniel Bell, used the phrase post-industrial society to refer to a society like our own in which most people are employed in occupations unrelated to growing food or making things, to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. "In the daily round of work," he wrote, "men no longer confront nature, as either alien or beneficent, and fewer now handle artifacts and things. The post-industrial society is essentially a game between persons." As a result: "Now reality is primarily the social world--neither nature nor things, only men--experienced through the reciprocal consciousness of self and other." Bell writes of "the enormous expansion in the numbers of people who move up the consumer ladder and, lacking experience, wonder where they stand in the social ladder. For many, consumerism becomes a way of life. . . ." Writing in 1999, Bell introduces his summa with a summary of what he has learned in his long and productive life: "Like many advances in human history, post-industrial developments promise men and women greater control of their social destinies. But this is only possible under conditions of intellectual freedom and open political institutions, the freedom to pursue truth against those who wish to restrict it. This is the alpha and omega of the alphabet of knowledge."-Ron Price with thanks to Michael Lind, "Why Daniel Bell Keeps Getting it Right," Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1999.
We quickly moved along this line
in the Formative Age,
an information, a knowledge age,
born, says Bell, back then
in the second Seven Year Plan:
an endless cycle of idea and action,
endless invention and experiment,
knowledge of motion but not stillness,
knowledge of words, but not The Word.
Such was the way it was coming to be
while I was learning of a new Word,
of a new Force growing slowly
as we got ready to go to the moon
back when society was on the edge
of self-destruction, a rage against
the established order grew,
apocalypse became a familiar word
and people talked of the end of civilization.
13 October 2002
Watching a documentary on the abstract impressionist artist Mark Rothko, emerging as he did in the 1940s and working through to his death in 1970, I could not help reflect on the history of the global Bahá'í community in these same years. They were the earliest years of the teaching Plans finishing with the first years of the Nine Year Plan: 1964-1973. Rothko was a member of the New York School of Artists and his best work, the work he has become well-known for, was emotional, meditative, expansive, minimalist, unique, beyond categorizing, sensual and, as one commentator put it, therapeutic helping him work against, with and through, the difficulties of his life and ours. -Ron Price with thanks to SBS TV, "Masterpiece: Rothko's Rooms," 9:30-10:35 pm 29 December 2002.
You were right there
at the start
when the Kingdom
was just getting underway.
Tobey knew; he knew
we were all at the crossroads.
He knew it was a time
for new beginnings.
He, like you, had his
patron saints. His work
surrounded like music,
filled a world, our world.
There was a brightness,
an emotional sensuality
in your fifties work,
part of that most wonderful
and thrilling motion,1
becoming in your last decade,
before death took you,
meditative: responding to
the delicate scents, pulsations,
the unnameable tactile sensations
and that anxiety which surrounds
most moments of tranquillity
and which was part of your death
in February 1970:
surely it was not suicide?
1 'Abdu'l-Bahá in God passes by, p. 351.
30 December 2002
WOULD YOU HAVE HEARD?
This afternoon, a mid-winter afternoon in Tasmania with the sun shining and the temperature a warm 13 or 14 C, my wife, son and I went for a walk on the sloping plain that goes down to Big Bay from the Tippogoree Hills a few miles outside George Town where we live. We walked for an hour, or at least my son and wife did. I stopped to read the twentieth century Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang's book The Importance of Living. He was writing the book as the first teaching Plan began in April 1937. I purused over 100 pages of this 450 page book and thought to myself that there was some wisdom here for the prosecution of the Plan I had myself been working on for well-nigh forty years as a pioneer. -Ron Price with thanks to Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, Heinemann Ltd., Toronto,1938.
If you make any claim
to philosophical pretensions
you should retire at fifty,
so spoke this venerable
surveyor of the wisdom
of the ages and nations.
He advocated a light
gaiety of the spirit,
a playful curiosity,
a hearty enjoyment of life
of our age and its troubles.
How to live and enjoy life
was the first and last question
a philosopher had to ask,
so you said and I wonder
if you would have opened
your heart to His call
which was just then
beginning to be heard
in the Great Plan
around the world?
14 July 2002
YOU NEVER SAW IT, WALLACE
In the mid-1930s, as the Bahá'í Administrative Order was taking its first shaping, Wallace Stevens wrote his poem The Idea of Order at Key West. Man's inner rage for order, Stevens argued, is the ultimate force in his universe. It is a rage,a lifelong effort, to transcend and resolve the fickleness, the dissolution, the transiency and the fragility of all physical things. The Bahá'í Order, its organizational aspect, is the unique feature of this new and emerging world religion. In 1937 Stevens wrote about the poet contemplating "the good in the midst of confusion," about the poet constructing from the world of sensory experience "a total ediface involving and demanding the whole stretch of human experience." In this way the poet constructs himself.1 Poetry to Stevens was a way of viewing the world; it was the essence of modern art and it had replaced religion. It compensated for the loss of belief. Order arose from the self not from religion; order involved giving meaning, giving point to the life around us. This was the basis for an organic order, for a sense of a wholeness in life.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Louis L. Martz, "Wallace Stevens: The World as Meditation," The Yale Review, June 1958; and 2Geoffrey Morre, "Wallace Stevens: A Hero of Our Time," The Great Experiment in American Literature, editor Carl Bode, London, Heinemann, NY, 1961.
You'd been making poems
out of other poems as this
new Order was only just
taking its first shape
in a confluence
of feelings, thoughts
and sensations in a vast,
born in the mind,
part of that Wondrous Vision,
the brightest emanation
and the fairest fruit
of the fairest civilization
the world had as yet not seen.
Looking at the world, they were,
through the collirium
of His sweet-scented streams,
through the atmosphere
of His mind, always integrating
the contents of the present
with the predisposing song,
the fruits and blossoms
on His all-glorious horizon,
this new reality and its holy seat.
4 June 2002
YOU SUFFERED MORE
I like to think that this poetic narrative reflects the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge(1772-1834) on how to write an interesting book. He advised to "relate the events" of your "Life with honesty, not disguising the feelings that accompanied them." Such a task, Coleridge felt, could "renew and deepen" your "reflections on the past." In the process one's weaknesses and defects could be viewed with a forgiving and patient eye. -Ron Price with thanks to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Perturbed Spirit: the Life and Personality of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Oswald Doughty, Associated University Presses, NY, 1981, p.9.
Your uncontrollable impulse
to escape from unpleasant realities,
I, too, possessed, but not as badly.
Your wide interests over such a vast
expanse of knowledge, I share,
but I know my limits and cut it all
down to a manageable proportion,
even so it is a consuming task.
You had some early success in poetry
followed by some competent stuff
and some doggerel, while my story
was all in my later years.
You had, it seems, a temperamental
inability to cope with the real world,
felt a stranger and afraid
in a world you never made.
I have felt this, too,
but only when my bi-polar trait
gets the better of my will
and forces me to accept my fate.
But, then, thank God,
the gifts of grace He gives me
make my life a happy place
and consecrated joy can be
the blossoms and fruits
I will hang on the tree of eternity.
6 April 2002
"Each individual," write Joseph Campbell, "is the centre of a mythology of his own, of which his own intelligble character is the Incarnate God, so to say, whom his empirically questing consciousness is to find."1 For Bahá'ís, it seems to me, this Incarnate God is the God within "mighty, powerful and self-subsistent." It is the "know thyself," from Delphi. This centre of mythology is also an unfolding of convictions derived from the effects and expression of experience, the imprintings of infancy and our peculiar and private worlds. This is what Campbell calls our "mythogenic zone." It is our interior life and its communication with others. The poem below explores the negative side of the process across our global society.-Ron Price with thanks to Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology, Viking Press, 1968, p. 93.
This poetic writing aims
to let the Word resound
behind words1 seemingly
endless words where
my mythogenic zone
is especially informed
by the metaphorical nature
of all of physical reality,
Bahá'í history no less
and lived experience.
My innermost need
to express has its place
in my shaping of self
in my particular form
And a growing impoverishment
of symbols, spiritual poverty,
symbol-lessness fills the land,
liquidating our past,
with bleak substitutes.
A bland barrenness reaches
all the way to the stars
and history becomes a nightmare
of complex, anarchic confusion,
uninterpreted, unassimilated, alien,
and: a Waste Land fills their place.
1 ibid.,p. 93.
2 Frederick Neitzsche wrote that "for art to exist there is a physiological prerequisite: intoxication." Twilight of the Idols, quoted in Campbell, p.355.
10 February 2002