Prose-Poetry of the Five Year Plan:
21 April 2006 to 21 April 2007
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 certainlydisordered 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. We are identifying a tradition that is not only fun to review as history but alive and well and trying on disguises at Woolworth's at this very moment.
Note: When time permits I will arrange these prose-poems in the more conventional poetic form. But, for now, their form suits my pirposes, my prose-poetry purposes as described above.
A CURIOUS COINCIDENCE
The American Horror Film is now eight decades old. The genre had its origins in the 1930s just as the Bahá’í community was about to launch its first teaching Plan in the mid-1930s. While it is not my intention to try and survey the broad range of critical and cinematic material that belongs to the horror genre I will make some general remarks of a sketchy and superficial nature and draw some comparisons and contrasts with the evolution of the Bahá’í community in those eight decades. One can examine these eight decades of horror films using a number of fruitful and explanatory paradigms used by film critics and analysts. A study of horror and of Gothic, for example, can easily intersect. An engagement of horror with Gothic scholarship would seem a more or less necessary part of any introductory work on horror. -Ron Price with thanks to Alex Naylor, "A Review of Reynold Humphries' The American Horror Film: An Introduction," (Edinburgh University Press, 2003) in Scope: An Online Journal of Film Studies, November 2004.
As humanity was about to enter
the most perilous stage of its
existence seemingly coincidentally
the horror film arrived on the scene.
As if to counter the world's horrors
a Plan was devised and systematically
pursued across an immense field,
part of a holy, a stupendous enterprise,
a historic, a sublime mission, lending
a fresh luster to the unfoldment of
‘Abdu’l-Bahá's vision of our destiny.
As those horror films succeeded one
another in decade after decade this
vision and destiny were slowly fulfilled
in a series of turning points, with their
joys and triumphs, their brilliant victories
and their crises which from time to time
threatened to arrest the unfoldment and
blast all hopes the progress had engendered.
Ron Price 30 November 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
A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS
The New Negro Movement, sometimes called the Harlem Renaissance, took place at the same time as the development of the Baha’i Administrative Order, 1921-1936. The Baha’i Faith in America evolved from a small local group to a national unit of a world society during these years.1 Some writers take the boundaries of the evolution of each of these movements from the late teens to the late thirties. In 1937 the Baha’is launched their first teaching Plan and in Harlem at the Apollo Theatre, the epi-centre for the largest urban centre for Negroes--some 400,000—Negroes were allowed to sit in with the whites for the first time anywhere in the USA—in back rows in upper balconies.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Loni Bramson-Lerche, “Development of Baha’i Administration,” Studies in Babi & Baha’i History, Vol.1, Moojan Momen, editor, Kalimat Press, 1982, p. 255. There has been a relative paucity of scholarship on both the Baha’i movement for this period and the Negro movement; and 2ABC Radio National, “The Harlem Renaissance,” 2:00-2:30 pm, September 16th 2006.
Henry Gates1 said there were
four cultural renaissances for
African Americans and I’d say
they mirror the years of the first
century of the Baha’i Faith
in America: 1894 to 1994.
The Baha’i renaissances are
of a different order & quality.
But there was an optimism in
unrealistically high expectations,
a blinkeredness, understandings
beyond the reach of those times,
those generations but growing
now and underpinning a new
determination to serve a purpose
unfolding within an old obscurity
and a vision of world-shaping trends.
1 Henry Gates, “Harlem on Our Minds,” Critical Inquiry, Autumn 1997.
September 16th 2006
A PRECISIONED INSTRUMENT
In 1970, as I was preparing at the age of 26 to come to teach in Australia, Frederick Forsyth started writing his first novel. His novels were all spy-fiction pieces, thrillers of the first or the second order--or so it is said, for I do not read spy thrillers or, indeed, fiction of any ilk. In 1971, as I arrived in Australia, Forsyth's novel The Day of the Jackal hit the marketplace. It portrayed, among other things, a credible picture of the political landscape in France in 1963. In 1972, as I began teaching high school in South Australia, Forsyth's novel was made into a film. Twenty-five years later, in 1997, this spy-novel was made into a film again starring Bruce Willis as the hired assassin, as The Jackal. My life as a university student(1963-1967) and then as a teacher(1967-2005) has been bracketed by the events in this book and the two film versions that came after it. I saw the film for the second time last night many months after leaving my teaching role. This second viewing of a story that had its beginning at one of the historic junctures in Bahá’í history, in 1963, gave rise to the following prose-poem. -Ron Price, "The Jackal," TDT:TV, 10:30-12:30 October 21st 2006.
I often thought and felt there was
some metaphorical quality to the
themes of this book-film and I was
reminded of it yet again last night
as I watched The Jackal, as another
Five Year Plan slipped into the second
half of its first year and I slipped into
the fourth year of late adulthood.
A precisioned instrument is what one
needs to be as Doug Martin put it back
in '65 when I was 21 and as incapable
then as now of assassinating my lower
self, dispelling the darkness of the world
of nature,1 and driving it far, far, away.
One takes one's attack to the very centre
of the powers of the earth through a
superhuman service2 and a Plan one
carries to one's death in this winter
of unprecedented severity in these
years of gathering storm clouds
and the darkest hours before the dawn.
1 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, 1p.67 and 2p.22.
--Ron Price October 22nd 2006
A STRANGE AND ELUSIVE THING
As spring approached its mid-point in Tasmania I chanced upon the best library in the north of the state, the university of Tasmania library in Launceston. There I spent a pleasant hour before I started to get sleepy as I so often do and have in libraries in the last couple of decades of middle life. I had just been to the dentist that morning, had my first KFC lunch in three years and, before going home some 50 kms to George Town, I felt a need to do some browsing in the library as I have done in these first years of my late adulthood two or three times a year. It was not so much chance, then, that took me to the library as habit, custom, interest, desire even, as I say, need.
After taking half a dozen books off a shelf in the theatre and film section at the far end of the library, I sat down at a table near the photocopying machine, anticipating some copying of pages from the books I had selected. One of the books I had procured for my small pile was a thick 500+ page tome on the life of John Gielgud.1 I copied six pages from the book on Gielgud seeing the makings of a prose-poem which I would write when I got home. Perhaps these pages would just serve as some interesting information for the two arch-lever files I had on drama in my study. –Ron Price with thanks to 1Jonathan Croall, Gielgud: A Theatrical Life, Methuen, London, 2000.
As you say, John,
getting old is strange
somehow one never
thought it quite possible.1
The theatre was your life,
your hobby, joy, work,
occupation, vocation, habit,
avocation, obsession, your all.
Always you worked, solitary
man that you were, shy, timid,
cowardly, even, as you said,
enjoyed your own company,
aloof, impetuous, modest,
downplayed your successes.
There is much in these traits
that I see in myself, but the
essential admixture was not,
for me, the theatre, but a new
religion—the Bahá’í Faith.
And I, too, found growing old
a strange and elusive thing.
1Gielgud in ibid., p.514. -Ron Price October 11th 2006
A TITANIC UPHEAVAL
British historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that “When we see a creative spirit abandoning the traditional style of his society in any field of artistic activity and seizing upon some exotic style instead, we may suspect that the world on which he is turning his back is a ‘city of destruction’….or, in Platonic language, it is about to suffer the fate of foundering “in the fathomless gulf where all things are incommensurable.’1 Certainly in the arts in which I work, creatively and not-so-creatively, there is much that is, indeed, incommensurable. -Ron Price with appreciation to Plato, Politicus, quoted in Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Volume 4, Oxford UP, NY, 1939 (1962), p.27.
Creation, creativity, Arnold Toynbee goes on to say,1 “is a civilization’s raison d’etre. It has certainly become a good measure of my own raison d’etre. And as the foundering ship of my society has been quivering before her final plunge, I dive into the water of my own abilities and creativity and swim away with all my might. As “the most great convulsion” goes through its darkest hours, as the “blasts of His chastisement”1 beat upon humanity and as the driving power of some tempest sweeps across the face of the earth, I have seized upon many things in my life to bring me and my society alive and safe to our journey’s end. Early in my youth I became a strange passenger on a new, a subtle, a complex and untried craft, a new institutional matrix that had just been born as the tempest began to blow. Now, in the evening of my life, I have developed a style of writing which is not so much exotic as it is an amalgamation of styles in an effort to give expression to the wonderful and thrilling motion that had its inception in the earliest years of my life and is now permeating to all parts of the world. -Ron Price with thanks to 1ibid., p.79.
Long ago I broke out of my
hereditary social framework
in which I could not live and
have my being, in which my
creative powers simply could
not breath, dwell and survive
and I set myself into a new
framework in which my powers
insensibly found and were offered,
an outlet, a goal, a task, to help
bring into being a Wondrous Vision,
the brightest emanation of any man’s
mind and the fairest fruit of the fairest
civilization the world has yet seen.
The powerful operations of the
titanic upheaval of my time have
slowly become comprehensible
to the generations of the half-light.
They see its genesis, its direction,
its necessity, its mysterious processes
and they try to mitigate its fury
while anticipating with undimmed
vision the fears and hopes
it must necessarily engender.1
1 Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, 2nd Indian Edition, 1976, p.2.
April 25th 2006.
This morning I listened to Rolf Harris describe how the record Sun Arise was produced back in 1962.1 He also talked about Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport the number one single he had in Australia in 1960 which became a hit in Britain in 1962. All this happened a few months after I became a Bahá'í in 1959 and just before I began my pioneering life in 1962. As I write this, Rolf is still going strong at the age of 76. I saw him on TV painting a portrait of the Queen of England just a few weeks ago. In 1992, during the Bahá'í Holy Year, he was named the world’s most famous artist in a London poll. He was formally trained as an artist in the early 1950s just as the Kingdom of God was getting launched from a Bahá'í perspective. -Ron Price with thanks to 1“The Music Show,” ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 a.m., June 3rd 2006.
You’ve been around ever since
those famous world order letters.
Why, you were a teenager in our
first and second Plans and an adult
in the Ten Year Crusade. But, I’m
sure you had, then, absolutely no idea.
You’ve lived through five epochs
of this Formative Age with a fully
institutionalized charisma taking place,
at the apex of this new System, a unique
victory whose meaning was even beyond
the reach of the present and future generations.
We had our discouragement, too, Rolf,
with our unrealistic hopes and expectations
and often, too, we had questions and no answers.
You had your struggles and we, too, Rolf.
And, now, there is a window into the future,
a pattern--in your life, too, Rolf. And I thank
you for the pleasure and delight you have given.
June 4th 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
ALWAYS SOMETHING MORE
Most of this autobiography and most of my poetry, has been written in the earliest stages of the process of entry-by-troops. By 2005 I had completed my autobiography or at least the fifth edition. The process of entry-by-troops is considered by the Baha’is as the prelude to the stage of mass conversion to the Baha’i Faith as Shoghi Effendi informed the Baha’is in July 1953. It was in 1953 that my mother first made contact with the Baha’i teachings in a small town in Canada. Another Prelude was completed exactly two hundred years before by William Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s The Prelude was an autobiographical work which he revised for another 45 years until his death in 1850.
-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, January 16th 2006.
That epic structure you created
of a mind impaired and restored
as was mine more times than I
care to think over four epochs
and now in another epic structure
of how the mind of a man lived
beside sweet-scented streams and
the fruits of His most ancient name.
Not all is sweet for there is much
that weakens, deadens and dulls
the imagination as one travels this
long, stony and tortuous road of life.
Creative repose and its companion
anarchous seemed to fall upon me
by stages in this tenth part of history.
And so, now, this work, this prelude
is a song of triumph and of loss,
of experience and of thought,
part of a tempest unprecedented
in its magnitude sweeping the face
of my earthly home, unpredictably
over four pioneering epochs,
unveiling such mysteries as lay
hidden within the treasuries of
memory and its miracle wonder.
This story, this prelude, this
autobiographical account tells
what I have become, immediate
and remembered worlds, sifted
by imagination, by a slowly
mounting intensity of baffled
vision, a slow flow of the river
of the mind and its sensuous
generosity playing as it does
with new and wonderful
configurations and thought’s
And so my soul, remembering
how she felt, retains now
an obscure sense of possible
sublimity which with growing
faculties still and always has
something more to pursue.1
1 See: William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, editor, Harold Bloom, Chelsea Press, NY, 1986, Introduction.
January 17th 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
That's all folks!
(see part 2)