I dedicate this section to the many artists, entertainers, writers and poets who have enriched the individual and community life of both the Baha'is and the generality of humankind. The poetry here represents a sense of my appreciation of their contribution to the work which I produce as a writer for, however much a writer, a poet, works alone, he stands on the shoulders of thousands of others. I will begin this section with some poetry and then go on to some ideas of the first significant essayist Montaigne who had, for me, some useful ideas to help me in my own artistic work and who began writing his essays about 400 years before I began mine just at the time when the European world began shifting from its base in tradition and revelation to one based on experience and science.
ALL IN ONE GO
Picasso, or perhaps it was one of his close friends, once said that his energy, the energy he put into a painting, is all transferred into it "in one go." Much of painting, to Picasso, was a breaking down and a remaking of something as he attempted to transform it. What was true of Picasso and his painting, as expressed here, is also true of the construction of my poetry, except for the long epic poem, epic prose-poetic opus, I am working on where the energy is spread out over many years. If I consider the total oeuvre of my poetry and prose output as one long poem, then the energy was not put out "in one go." There were many goes, over many years, as I made and remade things to my satisfaction and dissatisfaction, to and with my pleasure and my anxieties, tranforming my world and leaving it the same.
The tradition of self-portraiture in painting is also mirrored in my writing as a part of the tradition of autobiography. Self-portraiture begins with Albrecht Durer in 1493 and autobiography with St. Augustine in 426 A.D. -Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, "Magic, Sex and Death: Part One on Picasso," 9 June 2002, 3:35-4:30 pm.
You can't put it all down.
The essence is never conveyable
and the corpus of self-portraits
always rests uncomfortably on
some of inner land’s unreality.1
I construct my self-portaits
somewhat like an artist
with the real me somewhere
behind the words, behind that
likeness which tells only some
of the psyche and the self-worth.
The calculation, choices and
manipulation are all part of
construction and it is far beyond
my corporeal vessel, some
scrutinized self, some fashioned
being its infinite variety of meanings,
its statement of self-analysis.
There is richness and ambiguity here
amidst the fluctuating fortunes of life,
the complexities and the multitudinous
renditions of my days, our days, these days2
1 A Sufi idea of 'the inner land of unreality compared to Revealed Truth' referred to by Baha'u'llah in Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p.28.
2With thanks to Steven Platzman in his introduction to Cezanne: The Self-Portraits.
10 June 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 Baha'i 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 Baha'i 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
moved unobtrusively onto the global stage
of history3 and what it meant in the dark
heart of an age of transition.4
1 Boris Pasternak
31937 to 2002 in a series of Plans
1 April 2002
HEY VINCENT! EH VINCENT?
A recent reading of some of the letters of painter, Vincent Van Gogh, revealed some useful parallels with my own work as a poet. Van Gogh took enormous satisfaction in painting things immediate to his senses as I do in writing about things, ideas and experiences that are immediate to my life. Van Gogh often had fits of anxiety, feelings of emptiness and fatigue in the head. These feelings have been part of my life for forty years now. While I admire heroism in others, the many martyrs I read about from the more than a century and a half of Baha'i history and the capacity of these martyrs and people I have came to know in my own life--to suffer; while I appreciate the great spiritual potential of suffering, I do not long to suffer, to experience martyrdom. As I approach the age of sixty, I try to avoid suffering if at all possible. I feel I have had enough in my life and, like Van Gogh, I feel it does not suit me. The poem below draws on the content of some of Vincent Van Gogh's letters. -Ron Price with thanks to The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Penguin, 1997 and The Internet, The Letters: From Vincent to Wilhelmina.
When the earth is not ploughed,
you wrote, you get no harvest.
Well, we both ploughed our earth,
eh Vincent? You knew that art
was a jealous master and demands
our whole strength. When people
came to see you as an impractical,
useless fellow, it left a bitter taste
in your mouth. Me too, Vincent,
me too. Those inner seizures of
disrepair were disorienting,
eh Vincent? But we ate well,
were well-housed, had our separate
flings and comforts.....Eh Vincent?
14 March 2002
Walt Whitman was a poet with absolute confidence that men and women of the United States and of all the world would finally solve the problem of the unification of all races and peoples.1 Ron Price, writing some one hundred and fifty years later, had the same confidence. He was a poet similarly convinced in the future unification of the peoples of the world. But after forty years of living with and acting on this conviction, within the context of what he believed to be humanity’s critical unifying agent and framework, namely, the Baha'i Faith, he became more and more conscious, more than he ever had been during those first forty years, of the powerful truth and application of a statement of the Guardian that he felt the general community of Baha’is was not so conscious of.
It was a statement the Guardian had written in his description and analysis of Baha'u'llah's banishment to 'Iraq: "The process whereby its unsuspected benefits were to be manifested to the eyes of men was slow, painfully slow."2 This process also was characterized "by a number of crises which at times threatened to arrest its unfoldment and blast all the hopes which its progress had engendered."3 Price was certain of the unification of the children of men but he was under no illusions that the process of attaining it would take generations and it would be exceedingly difficult. -Ron Price with thanks to Erin Rogers, "America's Bard, The Atlantic Online: Flashbacks, 16 February 2002; and 2Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, Wilmette, 1957, p.111 and 3idem.
It's one immense poem right from the start,
right from when Shaykh Ahmad came out
to Najaf and Karbila when was it......1793?
Right from when John and Hattie Dixon
brought hot soup to our house on cold
winter days in Canada at the start of what
was it......the Kingdom of God on Earth?1
And the genius of this great mass of humanity
is that loving and devoted souls would arise in
combinations of self-love and selflessness to do
tasks they often feel incompetent to do. And the
role of this poet is to be commensurate with all
that this new Faith has lifted up in faithfulness.
His spirit responds to the spirit at the heart of his Faith.
This new race of men with veins full of poetical stuff
needs so many things and the poet points the way
beyond pettiness and triviality toward certain grandeur.
For the poet is no better than the ordinary man
who watches cricket, TV or makes hamburgers.
This poet has tried for years to gain the assistance
of those souls who have gone on to another world
and have become the leaven that leaveneth being.
And this poetry here is but a beginning as we
behold the birth of our universe and see the world
as one since the Guardian’s death back in 1957.2
1 1953: I was nine.
2We saw the first photos of earth just before he died.
16 February 2002
Shoghi Effendi, discussing the very beginnings of the various Baha'i arts as the Administrative Order was taking its first shaping in the mid-1930's, said that "the friends should endeavour to develop and cultivate their gifts and through their works to reflect, however inadequately, the Divine spirit which Baha'u'llah has breathed into the world."1 The phrase "however inadequately" places whatever doubts I have regarding the quality of my work in a helpful perspective. I carry on, forge on, get-on-with-it, as so many Australians say. Some of my work seems to reflect Divinity and has that refinement which Baha'u'llah says exerts an influence, but one can never say for sure. At this stage of my writing, some ten years of extensive work, largely a solitary exercise, it is difficult to judge just what poems of mine will come to have an impact on others.-Ron Price with thanks to Anne Atkinson, "The Dilemma of the Artist," The Creative Circle: Art, Literature and Music in Baha'i Perspective, editor, Michael Fitzgerald, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1989, pp.70-71.
This is a part of that new poetry
fused with that beauty of the past,
that ever-advancing civilization
I've been working toward what
seems like my whole life. There's
a tension here between poetic custom
and this new way of putting a poem
together: prose, narrative, essay,
novella, poetic form, a world on a page,
my way, everyday, everyway, in one vast
synthesis, story, epic. Some of the essence
of these epochs, some of the spirit of this age,
channel, instrument, seized, taught, formed,
transformed, mastered, bi-product of poems,
of mysterious leavening influences, waxing,
waning, nourishing as I struggle to understand,
to heal and to interpret as I go, what has been
incubating longer than I know: for the dancer
and the dance are one—and so....and so........
21 January 2002
DRIVING ON OUTSIDE THE MARKET
On "Arts Today," a national radio program in Australia, the work of Australian sculptor Robert Clipel was discussed. Clipel died in 2001 at the age of 81 and a retrospective exhibition was arranged to commemorate, to celebrate, to inform the community of his work. There are some similarities between his work, what drove him and his philosophy and my own. For this reason I write the poem below. He was a most inventive and self-directed individual, highly cerebral, highly intellectual. His creative drive sought expression in his work and was the most important aspect of his life over several decades. He was strongly drawn by the multitude of possibilities around him to give them expression in art, his art. His central aim was to build up a language of forms, a language that was diverse, individualistic, new, self-critical, coherent and combined the technological with nature. His interest was in producing art not marketing it. He was unquestionably a man obsessed with his vision and his art. -Ron Price with thanks to "Arts Today," ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 14 January 2002.
I came to my work much later, Robert.
I'll have to live to be a hundred to get in
my several decades of art. So, I'll just
have to take it a step-at-a-time.
Everything I heard today about you
animates me and my work even your
aim to synthesize the technological
and nature—but in a different way.
I'm into one big meta-synthesis, Robert.
and the possibilities around me just go
on and on and on as I link them to this
thrusting creative drive. Perhaps when
I'm gone there will be one great retro---
spective and someone can market all
of this, these thousands of poems, this
obsession, this vision, this art, this me—
but I can’t imagine people buying my
work—they can get it all here for free!
14 January 2002
BREAKING THE SPELL OF WORDS
There were elements in the script of this television documentary, "Michelangelo: Self Portrait(1475-1564)(1989)" which were taken directly from Michelangelo’s diaries and other writings. These quoted pieces seemed to have a direct relevance to my own poetic work. Sculptured works, this great artist once wrote, are born in that cloudy region between idea and marble. Poetry, for me, is born in an equally cloudy, quite mysterious, region between idea and word, idea and words on a page. Michelangelo’s goal, he said, was to break the spell, the mystery, the enigma, the distance of marble; mine is to break the spell, the mystery, the cold flatness, the emptiness, the distance, of words. Just as Michelangelo painted with his mind not with his brush, I write with my mind not with my pen or keyboard. Art, Michelangelo wrote, is the only thing which makes us recognize ourselves and find ourselves as whole beings. His path to God was made in stone. My path to God is made through poetry; as I say this I recognize that this is only partly the case. Part of my journey to my Lord is made through those many manifestations of my religion in my daily life over a lifetime. I see this journey as ‘all of a piece.’ Poetry is just one piece, an important one, a pleasurable one, but not all the pieces.
Michelangelo learned to carve with his feelings and so, too, do I write with my feelings. The following poem draws heavily on the ideas of this outstanding artist who was intimately aware of the importance of feelings in his writings. -Ron Price with thanks to "Michelangelo: Self Portrait," SBS TV, November 21 2001(1989), 9:30-10:30 pm.
This is not about passing the time,
but about exploring eternity1 in these
earliest days of my life, about the
process of thought and the excitement
of intelligence, the lonely impulse of delight2
with an endless stream of ideas which lure
me on and on returning day-after-day,
bringing with them an arduous deeply
satisfying joy. This is about writing for
myself: for I have no fame, station or rank;
I am not asked to sign petitions, join deputations,
address meetings, appear in the media,
I can simply continue working quietly, silently,
with the minimum of obligations, telling the truth
about the world and keeping an eye on
the greatest drama in the world’s spiritual history.3
1 J.B. Priestley, Literature and Western Man, 1960 in Braine, op.cit., p.141. This was Priestley’s view of the purpose of art and literature.
2John Braine, J.B. Priestley, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1978. For much of this poem I am indebted to this biography and the words and thoughts of Priestley.
3Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, Wilmette, 1974, p.26. 30/11/01
John Ruskin writes about the theory and practice as well as the condition of the artist. He says that "those who have the keenest sympathy are those who look closest and pierce deepest." Those who "are filled with the most intense passion and gentleness of sympathy," those that possess the greatest intensity and genuineness, produce the highest art. Isolation and alienation, though, are, for Ruskin, the natural conditions for the great artist.. He writes about the artist, Turner, who felt no one understood or saw the meaning of his work. and, like all great spirits of the nineteenth century--Scott, Keats, Byron and Shelley--died without hope. Great artists, Ruskin continues, have to work at their art all their life and, perhaps, they will become 'a vehicle for truth'—perhaps. --Ron Price with thanks to John Ruskin in Ruskin's Theories of the Sister Arts, George Landow, Internet, 4 November 2001.
I shall not die without hope, but....
I write with whatever passion,
tenderness, genuineness and
intensity I have been endowed,
tarnished as it all is by life's
walls of self and passion.1
The rock of my days has a deep
moss upon it and great fissures,
some conglomerate, great chunks
from everywhere over the long haul
of time and its eras, ages, epochs,
stages, periods in some endless drift,
some endless fossil record which has
only just begun a biostratigraphy on
its mysterious, punctuated equilibrium.
Receiving feelings, as I do, within a centre
of wondrous reflection, where I stand serene
watching from afar off in a world of isolation,
where sometimes the barking of dogs is loud
on every side and sometimes the Sun of Oneness
shines2---will my shrouded soul ever unite with
beauty’s rose and that Stealer of all Hearts???1
1 Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, p.19 and 57.
2Baha'u'llah, "Fire Tablet." --8/11/'01
James Murdoch, among a number of other composers, was interviewed on a fascinating program about Australian classical music. I came upon it after a busy day of some ten hours of talking and listening. Murdoch spoke about what composers need in order to create. The same applies to poets, at least this poet. He said they need to find, to experience, to brew, a stillness so that they can listen to their inner ear, their inner life. Another composer who lived in Coogee NSW echoed my thoughts about poetic creativity. She said she needs: comfort, mod-cons, space, time to listen to herself, to be left alone by others. Another, quoting Leo Tolstoi, talked about learning to sing one's own song, to sing out who one is, where one has come from and where one is going as well as one's community concerns. In some fifteen minutes I experienced a veritable feast of like-minded Australian artists who worked with music.-Ron Price with thanks to "Dots on the Landscape: An Oral History of Australian Composition, Part 6," ABC FM Radio, 8:00-10:00 pm, 7 November 2001.
I've been brewing a stillness here,
a fountain of living waters in my pot,
tea-cosey, cups on the kitchen boil,
quiet in the garden by the river
flowing circuitously to the sea
and me up-in-my-study with my books
and files flowing, labelled in their place
all around me, yes, singing my song and
theirs, my friends, called them friends
for years, seen it on letters: dear friends
all across the world from the northernmost
territories to these places overseas,
downunder, finding a stillness,
had the centre,had it for years, over forty,
but sometimes a maelstrom, sometimes despair,
often a solemn consciousness, wellspring
that it is of the blossoms and fruits of what
He called a consecrated joy.1
1 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, last line.
7 November 2001
The following six points represent a perspective on my work "Pioneering Over Four Epochs", on my poetry and on what I am attempting to do with this written opus. Most of the material below in this non-essay, non-article, this brief summation of some of Montaigne’s ideas, was found in an article "L’Humaine Condition" by Erich Auerbach in Michael de Montaigne’s Essays, editor, Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, NY, 187, pp.11-39.
1. I depict a lowly and unillustrious life; but that is of no consequence; even the lowliest life contains the whole of things human. Every life affords material and occasion enough for the development of moral philosophy and any sincere self-analysis. The study of a random individual like myself is, therefore, justified.
2. I present myself in my entire person and I am one of the first in the Baha'i community to do so. I am not a specialist; I give myself to various roles in life, but I merely lend myself for a time. My heart and mind I must reserve, at least in part, for this work.
3. Is it not presumptuous to present so limited and individual a case, so undigested, insignificant and simple a product of nature before the public? No, it is simply a starting point for a departure into, a study of, the human condition. The detailed investigation and description of one single specimen, myself, takes place in the context of momentary, often accidental, contingencies, a random indiscriminateness, and relies on observation, memory and imagination.
4. Noone is as fully conversant with my life as I am. No Baha’i, as far as I know, has gone so extensively into the subject of their own life, carried out their purpose so exactly, so completely. The moral precept Know Thyself is an epistomological one as well. My study of others and of the world must begin in the depths of my own self-knowledge. It is preposterous to derive a concept of a whole individual from a few climactic episodes as historians often do. The fluctuations and alterations in a person’s inner state are essential to a holistic view. We must possess a flexible, elastic and broad inner consciousness in our analysis of self and others.
5. My essential requirement for this exercise is unreserved sincerity. Certain conventions restrict what I have to say; as I grow older I permit myself certain liberties which people excuse in the old. My second requirement is not to get so caught up with my interests, family, job, desires, worries, friends, inter alia that the reality of myself is obscured and the full consciousness of a life that is distinctively my own melts away.
6. My book, taken in all its various genres, and I are one thing; he who speaks of the one speaks equally of the other. Although some attempt is made to examine cause, motivation, the deeper sources are known only to Him. My task is to describe and my aim is to be taken seriously. My tone is of a lively but unexcited and, I like to think, richly nuanced conversation with a reader that I anticipate one day will read what I write. At the heart of my manner is a spontaneous sincerity and an earnestness as I discuss the condition humaine and my part in it Pioneering Over Three Epochs. Of course, these qualities are impossible to quantify.
The above six points summarize my slightly edited statement of Montaigne’s position in his Essays. They are useful as a point and counter-point to my own autobiographical work and its analysis of self and other. I would like to make some general statements in relation to the above that will illuminate my own work.
ALONE IN A ROOM?
When people go to the theatre and become an audience they try to create stories about themselves, try to describe their lives and make sense of their experience. This activity is an antidote to the day to day experience of the electronic media which provides people with stories ready-made. Increasingly, too, at least since the 1970s, theatre has been about spectacle, about having the audience become part of the life on the stage, about ravishing the eye, the ear, the soul of those who come to join in and become part of what is a mass experience.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 8 June 2001 with thanks to "Changing Stages," BBC 2000, on ABC TV, 9:30-10:30 pm, 8 June 2001.
One thing about writing poetry, which contrasts it with live theatre, is that the poet creates his own stories, describes his own life and attempts to make sense of his own experience. His poetry, too, is an antidote to the electronic and the print media which fill the world of society today. The stories I make are not ready-made, do not enjoy any embellishments of colour, sound and electronic communication, are not part of a mass experience. I make everything myself from the resources of my world. The experience of poetry is not spectacle, not a mass activity, not about having one's eye, ear and soul ravished by someone or something else but, rather, doing the ravishing oneself. I am on my own, alone, in a room. I people my solitude, my world, my entire mise en scene. I am choreographer and director, producer, everyone you see in the credits at the end of a movie. Sometimes I feel ravished; sometimes lonely. --Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 8 June 2001.
The tickets go cheap here,
you're all alone on stage,
with no lighting or sound effects,
no song-and-dance band,
no drinks during intermission,
no checking out the ladies,
no massage of the senses,
just an endless creation of stories,
description of a life,
definition of a world,
alone in a room, on my own,
trusting in the leavening forces
to leaven my being
and furnish it with power.
8 June 2001
Yesterday I came across the poet and the poetry of R.S. Thomas(1913-2000) for the first time. There were many messages, many lessons, for me in the words of this Welsh poet whose poems tease "away again and again at fundamental questions about God, existence, nature," et cetera.1 Thomas humbly shuns epiphanies and the related focus on the elevated self, so unlike my own works which seem to seek out ephiphanies and elevate the self in their general autobiographical emphasis. At the age of 48, though, Thomas' poetry took a new direction. This was evident in his book of poetry, Tares(1961). The direction was toward a more philosophical and more autobiographical poetry. Indeed, one of the criticisms of his work has been that it is merely "fragments of autobiography in prose" in which the lyric spark is lost and the poetry become prosaic. In the poetry after his late forties Thomas' "thought has been whittled down to the bare bones." My own poetry also took a new direction in my late forties, in 1992. I leave it to future analysts to define the qualitative shift but, beginning in the winter of 1992, I began to wrote an immense quantity of poetry. -Ron Price with thanks to Brother Anthony, "From Cardiff to Canaan: R.S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill," Studies in Modern British and American Poetry, 1997, pp.5-29.
We had arrived at an auspicious juncture1
I had, by this time, worn myself down, thin,
by this period and its unique significances.
I reached out for the tree of poetry,
its eternity, an eternity I did not then know,
and it gave to me, somewhat insensibly,
the green leaves of time2 or was it
the fruits and blossoms of a consecrated joy.3
As you said, R.S.:
It had become too late to start
For destinations not of the heart.
I must stay here with my hurt.4
While that was true back in '92,
the story is so different now
as I approach the year '02,
but the battle still goes on
as that quickening wind
continues to ventilate my thought.
1The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan, 1992.
2R.S. Thomas, A poem read in the program Poetica.
3'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, Last line.
4R.S. Thomas, "Here."
14 October 2001
A REVELATION OF AN INNER WORLD
Allen Ginsberg was one of the most famous literary figures in the USA during the ninth and early decades of the tenth stage of history(1953-1997). He lived to the age of seventy(1926-1997). His poetry was strongly autobiographical in the tradition of Walt Whitman. In this poem I follow Ginsberg through the first half of the second Baha'i century. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 16 July 2001; and "No More to Say and Nothing To Weep For: An Elegy For Allen," ABC TV, 10:45-11:35 pm, 15 July 2001.
The decisive moment came,
for you, on the eve
of the celebration
of the close of the first
You developed a sense of oneness,
one mind, one universe,
as early as the year
Canada had its first NSA.2
Your famous poem Howl
was banned by US Customs
the year the Guardian died.
The best minds of my generation3
hardly got near this new
and embryonic Cause in those years
of that Ten Year Crusade.
By the time I pioneered
you were in India chanting.4
But poetry was, for you,
what it has become for me,
a revelation of an inner world.
And that utopian dream
of your mother-crazy-then
destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked3
can be seen up-on-the-hill.
Can you see it, Allen?
Can you see it?
Kerouac would have seen it
as part of that 'beat-beatific.'5
Old poets do write about death,
each in their own way,
but not for me a Rimpoche,6
rather a leavening force
that leavens the world of being
and furnishes a power
through which I manifest wonder.
1In 1943 Ginsberg had his first significant turning to poetry
2In 1948 Ginsberg developed his first expression of that sense of Oneness which was to inspire his earliest poetry
3This is the first(and second) line of the poem Howl
4Ginsberg went to India in 1958; in the TV program that this poem gets its core of information we see him in India in 1962 chanting.
5There were several definitions of 'beat.' To Kerouac it was 'sympathetic' and 'beatific.'
6This was the Buddhist leader who most influenced Ginsberg.
16 July 2001
THE HAND THAT HAS BEEN DEALT YOU
Some artists have a compulsion to make their works of art, poetry, sculpture, etc. This compulsion involves a condensing of energy and a spreading out of their vital forces. They often possess an ambition to move forward in and through their work to the end of their days. They often, too, are restless people on the move with their art being a point of stillness in their lives. Memory and feeling is often, if not always, at the base of their work, their poem or their portrait. As much as they borrow from others they try to work out their own style, their own way, what is essentially them. -Ron Price with thanks to "Arts Today," ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 12 July 2001 and the guest panellists discussing (I) the work of British painter Luciana Freed and (ii) Australian artist Tom Roberts.
Realism in poetry, as in life,
is about deftly playing the hand
that has been dealt you
and to do this in poetry
requires the liberation
of the excellent, the profound,
the beautiful and the true
in the subjects so that
they may not lie dormant,
but penetrate human consciousness.
And so I try to draw people
toward a world,
a world plunged into ideas,
a world deep down inside,
a world of stress and strife
where I find something
that has an appeal to me
and, I hope, will delight
and bring wonder,
appeal to the mystery
and sense of solidarity
in people's lives:
the dead to the living
and the not yet born.1
1 Joseph Conrad, 1897.
13 July 2001
SILENT STANDING ON MY FEET ALONE
In the years between my becoming as Baha'i and pioneering, 1959 to 1962, Dame Mary Gilmore lived the last three years of her life. She lived to be 97. She was an Australian poet, patriot, radical pioneer and social reformer who had been awarded the D.B.E., Dame Commander of the British Empire, for achievements in literature and social reform. That year was 1937; the year of the inception of the 'Abdu'l-Baha's teaching Plan. For those three years, 1959-1962, she was virtually confined to her flat. When it was her time to go, she said she wanted to be "fresh and quick; still like a cup held out/To catch some word, some thought might find/This ever hungry, ever wakeful mind. Bill Wilde's description of her final years led to the following poem. -Ron Price with thanks to W.H. Wilde, Courage a Grace: A Biography of Dame Mary Gilmore, Melbourne UP, 1988, p.461.
When your last sands were running out
you wanted to be able to take one last,
long, remembering, backward look of love
for all you knew, then, like some leaves, fall.
To be silent and stand on your feet,
alone, as you had been all your days,1
was the template you wanted
for your future beyond the grave
where you wanted to go on
without any ties, everyone free,
no hampering, whatever and wherever
you were, nothing possessive, no ownership.
And you fought on right to the end,
trying to extract one more thought,
one more comment
you might give to the world,
proof of your usefulness in life.
It 'twas as if you could not stop
for death and so he stopped for you:2
gentle-wise, a dropping of weary hands,
a closing of tired eyes,
a slipping away in peace,
a simply letting go,
a falling asleep, asleep,
1 This was how she saw herself and this image seems like one that is useful to me at this stage of my life, if not for the first forty years of my pioneering.
11 October 2001
For the first twenty-five years of my life(1944-1969) Judy Garland was singing in her unique and emotionally communicative style. Right from Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944 through to the years of The Judy Garland Show on TV in the 1960s her life was like a roller-coaster ride, a roller-coaster with a wonderful voice that moved people more than any other of the period. These were the years of the second epoch of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Plan. It would appear in retrospect, from a study of the musical greats, the talents of that epoch, that Garland was the outstanding singer-entertainer during those years. Although she had what could be called a self-destructive personality which was often 'on the edge,' although she was fed 'uppers' and 'downers' early in her career by the studios for whom she worked beginning a life of addiction, although she had troubles with alcohol and with her marriage, her voice continued to be something quite special. She was quite special. -Ron Price with thanks to "Famous Faces: Judy Garland," ABC TV, 9:30-10:20 pm, 13 July 2001.
We went from, what was it, Judy,
one hundred and fifty
to four hundred thousand
during those years?
It was an absolutely incredible
spread for those early days
of the second century
of the Baha'i Era.
While you were bringing
the house and yourself down
on that roller-coaster ride
through your moving voice,
the Kingdom of God on Earth
had its inception,
some thrilling motion
permeated all over the world.
Did your voice find that pitch,
that tone, that music, that note
which was in the ether in those days?
Did you touch somehow,
in your madness and genius,
a revelation from another world?
14 July 2001
A FINAL TEAR
At five minutes before six in the evening on a September evening in 1870 his breathing suddenly diminished and he began to sob. Fifteen minutes later he heaved a deep sigh; a tear rose to his right eye and trickled down his cheek. Charles Dickens was dead.-Peter Ackroyd, Charles Dickens: A Biography, 1995, p.1079.
What made that tear
trickle down your cheek?
Relief that it was, now, all over?
Fear at facing something
you could not comprehend?
And you could not control
as you had controlled so much?
Was it the triumph of sorrow and fatality?
Why did you sob?
Relief, that the battle was over:
the battle with self,
the battle to maintain coherence
in a world that was breaking down?
Trifles make a life, you said.
They were now no more,
What could make your life, now?
Was it all vanity and emptiness?
Were you on your way to:
the garden of happiness?
The Undiscovered Country?
Could you feel them coming fast?
Was this why you cried
so profusely in those last minutes?
12 September 1999
STILL BLOWING IN LIKE THE WIND
The collaborative enterprise of half a dozen Irish writers:Yeats, Wilde, Shaw, Joyce, et al, at the turn of the century achieved nothing less than the renovation of Irish consciousness and a new understanding of its culture. This Irish risorgimento made Ireland interesting to the Irish after centuries of enforced provincialism.-Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, Harvard UP, Cambridge, 1995, p.3.
Beginning perhaps, in 1979, when the Baha’i communities were encouraged to develop and foster their intellectual and community life1 the complexion and complexity of Baha’i communities in the West began to change. It is difficult to generalise with accuracy across such a diversity of communities from the Arctic to remote island communities in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But one thing is clear and quantifiable: the literature in the twenty years 1979-1999 increased by many fold. There were several important writers: H. Danesh, B. Nakhjavani and W. Hatcher in Canada; J. Hatcher, M. Sours, O. Whitehead and M. Gail in the U.S.A., U. Schaefer in Germany, M. Momen in England; A. Taherzadeh, R. Rabbani, R.White and D. Martin in Israel, and so many others that I could not and can not keep up with the flow. They have, one and all, deeply enriched a Cause already endowed with a fascinating and colourful history and a matchless poetic literature. -Ron Price. The reference above1 is to: The Ridvan Message 1979, The Universal House of Justice, p.4.
You can’t read it all any more
unless you have nothing else to do
and are a two-income no kids family.
So you become selective like you do
in all the other niche markets.
For it’s all part of the great
burgeoning of this half century,
this great information explosion
which is sending more and more people
to books, more and more people to TV,
more and more people crazy
and gradually developing
an informed community1
in these early days of community building.
It’s all part of a process
of coming out of obscurity,
a sort of risorgimento,
a renovation of consciousness,
a meeting with destiny,
a new spiritual springtime,
something taking root in the world of being,
immense historical processes accelerating
and leading mankind
out of the valley of misery and shame,
the progress of this Administrative Order:
still little-by-little, bit-by-bit,
still the womb of community life stirs quietly,
still I blow like the wind unobtrusively
into people’s lives with the unmeasureable
and latent forces of this precious Faith.
1Of course, one can also argue that it is really quite impossible to be "informed" now
15 January 1999
Simon de Beauvoir describes the "dogged resolution" of some artists well into old age. She says this sense of persistent resolution arose, for some artists, "from their consuming passions" and for others "from a feeling of personal dignity." Some came to see their life, in old age, as a challenge, as an assertion of values like courage and endurance. This was the basis of the prodigous work habits of men like Renoir who retained his creative powers, felt he was making continual progress and was filled, as a consequence, with feelings of great happiness. -Ron Price with thanks to Simon de Beauvoir, Old Age, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1972, pp.313-4.
I, too, feel a dogged resolution,
ragged at the edges, especially
after four or five hours of words,
flattened, fatigued with the years,
with persistent and consuming passions
in a small place, a tiny town
at the end of a river by the sea,
this corner patch of the world,
where I really hoe into it,
day after day, hour after hour,
finding a personal identity and charm,
where I make a little progress,
often quite indefinable,
where arise, unbeknownst to others,
feelings of great happiness.
21 May 2001
Brian Gallagher, in his analysis of stardom in the American film industry from the 1910s to the 1940s, writes that many of the stars had strong identities and metaphysically complex personalities. But they worked within a simple, easy to understand, formulaic system that was stardom. It was not so much that they played a character, but rather that the character was them. They were bigger than life. They defined life. It has often seemed to me that the disciplines of 'Abdu'l-Baha and the early pioneers in His Divine Plan, pioneers during the years 1919 to at least 1937; and perhaps beyond, to say 1946, the end of the first epoch of the Plan, were also stars in quite another sense.-Ron Price with thanks to Brian Gallagher, "Some Historical Reflections on the Paradoxes of Stardom in the American Film Industry: 1910-1960," Professor of English and Film, City University of New York, on the Internet, 2001.
We had our stars, even then,
our Mary Pickfords,
our Charlie Chaplins;
ours didn't make it
to the big screen;
our Greta Garbos,
our Buster Keatons,
our Bette Davis's,
our James Cagneys,1
they made it to another screen,
another set of pictures and images,
defined by that Definer,
Who set it all in motion,
in an easy formula to understand,
simple, tangible truths, in words
for Martha Root,
Keith Ransom Kehler,
Agnes B. Alexander,2
our stars had strong identities,
metaphysically complex personalities,
filled roles too, just like you and I
on yet another screen,
in technicolour now,
with lives unscripted,
flawed and plausible,
with their predictable wonder
and their quite ordinary lives.
1Hollywood stars from 1916 when 'Abdu'l-Baha began to write the Tablets of the Divine Plan to the end of the first epoch of that Plan: 1921-1946.
13 June 2001
Writing has provided me with the focus, the discipline, the direction and purpose I needed, on retiring from the world of employment and formal education after forty years(1959-1999), to translate the values and beliefs of my religion, my faith, into a form of action that would return to me the joy I had lost slowly and insinuatingly over the many years of giving as a teacher and give to that joy a voice. "For to miss the joy," as Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "is to miss all."1 Artistic expression, the creative act of writing, had been slowly aroused in me for more than a decade of my working life by a number of factors not the least of which has been the attractiveness, the enigma, of death2 and, I like to believe, faithful souls who have gone on and who serve as leaven that leavens the world of being, writes Baha'u'llah, and furnishes the power through which the art of writing is made manifest.3 - Ron Price with thanks to 1Christopher Isherwood: Where Joy Resides, editors: Don Bachardy and James White, Methuen, London, 1989, p.v; 2 Jeffery Berman, Joseph Conrad: Writing As Rescue, Astra Books, NY, 1977, p.53; and 3 Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, Wilmette, 1952, p.161.
The spirit of man
to leave some trace of myself
on this earth,
to recapture history,
its recurrent strains and discords,
a solemn consciousness and joy.
Only by trial and error
can I find the combination
of material and method
to release my true voice
across the emperean
where foul impurities
also fill the air.
24 May 2001
WRITING ABOUT IT
Barry Coskie, Australian theatre director, in discussing the performance of Shakespeare’s plays in the countries of the world, said that Australians are not an idea culture, a society that enjoys the discussion of any great outpouring of serious ideas. There are, of course, exceptions, but generally the culture is inarticulate insofar as ideas are concerned. Thusfar Shakespeare has not gone down well in Australia for this reason and also because Australians are not able to relate the ideas in Shakespeare to their world, their society. I think the same can be said of Baha’u’llah’s Writings.
I have found what Coskie says to be my experience of Australian culture as well, although I have found Australians are very clever and enjoy talking about the everyday world of food, houses, gardens, making things, television, sport, relationships, often ad nauseum. I have met people at BBQs, at parties and social gatherings, in classrooms and at meetings of various kinds, who seem to have an infinite capacity to chat about the quotidian. There are also four to five hours of serious interviews on ABC Radio National every day. On a one-to-one level, too, I have found, from time to time, a seriousness which is intense, purposeful, clever, humorous, detached, energetic and a delight. Through over more than a quarter of a century, 1971 to 1999, combined with several other factors, it wore me out. -Ron Price with thanks to Barry Coskie, "Arts Today", ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 7 January 2000.
You wrote1 from the age
of thirty to forty eight.
I was only starting, then,
getting to the point where
I was burnt out again
from what seemed endless
talking and listening.
By the time you died,
I was dropping out
to do my writing,
raiding the inarticulate
domains of life with
I am that I am,2
where I tell, too,
how hard true sorrow hits3
and how much better is
when it is built anew.4
1Shakespeare stopped writing at the age of forty eight and died at the age of fifty-two, according to Shakespearean expert Harold Bloom(See "Arts Today", ABC Radio National, 10:05-11:00 am, 7 January 2000)
7 January 2000
SPECTATOR AND SPECULATOR
There can be no limits set to the interests that attached to a great poet thus going forth, like a spirit, from the heart of a powerful and impassioned people, to range among the objects and events to them most pregnant with passion, who is, as it were, the representative of our most exalted intellect...The consciousness that he is so considered by a great people, must give a kingly power and confidence to a poet. He feels himself entitled, and, as it were, elected to survey the phenomena of the times, and to report them in poetry. He is the speculator of the passing might and greatness of his generation. -John Wilson, Review of Childe Harold IV, Blackwood’s, June 1818.
This powerful people of unearthly sovereignity
has but one heart and one mind
but pregnant in a million upon million ways
with passion, prejudice and the power of One.
There are, though, John, many representatives
of its most exalted intellect in this day
of the great burgeoning:
a thousand voices of a thousand writers,
speakers, teachers, artists and a thousand poets,
each with his own voice
going out to a billion upon billion.
Fed by a teeming present of thought fragments,
wresting illuminations from the past
like some pearl diver, the teeming luminescence
of nature’s deep sea neons,
this poet prys loose a rich
and strange burning world
and carries it to the surface
in crystalline wonder,
spectator and speculator
of the predictable and ordinary,
unscripted, flawed and plausible,
editor of the life of a generation
roused to love and pain and death,
behind the sleep-fast windows
of a dozing world.
28 October 1995
That’s all folks!—for now....