There were four epochs before I was born and there have been four during my life in the history of the Baha'i Faith: 1844-2021. The first epoch of the Formative Age was just finishing in the month I was born in 1944. The prose-poetry here has as its focus the period 1921 to 1944 and the first epoch of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Plan was 1921 to April 21st 1963.
Pioneering Over Four Epochs:
Section VIII Poetry - The Formative Age: 1st Epoch (1921-1944)
published in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: An Autobiographical Study and A Study in Autobiography
original written in English.
Each of the prose poems below was originally in a form resembling a poem, but I have gathered each of them into a form that resembles prose more than poetry. John Keats and Emily Dickinson among others used letters to transmit poetry, to formulate letters as poetry, to exploit the poetic and epistolary so that they inflect, enrich, even become one another. The blending of genres in various ways and for a wide range of purposes resulting in an even wider range of effects has become a popular sport in recent decades. I have come to see some of my own letters in a collection now spanning nearly 50 years as a blend of genres. Indeed poetry and prose have become somewhat indecipherable in my mind's eye.(note: I may at some future time, when the inclination permits, arrange the material below in the normal poetic form of short lines)
My poetry is a blending of autobiographical elements, echoes of the literature of the social sciences and humanities and a steady stream of references to and influences from Baha’i writings, history and teachings. This evening I was reading about the English poet George Byron (1788-1824). I was particularly struck by the fact that all of Byron's poetry is a blending of autobiographical elements and echoes of the literature he had absorbed over the years. And so I felt a certain affinity to Byron for this reason.
His poem Don Juan is considered the most autobiographical of Byron’s works. Almost all of Don Juan is real life either Byron’s or the lives of those whom he knew. Byron started writing Don Juan on July 3rd 1818, eight months after the birth of Baha’u’llah. He continued working on the poem in Italy and on his death in 1824 the poem remained unfinished. Don Juan was a, perhaps the, poem that the working class took to heart in the mid-19th century, so Friedrich Engles informed us in 1844. This poem reached the urban and rural poor and, for many, it was all they read besides the Bible. It is very likely that most of these readers did not read any of Byron's other works. As early as 1819 the work was regarded by the bourgeoisie as filthy and impious, although it was not fully published until 1901. He was regarded by Eliot as having contributed nothing and by Goethe as the greatest genius of his century. -Ron Price with thanks to Galit Avitan, “Publication Histories: Byron’s Don Juan,” Ashes, Sparks and Hypertext, 2000.
I came across an online seminar organized by the National Library of Australia entitled ‘Private Lives Revealed: Letters, Diaries, History’1 and was particularly struck with an article by a Peter Read: Private Papers and a Sense of Place. The article was an analysis of the verse of the nineteenth century English poet John Clare. Read saw Clare’s verse as an interesting example of what he called ‘private papers.’ Clare's poetry was so eclectic, his language so personal, his personal involvement so touching, that Read thought Clare’s poetry was much more akin to a collection of private papers that we might find in a library than to the poetry of a poet. However akin to private papers Clare’s poetry was, Read still thought Clare could have become one of the best-known poets of the nineteenth century. In discussing why Clare did not become such a poet, Read quotes the cultural historian John Barrell’s views on Clare: “insofar as Clare was successful in expressing his own sense of place, he was writing himself out of the main stream of European literature."
Accomplished poets and novelists are fully aware of the need for their readers to be able to generalise from the emotions which they as writers present about a particular place, event or person. The world view and life experiences of writers needs to find resonance with readers, if their writing is to be successful. Private papers often reveal such private emotions, and private emotions often reveal intense, ungeneralised concerns for particularities which hardly ever surface amongst the published, fictionalized and/or poetic works of professional writers. -Ron Price with thanks to 1“Internet Site,” National Library of Australia, 2006.
Since I went pioneering in 1962 there has been what Robert Bly calls “a domestication of poetry”. “That’s one metaphor” says Bly “to explain the amazing tameness of the sixty to eighty volumes of poetry published each year, compared with the compacted energy” of the poetry that came from the “wild knots of energy” of the poetry going back at least to the 1920s. --Robert Bly, “Knots of Wild Energy: An Interview With Wayne Dodd”, American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity, Harper and Row, NY, 1990, p.300.
We have never before faced what it’s like in the culture when hundreds of people want to write poetry and want to be instructed in it...We know how to instruct a hundred engineers, or computer technicians...We don’t know how to instruct in the area of poetry. -Robert Bly, ibid., p.318.
Such a burgeoning, multiplicity,
everything happening at once.
But, you know Robert, I’ve met
a lot of engineers who aren’t too
happy with their instruction.
We’ve got much to work out in this
incredible planetary fertilization,
bifurcated merging, cross-fertilization,
exploding tempest, increased intensity,
desperately troubling times. Wondrous
leaps and thrusts cross-firing: leaving
people bewildered, agonized and helpless.
Those knots of wild energy, we had them too,
as the great Order began to form back then
in the first two epochs of this Formative Age:
Our earliest pioneers had what you might call
a conflagrant holy urgency. I came in on the firey
end of that ninth stage of history and caught the
comet’s burning ice and after thirty years I try
to translate it into a poetry of dazzling prospects,
a poetry of two more epochs. Is it wild, Robert?
Is it wild? I was wild; I was. I, too, have been
16 October 1995
A PIONEER SEED
David Suzuki described the beginnings of life on Hawaii some two million years ago, with a pioneer seed.-Ron Price with thanks to David Suzuki, “Cracking the Code”, September 4th, 1997, ABC TV, 11:05 pm.
He was a pioneer seed, founder of
a botanic dynasty, two million years
ago in far-off Hawaii, on a bare and
desolate scape, now lush and variegated
for us all to see and enjoy. And I, a
pioneer seed, part of the earliest days
of a Formative Age,1 that will, in time,
produce an Order that will reverberate
through this world, this cycle, this era,
far, far into the future, a future dominated
by the political and religious unification of
this planet: so I see this seed, its home. The
gradual accumulation of changes, the leap
and thrust, occasionally, of its majestic beauty.
5 August 1997
1 The Formative Age began in 1921 and my pioneer days in the 41st year of that Age.
AT THE END OF AN EPOCH
Those rooms swam in soft light, awash with holy and mysterious intimations. Looking back at those rooms it would appear that I was becoming, in the eyes of my family and friends, a deranged angel, a stable and sensible young man, slowly going off his rocker. And he did and he was. -Ron Price with thanks to Roger White, “Evangel”, Occasions of Grace: More Poems and Portrayals, George Ronald, 1992, p.58.
By seventeen you’d felt His warm Word;
a shining knowledge slowly came in the
evenings as you read His books in bed,
incremental rises of brightness as the
paragraphs grew thickly read and read.
Something was acquired, then, in that
prosaic kitchen with the obtuse linoleum,
where your little family gathered in its homely
knot, dense with astigmatic virtue, blunted with
life, undefined, inarticulate, just stepped out on stage.
No transformation here, but something mysterious
happening in your head, taking you deeper and deeper,
insinuating itself into your heart, unobtrusively replacing
baseball and hockey, if not girls. And you woke up in that
new house in early autumn of 1962 pioneering as quietly as
the feathers of a bird floating on the air at the end of an epoch1
with its two wars, its depression and its eve of self-destruction.
29 March 1997
1 the first epoch(1921-1963) of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan. The Guardian said in 1956 that the world was ‘hovering on the brink of self-destruction.’(Messages to the Baha’i World: 1950-1957, USA, 1958, p.120.)
A NEW AESTHETIC WORLD
Ordinary people are here with their weaknesses and strengths. He is one of these ordinary people and in documenting himself, he feels he documents others. There is a flame here, an aflameness with the mystery of life and a recognition of struggle. A quiet understatement seems to say that in writing about the struggle he transcends it. He also helps to define and shape his necessary community, necessary to him and to us. This community is part of his celebration of life and part of his obsession, his religion. Like all obsessions it has great personal meaning to him and he wants to document it. Like history, he does not want it to pass over him or us; he wants to write about it. -Ron Price with thanks to The Tragic Vision of Joyce Carol Oates, Mary K. Grant, Duke UP, Durham, NC, 1978.
In the quest for a new communal consciousness
one encounters saintliness and sin,
boredom and chouder,
people on the threshold of the mystic
or on the frontiers of nihilism.
One sees a fabulous reality
that creates history and meaning;
and vacuous lives that fly
to sensation’s frenzy and the hit tune.
It seems we have been experiencing something
ferocious and tragic since He1 left us,
like the walls of Jericho tumbling down,
some hellfire and crucible
with its attendent agony and grief,
to take us beyond
this chaos of frenetic passivity,
smug cows at the trough,
to a new aesthetic world,
the absolute dream and the present.
1 The passing of Bahaullah in 1892
30 November 1996
1 ‘Abdu’l-Baha left the West in 1912 and the world in 1921.
BIRTH PANGS AND DEATH KNELLS
The web of our life is of a mingled gain, good and ill together.-William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well.
As this1 Order was being born
generations of artists had to toe
a line, some neo-orthodoxy that
kept millions under artistic lock
and key and other millions in death
lock. But even in those darkest hours,
when this new Order was taking on its
first shaping, for an international teaching
launch, Shostakovich told of the death-knell
of another order and Bartok the birth of a new
dialogue.2 A whole world was being born in
music and the arts, some aesthetic reflection
of a spiritual shift that was taking this world
by storm, with a vibrancy and a true liberty.
14 October 1996
1 The Baha’i Administrative Order took its first shape in the years 1921 to 1936. The consolidation, the fine-tuning, of this initial form has been taking place in the remaining decades of this century.
2 These composers wrote symphonies that expressed the death of the communist regime and the birth of new kinds of worlds.
AN EFFECTIVE FIGHTING MACHINE
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of poets is their disposition to be affected more than other people by absent things as if they were present, part of a passion of deprivation, part of a giving presence to a strongly felt absence. The production of an elegy is the working through of an impulse, an experience, of mourning.-Peter M. Sacks, The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats, Johns Hopkins UP, Baltimore, 1985, Preface and p.1.
You* saw the morning sun fresh
with birdsong and heard His
message in a thousand places
across this majestic Earth, between
the wars, during and after that great
conflagration. You marched to a
different Drummer, so spontaneous,
unique and individual it didn’t look
like marching at all. For this was a
different army, the most effective
fighting machine in all of history,
a raising up of the whole of humanity,
investing it with greater blessedness
in the hour of its greatest need and danger.
2 June 1996
*departed souls of the Formative Age, since 1921.
EARLY PACKAGING BY AN EAGLE’S WINGS
All the sad young men of Scott Fitzgerald and the lost generation of Ernest Hemingway are seekers for landmarks and bearings in a terrain for which the maps have been mislaid. Theirs is the God-abandoned world of modernity where individuals define their own code, summon the necessary discipline, if possible, and make their story: tragic, pitiful, human, an infinity of secular hurrings through space, with nature as all and nothing at the centre, except perhaps a slowly crafted self with all its ambiguities and mysteries. -Ron Price, with thanks to Robert Penn Warren for his “Ernest Hemingway”, Modern Critical Views: Ernest Hemingway, editor, Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1985, pp.35-62.
The Order was just taking form, then,
and happiness far removed from the
glitter-and-tinsel of mere sensations,
astonishing immediacy, the flourishing
moments of now. Freshness was found
in depth and poignancy in a vision
of oneness quite profound against
a background of civilization gone to pot,
war and death with gratification raised
to cult-status-sensation. A whole new basis
for the intellect deeply laid in the life of a
new God-man, two God-men, three God-men
now all gone: charisma institutionalizing,
just beginning to form in this new body.
For this new Form had been watered
with the blood of martyrs and more than
a century* of searching, finding, intense
discouragement, sweat and tears. Here
was new meaning, new wine in new bottles,
not just the accidents, changes and chances
that seem to form this mortal coil and human
nature struggling intensely within the confines
of private spaces with fate, self and all that makes
this life of grandeur and emptiness, pleasure and
pain, simplicity and staggering complexity, small
places and an infinite universe. Here were the
faintest beginnings back then, the earliest architecture:
all that pain and wonder packaged in an eagle’s wings.
26 February 1996
* Shayhk Ahmad left his home in 1792 and there followed a century of searching for the Promised One until 1892 when Baha’u’llah died. Slowly, after Baha’u’llah’s passing, the institutions of a new world Order began to form, especially after 1921. In the 1920s and 1930s, when F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway did most of their writing, the Administrative Order, the precursor of that World Order, took the form which was necessary for the international teaching plan to operate within.
Bahaullah informs us of the reality of fate in our lives. Our lives, He says, are unquestionably shaped by fate, by the consequences of necessary and impersonal relationships as well as by will, an active force which controls these relationships and hence this fate. Through this agency of will man can confront his fate bravely, with style, dignity and awareness. The victory, then, lies with our spirit, its struggle and its endurance, its simple dealing with what seem imperatives, fatal flaws, nemesis, paths in tragic fields and, in the process, our forging of identity and dignity.-Ron Price with appreciation to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa, 1978, p.198 and Wirt Williams, The Tragic Art of Ernest Hemingway, Louisiana State UP, London, 1981, pp.226-229.
Where did you fellows get your
understanding of fate, your sense
of the tragic? Buried deep in your
lives, in your own sorrow, your burden,
your struggle with your fate, your acceptance,
your energy, your despairing moments, you
wrote and wrote, into the night, into the
heat and the cold of life, distilling all that
you knew into stories and wisdom for
generations born into that post-war*
emptiness which still lives on in its
multi-coloured dress of grey and black,
swallowing millions in a sense of nothingness
and meaninglessness so profound as to have
28 February 1996
* The writings of both of these men began to be extensively published in the 1920s. They have been reissued many times in the years since their deaths. Three generations have now been able to read their writings.(1921-1996= 75 years)
LIQUID CRYSTAL PING PONG
When life touches us
poems appear like bruises
-Roger White, “Bruises”, Occasions of Grace, 1994, p.164.
“Surely, this game evening
was not bruising.”
-Participant in a game evening organized by a friend for a group of nine.
The candle splutters in the cool evening air;
it has been a hot day, one of the first of the summer.
The air is so refreshing, it matters not if
the games this evening,
the basis for tonight’s sociability,
are somewhat tedious.
This is another of those
‘make the best of it’ settings;
you get better at it with the years,
even become a bit of the entertainer,
synthesizer, unifier, charmer, raconteur
(for that has been your ostensible goal)
in one of these planned or thrown together,
four hour, eight hour stage performances,
leg-on-leg, the finest and subtlest dynamics
of broad, rich social existence.
The girl beside me, Kate,
catches the warm light
on her brown legs and hair.
Her eyes are the colour of rain.
I’m sure the frangapani frequent her boudoir.
We talk, so briefly;
we could have talked long, dined,
perhaps had an evening swim and made love,
but not in this world and probably not the next.
The art in art, he said, consists in having
the courage to begin, the discretion to select
and the wisdom to know when to stop.
I have gone too far, for some,
not far enough for others. But what of me?
What of my many selves that I’ve been trying
to bring together into some wholeness,
an integration, in a perpetual balancing act,
an unstable reconciliation of forces
in my psychic life, a battle that tears
at my edges, but more as
provocative stimulation, now,
not erotic pain or poetic madness.
And so we chat; we play the evening’s games.
The air cools, the balmy breeze blows Kate’s hair
across a thousand stars. Like liquid crystal
our words dance in unpredictable patterns,
as if blown by the wind
in serendipidous, if unremembered,
weavings, gropings and groupings,
never too turbulent.
I think of a way to make a quick exit
for I have tired of conversational ping-pong
in a group of nine. It is an old game for me,
at least since 1962. I’ve never played it well,
although I’m better at it now,
just about comfortable.
I play it better in groups of two.
It requires a brilliant inventiveness,
after 255 minutes of backs-and-forths
I exit as courteously as possible.
8 January 1996
You can make a poem out of anything that is felt. -William Carlos Williams
Athenian expansionist policy could be divided into three periods: 460-445, 431-421 and 420 to 404 BC. The Baha’i expansionist policy could be divided into three periods as well: 1863-1892, 1892-1921 and 1921 to the present. -Ron Price, from my notes on Greek History: 478 to 404 BC.
These buildings will not see
some military debacle
nor will Athena protect their treasury
as a burgeoning imperial ethos
suffocates the land and the hill.
No unity imposed by force here,
no saviour-in-a-hurry to conquer the world,
already conquered in spirit in a Plan
set in motion seventy-five years ago.
No one-man-band this one,
no Periclean misadventure,
no problem of succession,
no moral bankruptcy, no hubris,
just the same overwhelming beauty,
a different testament this time,
home for the dust of treasured Men,
developing charismatic aura
hanging over these hanging gardens
and over an expansionist policy
concerned with soul.
12 June 1996
THE YEARS OF THE LESSER PEACE
My pioneering days began the year Marshall McLuhan pegged the phrase ‘global village’ in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy. This was 1962, the year before the Kennedy assassination and Viet-Nam, the living-room war. This pioneering venture began about ten months before the first election of the Universal House of Justice. The Lesser Peace, it could be argued, had been playing on history’s horizon for some 45 years by 1962, on the horizon of my days as it would for probably my entire life. -Ron Price, “A Reflection on the Years Of The Lesser Peace”, Unpubished Essay.
From 1988 to 1993 I taught a course in ancient history: Greece in the fifth century BC and Rome from 133 BC to 14 AD. I was enthralled by the many parallels between our own age and these two ancient societies. This poem is a reflection on one of the many points of comparison.-Ron Price, 4 October, 12:10 pm, Rivervale, WA.
W.G. Runciman discusses the emergence of protostates in post-Mycenean Greece, especially Sparta and Athens. It seems to me that what we are witnessing in our time is the emergence of a global state coextensive with the Revelations of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. -W.G. Runciman,” Origins of States: The Case of Archaic Greece,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol.24, pp. 364-377.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the days
before a latter-day Pentecontaetia1,
a modern half-century: on the gentle side,
crazy days they’ll be, decades of slow building,
burning, some absolutely staggering burgeoning,
hot tears of light amidst a sea of darkness
in the second century of this Formative Age,
an age amusing itself to death
on an unconsciously rehearsed spontaneity
with an immense, a profound, triviality,
some long night before the dawn
or even in the early hours of morning,
on the brink, years of the tempest
with bleeding humanity behind them
brought to its knees--at last--
in a common remedial effort,
a new spiritual and moral attitude,
some collective identification
with catastrophe, shock and trauma.
Years of obsessions: Liz, Marilyn
and Elvis; anchor men, Oprah Winfrey,
ET, Shwarznegger, monopoly, scrabble
and Sylvia Plath blowing it all away
just before the House was elected,
an apex crowning the new Order
growing slowly, unobtrusively
amidst the detritus, the exploding
knowledge of this latter age:
years of the Lesser Peace.
1The term given to the period 479 to 435 BC. During these years Athens laid the foundation for her superior strength in Greece. (Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Penguin, 1972, p.87.) The days before this Pentecontaetia, it could be argued, was the century or more after 594 BC when Solon was appointed mediator in Athens.
The modern period preceding a modern Pentecontaetia could be seen as a ‘prelude,’ a hundred-or-more year period beginning in, say, phase one:1917-1937 with Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points at the start of the League of Nations; then phase two: 1937-1963 when the international teaching campaign was launched; and phase three: 1963-2021 when the process of ‘entry-by-troops’ proceded apace in the 1st century of the Formative Age. In 1921 the Guardian began to create the instrument of the Administrative Order; in 1912 ‘Abdu’l-Baha came West and in 1892 Baha’u’llah passed away--these events could mark the years before the ‘prelude.’
I’m going to choose 1944 to 2044, the second century of Baha’i experience when the first stirrings of a World Order, which this Baha’i Administration is but the precursor, crystallize and radiate over the planet as the years of my part in this ‘prelude’ to Thucydides’ Pentecontaetia which he describes at the beginning of his ‘History of The Peloponnesian War.’ These were the years when the process of the Lesser Peace was engaging the energies of history. Arguably, this was the period before a modern Pentecontaetia.
A SHIP OF MASSIVE PROPORTIONS
The Guardian’s vision of the ten stages of history, described in his Ridvan message of 1953, delivered in Chicago, provides a seminal statement, a foundation perspective on the global view of history that is part of what I could call la longue duree to borrow a term from the annale school of modern historians, part of the teleological, providential paradigm of Baha’i history. The Baha’i view is centred in a belief in progress through providential control.
Just as the Queen Mary was establishing
herself in the North Atlantic1 we launched
a different ship of absolutely massive proportions.
She would be the greatest vessel to ever sail
on the seas of this earth. It would involve
the greatest drama in the world’s spiritual
history: an international teaching campaign.
These were the days of the great ocean liners:
the sixth, seventh and eighth stages of history,
before the jet took over in the ninth stage.2
And twenty-five years after this campaign
began I went pioneering on the homefront,3
eight months before the onset of the tenth
stage of history. By then, if you wanted to
get somewhere fast you went by air not water.
I write this poem this way to define as precisely
as I can where I fit in to history’s complex scheme
and where I am in a world of many theories and paradigms.
29 January 1998
1 The Queen Mary was the fastest liner in the world in April 1937 when the international campaign of teaching was begun. This ship and the Elizabeth, built as passenger liners, were crucial in the speeding up of WW2. Churchill said these two great vessels took two years off the war due to their troop carrying capacity.
2 6th stage: 1852-1892; 7th stage: 1892-1921; 8th stage: 1921-1953; 9th stage: 1953-1963.
3 My pioneering life began on 1 September 1962.
The terms modernism and post-modernism I find are useful to frame an understanding of modern history and culture. These terms are used in such varied ways by sociologists and culture critics. They have not settled down into an idees fixes. Charles Lemert, a Professor of Sociology, for example takes post-modernism back to the 1930s on the one hand and the beginnings of globalizing tendencies on the other. This picture of the post-modern fits into my own. My frame of analysis sees the modern beginning with the birth of Shaykh Ahmad in 1753 and the post-modern as beginning with the first stage of an institutionalization of charisma in the person of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, in 1892, associated as it is with the emergence of a new world religion.
-Ron Price with thanks to Charles Lemert, Postmodernism Is Not What You Think, Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1997, pp.3-20.
After two warm-up phases,
1892-1921 and 1921-1963,
post-modernism took off
screaming into history, a
spectacle1 of dazzling prospects
that defines reality, that gives
existence a strange new form,
no hyperreality like Madonna,
or superreality like Disneyland,
no show; but mediated story,
yes, through some mystic intercourse2
and the appearance of wondrous things
in the one who longs3 and now in this
seat of His throne, which hath been
honoured by His presence.4 It is not
a question of proving their view, arguing
their interpretation, returning to the past;
it is a question of legitimacy, the definition,
the truth of this new metanarrative, constructed
in incredible detail around unity in diversity,
no totalizing industry serving consumer or
corporate tastes, but a liberating and community-
building potential of a new system, an evolving
form, the brightest emanation of a Mind, the
Wondrous Vision of a latter-day man-God.
1 the Baha’i ‘spectacle’ has only just stuck its head above the ground after a century and a half of slow growth.
2 the mystic intercourse of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdul-Baha was the beginning, I would argue, of this ‘institutionalization’
3 See The Priceless Pearl, p.5.
4 Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Carmel.
6 December 1998
THE DANCE AND THE DRAMA
I think writers are the most important members of society. Good writers must have and stand by their own ideas, but be willing to discuss them in an open way that can stand the heat of the dialectic process. I like everything there is about being a writer, although sometimes I feel a certain loneliness and social isolation that is juxtaposed to the intensity and concentration of writing. I often go into the lounge room while I am writing to hold my wife's hand and say 'hello'. I seem to need the contact, the warmth. I often feel cold writing.
The social interaction in lecturing/teaching makes me crave the solitude of writing and reading. Many days of writing make me crave the social, but only a certain type of social setting. A lot of social life is boring, tedious in the extreme. Getting that solitude-social balance right is difficult.
Many people find my poetry irrelevant at best and totally incomprehensible at worst. They simply do not like my poetry for all sorts of reasons, reasons which I will never know. They instinctually don't like reading poetry; they have little interest in my several passions and subjects; they don't read much anyway; my poetry is not to be found between colourful covers on small pages, or on short lines. I use words that are too big. The list is endless. So inevitably I write for a coterie when I'd really like to make it with the mass. -Ron Price with thanks to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in The New Fiction: Interviews with Innovative American Writers, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1974, pp. 206-207.
My inner psychic history
dances its minuet with
the vast horrors of recorded
time and their nightmares.
Now the greatest drama
has appeared, still played
in some little theatre, still
on the edge of unobtrusive.
Now in its fourth act,(1)
scene two perhaps,lines 9 to 99,
clearly(2)a high point in this
unfolding and dynamic play.
And my inner psychic history
dances to this new minuet,
lifting my spirits high above
the horrors of these recorded
times, their fears and nightmares--
mine will come later tonight.
1 The 13th year of the fourth(the year 1998-1999) epoch of the Formative Age: 1921-1998.
2 9 September 1999.
In late 1921 ‘Abdu’l-Baha died after seventy-seven years of revelation, beginning with the Bab. At the same time T.S. Eliot wrote his famous poem “Wasteland.”
You wrote of our fragmented past
with its dead trees, dry stones and
the heap of broken images, in a
kaleidoscope of confusion evoking
a civilization at the end of its tether,
asking what branches grow out of
this stony rubbish?1 While He was
dieing after seventy-seven years of
revelation with Their everlasting
melodies breathing tranquillity but
unseen by most men with the earth
in forgetful snow, feeding a little life
with dried tubers.2 Few, precious few,
caught a lightening glimpse of this
Crimson Light. Most were in rats’
alley where the dead men lost their
bones3 and did not take the step of
search leading unto the knowledge
of the Ancient of Days. And so as
these years of revelation ended this
bank clerk, convalescing, preoccupied
with European civilization running dry,
finally, and his own health, wrote a
sprawling, chaotic poem, a landmark
in the history of poetry, unofficial
tribute to the wilderness in which
They were crying, preparing the way
for the Lord in these days of endgame.
19 April 1998
1 T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland.”
RIDING THROUGH THE YEARS
Until the Arabs tripled oil prices in 1973 the West enjoyed the biggest boom of the twentieth century. The opening decades of the Kingdom of God on earth(1953-1973) are the subject of this poem. The zeal of the Lord, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice had struck the opening notes. But it was not until the end of this period(1969-1973) that the generality of the believers had any idea of the exhaustion that their leading horse had experienced. By the time I read The Priceless Pearl, before I left Canada in 1971, as I point out in my narrative Pioneering Over Three Epochs, I had had a decade of my own battles and Shoghi Effendi had truely become my 'true brother'.
We rode through the first thirty years
of the second Bahá'í century on the
biggest boom since before our grandfathers:
the opening decades of the Kingdom of God
on earth. We did it on a leading horse,
overworked, ridden into his grave, but
noone knew, then, as TVs spread into
every lounge-room, with fridges and
washing machines, teeming productivity,
while he told us about the gravity of our
'time of world peril', 'the eve of destruction'
and we basked in 1% unemployment,
Volkswagons and enough material goods
to hide any genuinely genuine spiritual force.
And they did while the shrine was finished,
the temple and symbols of unity dotting the
continents, obtrusive and unobtrusive markings
of an epoch in the greatest drama in the world's
spiritual history, then, and now.1
7 June 1998
1 This poem is another example of that poetic form that occurs from time to time in my poetry: the vahid. A little longer than the sonnet, it allows a greater amplitude of content, of space, for things I want to say, like this poem covering as it does the period 1944 to 1973, a period equivalent in length to the ministry of 'Abdu'l-Bahá 1892-1921.
In the last three lines of her 300+ page book Daddy We Hardly Knew You, Germaine Greer says that her father was never good company for her. Many of her father’s mates enjoyed his company but his daughter did not. She says that she was “a full-on pain in his neck.”1 Germaine says she had an overly-critical, overly-scrutinizing nature and her father simply did not like her. I certainly did not know my father but generally he had a liking for me. I was a pain in his neck on occasion but only on occasion. -Ron Price with thanks to Germaine Greer, Daddy We Hardly Knew You, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1989, p.311.
There have been people, both in my family and out of it, whom I did not like and many outside my family who did not like me. In all cases there were logical and emotional reasons for the dislikes. Such dislikes seem to be part of all our lives. In my case I must have had 3000 to 4000 students, known several thousand Baha’is, hundreds of fellow employees, hundreds of classmates among a host of others. To have a handful of people from such a large number disliking one is an inevitability like the air we breath. In most cases the dislikes only existed over short time-spans of a few days, months or years.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, September 23rd, 2005.
The list is long right back
to those first bullies in ’48
who used to put shit in our
mail box on Bellvenia Road
in RR#1 Burlington Ontario.
You just can’t expect to be
liked by everyone you meet.
And by-God, I can think of
several people I sure did not
like—and for good reason.
The creative impulse, too,
is a wonderful thing, but
without a talent that can be
relied on it can result in a
The products of this impulse
are often of very poor quality,
ensconsed in an exhausting
repetition, need protecting,
nourishment, your soul, and
in my case, the capacity to
convert nervous force into
phrases for a purpose and
His spiritual journey was
to remain the subject of
(1)–P. Maeyes, Siegfried Sassoon:Scorched Glory, MacMillan Press, 1997, p.139.
about this spiritual journey.
September 23rd 2005.
Writing poetry is a little like the description Michael Chekhov gives of memory and the creative process.1 “Out of the visions of the past,” he writes, “there flash here and there images unknown to you! They are pure products of your Creative Imagination. They appear and disappear; they come back again, bringing with them new strangers. Presently they enter into relationships with one another. They act and perform before your fascinated, sometimes surprised and puzzled, gaze with their partly known and partly unknown lives. They are like imaginary guests which appear without your invitation. Sometimes they possess a special poignancy. They converse with you. This is the basis for the images which seem to surround you everyday. It is these images, born in a mysterious zone of memory, imagination, thought, intuition, a mixture of inner faculties, that pursue me and compel me to write the poems I write. -Ron Price with thanks to Michael Chekhov, On the Technique of Acting, Harper & Row, N.Y., 1953, p.22.
It’s about transforming yourself
from some inexhaustible well
of images and half-images,
feelings and half feelings,
following inner events
that speak to me from
mysterious depths, places
I hardly know:
this is improvisation.
The whole stream of diverse
objectives, major and minor,
explicit and implicit,
central and peripheral,
converge to carry out an overall,
a superobjective of my poem.
This grand aim or purpose,
this raison d’etre of my poem
is my literary production’s
leitmotif, my leading thought
which inspires all that I write.1
1 With appreciation to Stanislavsky, the director of the Moscow Arts Theatre, in Chekhov, op.cit. p.155.
July 21st 2005
SEMBLANCE OF LIFE
Plays and films set in the real world with characters who are complex, ambivalent, layered, recognizable, with various personality disorders, addictions and abnormal behaviours and every bit as troubled and talented as those in the audience—these are the types of material I want to see. This same kind of character is also described in my autobiography and my poetry and that character is me. The writer’s task, like the actor’s is to breath a semblance of life into his or her character. There is no one system or method that can scientifically explain or precisely account for, by some set of rules, the art of writing or acting. –Ron Price with thanks to Foster Hirsch, A Method To Their Madness, W.W. Norton and Co., NY, 1984, p.13.
There are various techniques that liberate actors from their scripts and writers from their own life stories. Affective memory and improvisation are just two. In applying these two techniques individuals can investigate and draw on their own lives and the lives of others for emotional equivalents and substitutes. The idea here is to be able to access your inner life, to train and draw on your emotional experiences as if from some vast filing cabinet. Here, the actor, the writer, is monitor, judge, censor, orchestrator, director and producer of his emotional and intellectual keyboard, suspended over the precipice of his own quivering and quietened sensibilities. This heightened self-awareness is both his potential glory and his potential downfall.-ibid., p.211.
There’s a charged intimacy,
a staying fresh, keeping
staleness off in the distance,
used by degrees, in layers,
little-by-little and sometimes
shining like shook foil, some-
times as natural as breathing.
It’s a bringing your life onto
the stage; it’s a losing your
life in the big, wide world.
It’s finding some personal
core and the world’s and
bringing it all together into
some kind of synthesis
that saves you from self-
absorption and endless
analysis of externals.
July 21st 2005
The history of the first century of literature in Australia written by Baha’is will not be written by me. This is partly because there are fifteen years left in the first century but, more importantly, I do not have the resources to go about the exercise, the inclination to acquire the resources nor the desire to write such an important work. The emergence, the evidence, of a Baha’i consciousness in the literature produced in Australia, in the literary and poetic tradition of the Baha’i community here has, for the most part, a historical significance more than it has great literary value. Australia was a difficult problem to the first settlers here; the physical and social conditions, the strangeness and weirdness of things and the psychological climate on this continent daunted and repelled the settlers in the first century of Australia’s history, 1788-1888. The Baha’is in their first century, from 1920 to 2020, experienced a similar and dissimilar problem to those early settlers. Laying the foundation for a poetry written by Baha’is and seeing a Baha’i consciousness emerge in poetry and prose, was one that was slow, periodic, complex and one that required several epochs and generations.-Ron Price with thanks to Judith Wright, “ Australian Poetry To 1920,” The Literature of Australia, editor, Geoffrey Dutton, Penguin Books Ltd., 1972(1964), pp.55-90.
I write of man in all his aspects,
under the garment of eternity,
obsessed as I am with the passion
for a synoptic view, a unity
in multiplicity, amplitude
of reference over four epochs
in these days of the ninth
and tenth stages of history
when a charismatic Force
was finally institutionalized
and I grew from my teens
and its frenzied youth
into an old man with
a serenity, a melancholy
a charm, a love of the Muse,
a withdrawal, a joy to learn
and to understand the very
different views, arrangements
and human ways expressed
in an autobiographical style.
February 2, 2005.
CHICAGO, JAZZ AND THE BAHA’I FAITH
In the nineteenth century in Congo Square in New Orleans, in other places across America and especially in New York, the first stirrings of what came to be called jazz could be heard. It has long been recognized, at least since histories of jazz began to be compiled, that so much of the history of jazz in New Orleans “took place in Chicago.”1 By the early 1920s, writes Ted Gioia in a recently published history of jazz, the centre of jazz had clearly shifted from New Orleans to Chicago. A general African-American diaspora called the Great Migration saw at least two million people in the teens and twenties from southern black society leave for the north--to a more tolerant community. By the 1920s, too, the Baha’i temple in Chicago, only then in its early planning and construction, possessed a lure of spiritual beauty with “masses of the lay public enthralled by its magnetism.”2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz, Oxford UP, NY, 1997; and 2 Quote from a newspaper in Bruce Whitmore, “Temple of Light: The Quest for a Design,” World Order, Fall 1983, pp.19-36.
Jazz and the Baha’i Faith grew
together in America: minstrel
shows, black musical theatre
were right there at the start
in the 1890s when the first
notes of a new Faith were struck
in NY, in Chicago and in Kenosha.
Both jazz and the Baha’i Faith
have timelines going back
to embryonic influences
of previous centuries,
but the origins of jazz
and this Faith in America
go back to the late 19th
and early 20th centuries.
When that Product of a mystic
Intercourse1 travelled West
for three years, a turning point
of the utmost significance,
burst the cage, the shackles,
asunder with an outburst
of activity in many worlds:
Virginia Woolf said the planet
changed in December 1910—
He had left for Egypt on
an afternoon in September 1910—
and jazz moved north to Chicago
unobtrusively and obtrusively
where the first stirrings, foundations
of this Baha’i Administrative Order,
were then being laid in a world
largely oblivious to its taking place,
in a temple of light not yet built.
1 ‘Abdu’l-Baha son the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah
September 10th 2005
AN EXTRAORDINARY TIME
This evening, as summer was ending in Australia and the worst fires in this country’s history were still burning, I watched the first of four episodes of a program entitled: The Thirties in Colour.1 This first of a set of four episodes was centred on the rare and private film footage taken by Miss Rosie Newman, a wealthy amateur film-maker and socialite in the 1930s. This British adventuress, amateur cinematographer and world traveller recorded some remarkable colour film from India, north Africa, Egypt and Britain before and during WWII. She shows us the elite in western civilization at play in the years before the cataclysm that was WWII. She shows us the twilight years of the British Empire. By means of her amusing and, in some ways, serious hobby, this single woman who died in 1988 shows us part of Rosie Newman’s remarkable life set in an extraordinary time from 1935 to 1944: exotic, nostalgic, ethnographic, historical, political. –Ron Price with thanks to SBS TV, 7:30-8:35 p.m., 27 February 2009.
They were busy years those mid-to-late
thirties when: the King of England had
to abdicate to marry Wallis Simpson;
FDR was helping America in depression
days with his New Deal programs; the
Japanese and Chinese were fighting it
out especially in the Nanjing Massacre
with its 300,000 dead; the Spanish Civil
War brought out what was arguably the
most famous painting of the century by
Picasso: Guernica; the Hindenburg burst
into flame; the first solar eclipse to exceed
seven minutes in over 800 years was seen
in the Pacific and the Baha’i community
launched its first Seven Year Plan in 1937.
28 February 2009
Four months after the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932 something closed in the Baha’i World. The last remnant of the Heroic Age, the treasured Remnant of Baha’u’llah, Bahiyyih Khanum, passed to the Great Beyond.1 The date was 15 July 1932. The Baha’is refer to her as the Greatest Holy Leaf. She was the eldest daughter of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. She is seen by the Baha’i community as one of the greatest women who have ever lived. In some ways she was, indeed, a bridge from the Apostolic Age of the Baha’i Faith(1844-1921) and its Formative Age, in the first century(1921-2021) of which I have lived my life.
When I saw the TV program “Constructing Australia: The Bridge,”2 and realized that the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in March 1932, I could not help but put the personally interesting synchronicity of these two events into this prose-poem.-Ron Price with appreciation to: 1Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1968, p.187 and 2 “Constructing Australia: The Bridge,” ABC1, 9:55 p.m. 15 January 2009.
The building of this bridge began as yet
another construction also began for the
creation of a national unit of our global
society—from an ingrown, amorphous,
loosely connected community, enlarged,
vastly-vastly, well-organized, a bridge to
the nucleus and pattern of, yes, our world
society, building blocks of a government
of our future world—and in the meantime
part of an Administrative Order so strong
that it could execute a missionary-program
on an international scale for decades, yes,
perhaps centuries to come---and it started...
in the last years, indeed, months of the life
of that bridge to our Formative Age when
another bridge was completed in these far-
off Antipodes. Few appreciated the unique
part she played in those tumultuous years
of our Apostolic Age due to her unfailing
sympathy, her tender solicitude, assiduous
cultivation as shield in social relationships,
her magnanimity, her deep-rooted optimism,
her serene countenance, her sensitive heart,
her meekness and fortitude and the steeling
of her energies which even her most intimate
associates failed to suspect or appreciate.......
20 January 2009
PROUST: PERISCOPES UP
In order for the French novelist Marcel Proust to seriously begin writing his famous novel In Search of Lost Time he had to create an imaginary deadline.1 So writes Christine M. Cano an associate professor of French and comparative literature at Case Western Reserve University. Proust found this seriousness, created this sense of urgency, Cano argues, by coming to see and understand his writing in the context of a race against and a defiance of time. In this way he confronted the temporality of his life, his writing, his publishing and whatever he read by producing this 3200 page novel, a novel which resists simplification and cursory analysis. In this confrontation with time Proust found the sense of urgency that he needed; he found an intensity and a build-up of meaning in relation to what he was writing. It was an urgency which lasted until the end of his life in 1922.
Proust gave a sense of fixity to the facticity of his life by the process of writing. His writing provided a context for his many selves and the precariousness he felt in living. This precariousness of life and its endless processes of change and duration was dealt with by means of the written word, Proust’s novel. Writing helped him to deal with the strong sense he had of his existence as an entity which was soon to run out. By slowly coming to perceive his life in terms of its transformation into a work of art, by recapturing it, his past moment by moment, he aimed to bring the myriad of those moments in that past life under a microscope.
He felt that he was halting time and wrestling it from the flux of change and duration. By fixing the events of his life forever in a semblance of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis, much like the work of a photographer, he created what for some readers was a romantic reminiscence in a plotless labyrinth, in a vast ediface of a life and autobiography. For other readers, Proust’s literary creation felt like a conspiracy against them, a conspiracy of words with their “clumsy centipedalian crawling of interminable sentences.”2
I, too, had had a sense of urgency from my childhood. I always seemed to be in a rush as my father pointed out to me frequently especially at dinner-time when I was gobbling-up yet another evening meal. By my mid-thirties this sense of urgency was supplemented by a death-wish, due mainly to the affects of bipolar disorder. This death-wish was especially strong just before going to bed. The effect of this combination, death-wish and sense of urgency, was to create in my mind by the early 1980s at about the age of 40, these same imaginary deadlines, this race against time, this sense of the precariousness of my present state and so propel me into thinking that these words, the ones I had written that day or any day--might just be my last. This death wish was delimited when, in 2001, I went on a new mood stabilizer in combination with an anti-depressant medication. At about this time a new energy was unleashed into my literary life, an energy that was arguably a bi-product of this new medication.
Proust warmed-up to write his great opus of some 3200 pages by nineteen years(1890-1909 circa) of writing reviews, fiction and doing translations. Having been thus prepared, he worked on his seven volume work of novelistic-nostalgia, a work acknowledged by some as the greatest piece of fiction by the greatest novelist of the 20th century. The work took him from 1909 to his death in 1922. I, too, warmed-up to the writing of my autobiography with at least nineteen years of literary plodding(1983-2002 circa). By the literary recreation of my life, by the transformation of the transformation that had been my life, by the immersion of myself in memories of what was lost and what was gained in the process of living my life over more than six decades, I slowly came to see my lifetime as the only adequate unit in which to express in writing my succession of selves. I slowly acquired an irresistible autobiographical impulse; it took possession of me by degrees throughout the 1980s and 1990s and, by 2002, this impulse showed no sign of diminishing. Seven years later in 2009 at the age of 65 it had captured my life. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 January 2009 with thanks to 1Christine Cano, Proust’s Deadline, University of Illinios Press, 2006 and 2Roger Shattuck, Marcel Proust: Chapter 1, Penguin.
I can hear them say: life is too short
and Price is too long. And who can
blame them? Millions of words and
more pages than I would even want
to try and count any more. There are
two kinds of writer-poets which I try,
quite unconsciously, to combine---or
so it seems to me, thanks to Aciman’s
review of Proust in that fine journal:
The New York Review of Books....1
The swallow’s quick, agile, speedy
travel across long, tireless stretches
of the world, taking that world in in
the ways whales gulp down plankton;
with mistakes easily corrected, bad
times put to good use, judgements
which are unwise just tweaked here
and there in some implacable line of
words where the only pieces that are
thrown away are printer-problems or
are items lost in cyberspace due to a
pressing of those little wrong keys.....
The snail’s slow, deliberate and fussy,
cramped and burrowing self, ingesting
choice bits down some multichambered
spiral and with an appetite for a whorled,
eternally whorled, vision. This snail, too,
was my second writer-poet-persona-anima.
I took this swallow and this snail into my
bunker, announced to the world my with-
drawal and retreat, sealed myself as far as
it was possible in my study and periscopes
up proceeded to yield again and again to my
demon, to my thought and to write on every
thing that struck my fancy to the point of an
exhaustion, producing as I went, carnivorous
vines that devoured its owner and led out to all
the corners of the earth’s world-wide cyberweb.
I yielded to a dense tropical growth within me;
I had a chart and a course; there was nothing in
it—tragic or reluctant—this quasi-abdication—
this focus on a single point’s--effective force;
for my work embodied a vision of a persona
which was not the same as the one I displayed
in quotidian reality. Writing was the product
of a work in progress, a discovery-creation,
where multiple desires-motivations converged
on my actions and inactions, impeding or, yes,
stimulating their execution, lending some type
of overdetermined quality to highly descriptive
and overwhelming attribution. But, still, this
work was not some excrescence of some sort
of psychological case-history, at least not yet.2
1 Andre Aciman, “Proust’s Way?” The New York Review of Books, Vol.52, No. 19, 1 December, 2005.
2 Roger Shattuck, Marcel Proust: Chapter 1, Penguin.
5 January 2009