33. TEACHING AS A PROFESSION
MAKING A MARK
In the last week of March and the first week of April 1999 Nato allies, mainly the USA and Great Britain, and Yugoslavia entered into a horrific war. In those first days of the war Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, was bombed and half a million Albanians in Kosovo began to flee their homeland becoming refugees and trying to avoid a process of mass killing by Serbians, a process called 'ethnic cleansing.' In these same two weeks I taught my last classes as a full-time professional teacher in a technical and further education college in Perth Western Australia and prepared to leave, to pioneer, to Tasmania.-Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, "War in Europe," 11:30-12:20 am, 11/12 December 2002.
This was one way to commemorate
or was it celebrate
the end of a working life?
Day after day, night after night,
while I ate my evening meal
I watched them dropping bombs,
shooting in the streets,
in cities, towns and villages
up in Yugoslavia's hills,
target after target
in that lighted chirping box.
I'd had my war, too,
without guns and jets
against the confused
background of a planet
and an unmistakable trend
towards the Lesser Peace.
in a vast historic process,
describing as best I could
my twofold date with destiny,
with traces in my memory
which would last forever,
having begun to define
in quite specific detail
the mark I had made
over three epochs.1
For without a soul-satisfying
answer, a soul-satisfying mark,
what was the point of it all?
1The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message, 1998. Three epochs, 2nd to 4th, 1944 to 2000.
12 December 2000
AN UNPRECEDENTED PROJECT
In 1974 I worked as the Senior Tutor in Human Relations at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. Little did I know then, although I was not totally unaware, of the flowering, the blossoming, the burgeoning of interest in personal relationships that would take place in the next twenty-five years and beyond. I continued to teach in this field in teacher-training institutions and Tafe colleges, to read the latest books and to try to apply the wisdoms I acquired in my daily life. Although I had enjoyed most of my teaching career(80% of it), by 1999 I had had my full of this field and of teaching in general, of what seemed like endless hours of talking and listening, and I yearned to move on to something new. That something new was a full commitment to writing.
In the first three years of 'retirement' I put two-hundred and fifty thousand words on an Internet site, wrote a book of eighty-thousand words and published a series of articles in several magazines and journals. Listening and talking continued, but on a much reduced scale, mostly with my wife although one hour of tutoring, an hour of radio presenting and an hour of Baha'i activities each week confirmed my social existence as I approached late adulthood, the years 60 to 80. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 2 October 2002.
We really got into it,
plumbed the depths,
hour after hour,
week after week,
talked, analysed, listened,
do it again Sam,
do it again and again.
They went by many names:
and we talked and talked.
And so I sought silence,
walking, praying and, by '99
strolled in the bush
and along the beach
in Tasmania's cool clime
and pondered the meaning
of an unprecedented project
begun more than a century ago
which has come down
from heaven in our time.
The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2001,p.4.
2 October 2002
THANKS TO LES MURRAY
Reading about the depressions, anxieties and fears, the ill-health and personal problems of poet Les Murray in the fine biography by Peter Alexander gave me a greater appreciation of the effectiveness of lithium since 1980 on my own mood swings and helped me understand and accept my own battles in life. Murray writes that the psycho-emotional battles "take away your energy." He says "I can't write prose any more, because I just haven't got the energy. It goes down a black hole."1 Certainly, as the 1990s progressed insensibly from year to year, my energy levels declined; for a year or so in 1998/9 my low testosterone levels completely sapped my energy, a certain despondency, perhaps similar to that which the Guardian experienced in his fifties,2 entered my psyche by 1992 and it grew in extent and intensity, an apparent moroseness, the occasional outburst of anger, by 1999 an enormous weariness with the teaching profession and a general tedium vitae that came from a range of sources. But whatever blackness I experienced it was always short-lived, a day or two at worst. It was nothing like that Black Dog of the sixties and seventies that I had known only too well and that Churchhill had once called with a clever turn of phrase--intense and prolonged depression.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Les Murray in Les Murray: A Life in Progress, Oxford UP, 2000, p.233; and 2 R. Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p.451.
You'd think from the above
that the 1990s were deathly
and I admit they were troubled,
but there was a bright side:
hundreds of students thought
I was the ants'-pants
and I never cringed from praise.
Poetry, too, was born,
enclosing my memories
like an angel with folded wings,
guiding me back to meaning;
perhaps here was a rendezvous
of my soul with its Source,
some unimaginable potency.1
1 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan, 1992.
16 March 2000
Some people generate intense emotion whereever they go. D.H. Lawrence was such a person. They have the power, it would seem, to change people, to stimulate their feelings and their awareness of life. Their personalities have a strong impact on just about everyone they meet. They become significant ‘events’ in other peoples’ lives. -Ron Price with thanks to Jeffrey Meyers, D.H. Lawrence: A Biography, A.A. Knopf, NY, 1990, p.134.
copyright Marco Abrar
In classrooms, for over twenty-five years, I generated intense emotion or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that the classrooms in which I taught were, for the most part, stimulating places. That was my job. It was called motivating students. Now that I have left the classroom, except on rare occasions when I am in one of those formal ‘teaching’ modes as a lecturer or facilitator, I have little interest in motivating people to do things by this old 'classroom technique.' After stimulating others, after trying to increase the awareness of my fellow human beings, twenty-five hours a week, forty weeks a year, for some 25,000 total hours, I do not have much interest in having an impact on the lives of others, except through my poetry and, when the occasion arises, through my religion.
How I will do this in the remaining part of my life will be through a combination of the two. This flowering synthesis has just begun in recent years, since the winter of 1992.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 18 June 1999.
For many a long year
there has been
that feverish intensity,
enough to make
volumes of poetry.1
Here, in this poetic, I can:
adorn the heaven of understanding,
watch the waves of an ocean of utterance,
be led to the wellspring of bounty,
show forth what will cause me to be remembered,
bow down in lowliness,
humble myself before Thy commandments,
submit to Thy sovereignity and
entreat Thy grace.2
18 June 1999
1 one source of poetry is the experience of the poet. This is autobiographical poetry. H.D. Lawrence wrote autobiographical novels strongly based on his experience.
2most of this last stanza comes from Baha’i prayers.
Hazlitt, the early nineteenth century British essayist, offered the following consummate portrait of Shakespeare, the poet::
"He was just like any other man, but that he was like all other men. He was the least of an egoist it was possible to be. He was nothing in himself; but he was all that others were, or that they could become. He not only had in himself the germs of every faculty and feeling, but he could follow them by anticipation, intuitively, into all their ramifications, through every change of fortune, of conflict, of passion, or turn of thought. Shakespeare personified disinterestedness in the highest degree."--Ron Price with thanks to Stephen Coote, John Keats: A Life, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1995, p.125.
Price had a good range and could be all that others required to feel understood, to achieve a sense of mutual identitification. If one was to be a success in classroom teaching and enjoy the process, this was an essential quality with the immense variety of human types one had to deal with from day to day and year to year. Of course, over the years, there were many whom Price did not 'connect' with. For he was no Shakespeare. Like most human beings in most places, Price connected with his portion of people.
Price often missed the mark with a student with whom there was little to no intuitive connection. This process of becoming someone or something else, this eliminating or diminishing of the ego, if that was what it was, and it was a difficult process to describe and understand, was over the years, by degrees, exhausting. By his mid-fifties Price felt emptied-out. Perhaps other factors contributed to this feeling: an excess of speech, endless repetition over thirty years of teaching, a need for solitude, a need for change, et cetera.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 30 May 1999.
I am no Shakespeare,
but I have become
a thousand, thousand things
and people to a thousand people,
with traces of myself
in a million places, things,
hearts and minds. Now, I feel hungry
for something that will recreate my heart and mind,
which He sends down every moment,1
so that the worth of
my finely tempered sword,
concealed in the darkness of its sheath2,
may be made resplendent
and manifest to all the world
in a different way
than all those other moments before.
30 May 1999
1 Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p.242.
2Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words.
copyright Marco Abrar
TURNING OFF, TUNING IN AND DROPPING OUT
This poem tries to present an overview of one of my strong feelings/thoughts of the past and where I go to from here. This is the eve of my final term of teaching, what may be the final thirty-nine days in the profession in front of a class of students.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 7 February 1999.
I learned to speak everyone’s language,
could talk the back-side-off-a-barn-door,
one of those clever dude’s, well-liked,
the friendly Canadian.
I had to to get all those jobs
and teach all those kids in all those towns.
And now, after all those years, I want out;
I want to stop talking all that stuff
to all those people.
It does not turn me on much
being the centre stage,
being thought the ants’ pants;
I’m tired of all that endless gas-bagging.
I want to go out to pasture
and just chew my own cud.
After forty years of trying to slip in a word,
let them know the truths,
the sparkling gems of a new Revelation,
I’m going to take some other kind of seat
where people don’t come in big batches.
I want to turn off, tune in and drop out.
It’s my turn after four decades of fighting
the battle. I’ve run out of steam;
I’m going to change all the parameters of the fight,
find a new venue
for its intransigence, its implacability.
I seem to seek the Friend
and love the enemy, still.
Will, this, my new assault on heaven
I am a sorry soldier. My camp is in ruins.
I am weary from a battle far prolonged.
Tomorrow, dawn will take me
to new engagements,
as I plan my slow exit from the scene
and a recouping of forces.
7 February 1999
GOING THE DISTANCE
I prefer to view Conrad’s marriage as really a means toward his major and dominant preoccupation: to establish the best terms on which he could continue as an author. -Frederick J. Karl, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives. A Biography, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1979, p.367.
The real movers of society may be, not the thinkers and actors on the real stage of the world, but the comparatively insignificant members, those who contribute to what she calls "light literature" including her autobiography.-Helen Thomson, editor, Catherine Helen Spence, University of Queensland Press, 1987, pp.490-491.
When I was in that phone box
back in ‘75 and I had to decide
I saw you as the best terms
on which I could continue
my religious enthusiasm
That had always been
my dominant preoccupation.
That was the most important
decision of my life, as it turned out.
Of course, there were other considerations
like "I’d be good for you"
and "you’d be good for me"
which one could put in so many ways.
And you have and I have
and here we are twenty years later
in ‘95 with our religious enthusiasms in place
and, all being well, we should go the distance,
but one never knows for sure.
5 October 1995
Bruce Dawe wrote a poem "Selkirk College" in which he talks about many of his students who were "widows and deserted women." For years I taught mostly women, many of who were widows, some who left their husbands and some who were deserted. I had similar experiences to Dawe. The following poem attempts to describe these experiences.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, ‘99
They’re coming back;
I’ve seen them for years,
met them in classrooms,
in corridors, in libraries,
in cafeterias, on campus:
had many a long yarn.
Embattled they were,
through sickness and
the frightening night,
of domestic war,
I always found them
beautiful and tough.
Could have married one
from a dozen or more,
but I already had,
tough and beautiful she was.
they often were,
with a fortitude
that quietly taught me
about a strength I, too,
to carry me through
to life’s long end.
---Ron Price, 15 October 1999
SOME DIVINE VITALITY
Eight years before Wordsworth passed away in 1850, he wrote a poem whose title was: "A poet!-He hath put his heart to school." The following poem draws significantly from this poem of Wordsworth's. The master, the schoolhouse, indeed, the curriculum and the system of instruction for me is also Wordsworth's Nature, the world of physical reality, but over and above nature, the "Source of all glory and majesty", Baha'u'llah, the prophetic figure of this age whose growing influence is the most remarkable development of contemporary religious history(1), provides, for this poet, the basis for his personal sifting mechanism, the interpretation of physical reality and its meaning. -Ron Price with thanks to the Baha'i International Community, Baha'u'llah, 1992, p.1
Yes, I put my heart to school
under the Master of Love
in the schoolhouse of oneness
and did live current quaff,
although at times a stagnant pool
and, more than that, quite dead.
But in the end, each time, it did
renew itself somewhere under
the metallic stars with sweet
new life, some divine vitality,
some blended holiness of earth
and sky that generated nerves
and sinews even as I did sigh
and susceptibilities of ear and eye.
25 November 2000
TEACHING: A FINAL GASP
After nearly forty years(1962-2001) of study, teaching, pioneering and collecting dozens of files from various academic disciplines that I had studied and/or taught, the following were the:
POSSIBLE ‘OFFERINGS’ for the George Town School for Seniors Inc classes from RON PRICE: 1999-2003
....from all of the subjects below which ones to offer ..…..in the advertising brochure?
HISTORY OF IDEAS
Examines the western intellectual tradition beginning with the Hebrews and the Greeks, through the Romans, Christianity, Islam, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation into the Modern Age. A discussion/listening course suited to student taste and interest.
An introduction to the basic history of sociology as a discipline with special emphasis on sociological thoery.
An introduction to psychology focusing on the following topics: individual differences, sensation, perception, emotion, motivation, learning, language, human nature, group behaviour and major theorists
The approach taken here is known as ‘the intensive journal method.’ The method is discussed in detail each week, the experiences students have with their writing and with life and samples are also read and discussed. Writing forms like: autobiography, poetry, novel and short story are also examined.
The study of autobiography has become a sophisticated discipline in the last forty years. This course examines the field of autobiography. It also examines various approaches to the writing of autobiography: narrative, poetry. short story/novel.
This course offers an opportunity to look at poetry beginning with its first forms in ancient societies through to the modern age. It also offers opportunities to write poetry and discuss it.
A brief examination of the history of philosophy from the Greeks to the twentieth century. Lecturette/discussion.
For students having completed 'philosophy 1' and any others who would like to join the group. This course focuses on modern philosophy from 1600 to the present.
A brief study of the major religious systems from animism through to secular humanism in the 20th century. Lecturette/discussion
This is an interdisciplinary course bringing: history, psychology, sociology and philsoophy into an integrated whole for students interested in these subjects and how they play a part in understanding society better.
27 August 2001
The following introductory essay was written in the last week I taught as a professional teacher at the Thornlie College of Tafe in Perth Western Australia. I had worked in the General Studies and Human Services sector of the College from 1988 to 1999 and I had tried to write a brief history of the Human Services sector for future lecturers, students and the general public. Time will tell if that history ever gets published or that booklet ever makes it to Thornlie's Tafe library.
This booklet of poetry celebrates the first fifteen years of educational services from the Department of Human Services at the Thornlie Campus of the SEMC. The period 1985 to 1999 was one of immeasureable changes both within Thornlie as a provider of Tafe educational programs and within what was first 'welfare studies', then 'community services' and finally, in 1993, ‘human services’. The many founding fathers and mothers of Human Services will soon be gone and a ‘second generation’ will be taking their place as the new millennia approaches and enjoys its opening years.
There are so many individuals who were involved in the process over these many years, 1985 to 1999, people who could be seen as having laid the foundations at this College of a field of study which will continue to expand and play an important role in training what is a diverse sector of the labour market: Human Services. But there were three individuals who were central to the initiation and delivery of modules to the students enrolled in certificate and diploma courses.
This book is dedicated to those three who made the running of Human Services possible: John Bailey, Pat Katheappa and Ron Price. This booklet is also dedicated to the many casual and contract staff over these years who made the running of Human Services possible. Of these, Harold Pauner deserves mention because of his many years of service.
There were literally thousands of students who graduated from Human Services, Community Services and Welfare Studies programs in these years. To these students, as well, is this booklet dedicated.
It is not the intention of the author of this booklet to write a detailed or annecdotal statement of life within the intersticies of this department at the Thornlie Campus. Nor is it this author’s intention to provide a formal history of these foundation years, the last years of Tafe’s first century in Western Australia and the first decade of its second century.1 Rather, it is his intention to provide a poetic statement, some thoughts which will hopefully be enjoyed by those who continue the labor in this growing interdisciplinary field of Human Services and, perhaps, some other sections of Thornlie College as well.
I hope you, as a future reader of this booklet, gain a helpful perspective on these early foundation years in this department, this section of Thornlie college. O hope, too, that you enjoy the poetry contained herein. The history that this poetry celebrates was an intense one, involving as it did five or, perhaps, six major shifts in curriculum and content. The labour of the personnel in this section has been immeasureable. I trust that readers will find here some sense of continuity and the beginnings of some sense of tradition for the important and, it would appear, difficult years ahead.
1 April 1999
1.The history of Tafe goes back, as far as I know, to its first mention in Hansard in 1887.
27 SEPTEMBER 1997 TO 2 JUNE 1998
The essay below was written at the start of my last year as a professional teacher.
Looking at Herbert Leibowitz's Fabricating Lives: Explorations in American Autobiography(A.A. Knopf, NY, 1989) has taken my mind back into the labyrinthine channels that are the home of autobiographies, especially since the 1960s. Leibowitz opens his book with an emphasis on the style of the autobiography. Indeed, quoting Emerson, he says that half of what is conveyed in autobiography is due to style; the other half the man and his life. That is why I went over to poetry for the main vehicle to convey my experience. My narrative seemed flat.
The truth I convey may be, as he calls it, a "cunning snare, a crystal residue that is indissoluble in memory's stream", but the facts, say the recent eight months since my last update, are of little meaning if I am unable to write in an entertaining and engrossing way. For this reason, Leibowitz, moves style from the circumference to the centre of interpretation. I can see why Shoghi Effendi went to Oxford to work on his English for without his style, at the centre of his exegesis, the revelation would never have become the matchless gem that it did in English.
What can I say about another year as chairman of the LSA of Belmont, what may be the beginnings of the last year of my teaching career before retirement, another year of marriage and the family, however peaceful and conducive to the production of poetry, now some 3700 poems? Reading tonight how "the autobiographies of public men are especially prone to fictional embellishment", in particular Benjamin Franklin, I trust I will not ere by creating a model worthy of emulation. Far from it, I would think my autobiography is in many ways a model of how not to live. I do not want to recite what seems an endless list of sins of omissions and commissions. I do not want to publish a catalogue of virtues for some future generation to follow in a chirpy cheerfulness for others to copy. I want to tell it how it is. This is a difficult task, not so much due to problems associated with truth, as problems associated with style.
I am not here to produce a publicity handout nor am I here to please, to inform and to persuade like writing a piece of rhetoric. What I would like to do in this short update is to tell the story of these last few months. I think I can best do this by referring readers to the poetry I have written during this period. It tells more than I could possibly say here.
I think I could highlight the chief events in the last eight months in one paragraph; but what would it achieve beyond a list of facts, events, experiences and feelings that gave me pleasure, anxiety, guilt or a number of other sensations and thoughts. My desire to write of these events is barely existent. The day-to-day routine and any enduring commentary wall not be found in these pages. Partly this is due to disheartenings, to an immense repetitiveness in the daily activity and to a certain sadness. Even pleasure, always delectable, had become stale in some respects.
I did not inherit a fixed historical role as men and women did in previous centuries. On becoming a Baha'i, nearly forty years ago now, the several roles that I was being socialized into took on new directions, although not initially apparent. I moved into a new theatre, a new dramaturgical scene filled with martyrs, heroes, saints and messengers as well as a language defining how to live expressed in great beauty. For me and for the Baha'i community, then and now, was a world beckoning to be explored, offering its treasures, its challenges and its opportunities for the slow growth of a new order, a new way of life, a new civilization. This autobiography is the story of one of its members and how he spent his life in this new theatre which he became more and more familiar with as the stage and setting changed with the years, evolving into new forms as his own needs and those of his community altered.
New currents were flowing, as I have already indicated in previous statements perhaps as far back as 1992. They flowed in the dried-up springs of the old. After nearly ten years of serving on local spiritual assemblies in metropolitan Perth and after nearly twenty-seven years of overseas pioneering I was experiencing the endless waves of the same alternation: joy and sorrow, gain and loss, success and failure, sickness and health. So much of the downside of this experience was associated with my Baha'i community life here in a city of over a thousand Baha'is, many wonderful souls from Iran. Many beautiful and talented women, young and older and many talented men providing a rich mosaic of people that I was, for the most part, not able to enjoy.
This endless trap of repitition, part of life's necessary spin, was the outside world which engaged my senses day after day in alternating feelings of richness, fatigue and frustration. Inside, a new world had opened up, 'wholly and spiritually glorious' as one Baha'i Writer put it, through the venue of poetry. New and wonderful configurations deriving from the power of thought took precedence over all created things, as 'Abdu'l-Baha put it on the opening page of The Secret of Divine Civilization. To a large extent these configurations are found in my poetry and the reader who would want to measure the last eight months of my life would have to turn to the poetry and the related booklets with the dates on each poem.
The other genres are also useful, of course, especially the letters. My correspondence with John Bailey, one of my fellow lecturers, probably has the continuity and content to make it a useful comment on the type of teaching involved with a large part of Australia which thinks but which is not attracted to religion. My diary and my essays have such little content as to hardly deserve a mention.
The reader of this autobiography will not be subjected to the fringes of a parade with a sea of abstract and concrete faces passing by in stupefying numbers with the occasional person rising from the mass with their clear features, their eventful, pithy and pertinent contribution to my own story. Such a reader who has come this far has had enough of such people rising from the ashes of the everyday. Shaping the shapeless, giving form to an endless stream of events finds its chief expression through the chalice of a new revelation without which I have little doubt none of this would ever have been written.
Some of my most successful experiences in teaching came in the last eight months; I have included some sample feedbacks in my 'letters file: Vol.5' to give an idea of a representative sample from a lifetime of seed-planting in classrooms. I certainly felt the surge of power, purpose and initiative conscious as I was that this new Faith was getting an airing, getting some exposure, however limited and indirect for the most part. I had become, by the 1990s, a manager of interaction with a lower-key role as stimulating provocateur. By 1998 I was tired of managing.
RIPEN IN THE DARK
As Price’s pioneering life moved on from place to place he taught children, adolescents and then adults, from age 3 to 63, and an incredible array of subjects, mostly self-taught: sociology, history, psychology, human relations, behavioural studies, the history of ideas, social sciences, English literature, politics, ancient history, welfare studies, communication studies, media studies, management studies, philosophy, anthropology, and on and on. Yes, it was solitary work, but the teaching of it was inevitably social, interactive, always spurred on by his desire to sew divine seeds for future harvests and, by the fourth epoch, a certain other-worldly ambition. Although many of his students came to be close to him few, except in 1972, acquired this new loyalty. Although his faith was shaken severely on two, perhaps three, occasions, it weathered the storms, the tempest, that was harrowing up the souls of mankind. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript.
As need and curiosity prompted, Shaw taught himself shorthand and bookkeeping, penmanship and public speaking, economics and etiquette, score-reading and dialogue writing-most of it solitary work spurred on by a kind of other-worldly ambition...Shaw never had disciples...He added to his information or shifted his batteries, but his faith has been the same since its first stilted expression in the early fiction. -Jacques Barzun, The Energies of Art: Studies of Authors Classic and Modern, Harper and Brothers, NY, 1956, p.251.
So much of what we do and think
has unknown origins and goes
toward unknown destinations,
has nothing to do with the moral,
but is simply part of the vague,
multiform spectacle of human life,
where tendencies are so various,
circumstances too complex,
for a single definition.
Then, there are those moments
when we are alone, deeply,
on a summer day with the sky
lonely and blue, pure,
and I am not running,
thrust into the maelstrom,
the busyness of it all.
This presence of God
vanishes with others
unless I keep remembering:
Enter thou among My servants,
And enter thou My paradise.
I ripen all that I write in the dark,
waiting for the death of self,
that I may be nothing
and walk,untrapped by mind,
my heart made ready
for the descent of heavenly grace.*
15 September 1995
*Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p. 51.
POETRY: A NEW WORLD FOR HISTORY
History is philosophy teaching by experience. -Carlyle in Fabricating History: English Writers on the French Revolution, , Barton Friedman, Princeton UP, 1988, p.17.
The essential quality of poetry is that it makes a new effort of attention, and ‘discovers’ a new world within the known world. -D.H. Lawrence in Acts of Attention: The Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Sandra Gilbert, Cornell UP, London, 1972, p.5.
Historical knowledge rendered meaningful
by conformity to some teleological model,
some linguistic construct which we actualize,
reconfigure as we read, shooting the present
with chips of messianic time,
my consciousness with ever higher levels
of connectedness, shooting my life
with questions which recreate some microcosm
in its depth, breadth, beyond the narrow,
distorted into vistas, multiple dimensions,
in the theatre of eternity; for written history
is always ‘history-for’, never divorced
from complicating contexts, condensed,
chosen, displaced, elaborated, rationalized,
structured, emphasized, extrapolated,
vantage-pointed, like the images of a dream
intending some manifest content,
some knowledgework, analogous to life:
far beyond some sequence of rosary beads,
some simple linearity, some neutral facticity.
22 October 1995
WRITING ABOUT WRITING POETRY II
There’s alot of people doing it: teaching poetry, reading poetry, editing poetry journals, mailing poems to poetry journals, keeping track of poetry grants and contests like inveterate race buffs for track tips, networking poetry, organizing poetry lobbying and poetry-for-social change, promoting poetry therapies, reviewing poetry. There is a new breed of organization poets, with their workshops for poetry, identity poetry, language poetry: and there is a great mass with no interest in poetry whatsoever. -Ron Price with thanks to Jed Rasula, The American Poetry Wax Museum: Reality Effects, 1940-1990, Urbana Illinois, 1996.
Some organize aviaries, some bake,
some cook, some don’t, some are into elephants,
rhinos, flowers, growth, hats, shoes or image.
There seems to be someone
into just about everything imaginable.
Now poetry is one of these things
and I’m into it in a big way.
It all happened only recently
and quite without my planning it:
And here I am writing about writing poetry!
I’m not doing this for a degree, for publication,
but for the love of poetry, of devotion to a Faith,
to express my beliefs, my acts, my past, these days,
as accurately as I can, a means to an end--
to advance civilization in a miniscule way,
a part played in a whole,
because we can all count,
can all affect the totality,
both now and in the future.
11 May 1996
THE YEARS BEFORE 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 seemed to loom on the horizon, on the horizon of our days, then and now. -Ron Price, "A Reflection on the Years Before 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.
Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the days
before a latter-day Pentecontaetia1,
a modern half-century: on the gentle side,
crazy days, decades of slow building,
burning, some staggering burgeoning,
hot tears of light amidst a sea of darkness
in this Formative Age,
an age amusing itself to death
on rehearsed spontaneity
and immense triviality,
some long night before the dawn,
on the brink, years of the tempest
with bleeding humanity
brought to its knees
in a common remedial effort,
a new spiritual and moral attitude,
some collective identification
with catastrophe, shock and trauma
contained in obsessions: Liz, Marilyn
and Elvis and anchor men
with Oprah Winfrey, ET
Shwarznegger, monopoly, scrabble
and Sylvia Plath blowing it all away
just before the House was elected,
an apex crowning a new Order
growing slowly, unobtrusively amidst
the detritus and exploding knowledge
of this latter age:
years before the Lesser Peace.
4 October 1996
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.
This modern period, this modern century or so, preceding the Pentecontaetia could be seen as a hundred year period, or more, beginning in, say, 1937 when the international teaching campaign was launched, 1921 when the Guardian began to create the instrument of the Administrative Order, 1912 when ‘Abdu’l-Baha came West or, indeed, 1892 when Baha’u’llah passed away. 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.
These were the years before the Lesser Peace and the years, arguably, when a modern Pentecontaetia began.
A RING OF SANITY: WHERE I’M AT
Lowell’s sense of the poem as event, of the living voice speaking the lines out of some occasion, made his poems instantly available as experience. He saw poetry as a necessary public activity, an essential method of judging the affairs of men and of state. The classical poets and history were also an essential part of his poetic base. The unit of poetry and its rhythm is in the line, unlike the unit of prose which is in the paragraph. He saw each of his poems as a part of one great poem. Each poem involved a struggle to express an experience that he valued in a way that is valued. Lowell thought that poets had to be aware of the great complexity of modern life and be organized if they were to keep their humanity and civility. To take poetry really seriously the poet must also see his poetry as lasting, but not be too concerned about posterity and dreaming about immortality. -Ron Price, summary of notes on Robert Lowell: Interviews and Memoirs, editor, Jeffrey Meyers, University of Michigan press, Ann Arbor, 1988, pp.1-90.
I came to the game later than you,
part of a different wave, different
consciousness, growing seductively,
some unknown force, virtually unknown,
even at fifty-two. Read alot of history
but hardly know the classical poets,
perhaps I’ll read them when I retire.
Teaching has given me an audience, too,
but full time in my case and building a new
Order has given me a full-time job, too.
I’m flabbergasted at how you survived
all those years of manic-depression with
all that crazy intensity and so many
hospitalizations over so many, many,
years: I like your perspective here. It
has a ring of great sanity, a ring of where
9 September 1996
An ordinary life is obscure in the sense that among the billions who now inhabit the globe everyone is obscure, unless they have been popularised in the media. Even then, such a popularity is transient and confined to those who watch, read or listen to that media. Some ordinary lives are now less obscure than they once may have been. The circle of those whom they come to know in a lifetime may include literally thousands. This is definitely true of many teachers. In over twenty-five years of teaching my contact has been with many thousands. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, April 28 1996.
Gladstone said there were three ways to keep a diary: keep none, keep a full-blooded one, or keep a mere skeleton of one. If you include all the genres in which this autobiography is kept, you get a full-blooded autobiography. The diary, I must confess, is something of a skeleton, although this retrospective work may just make the diary full-blooded one day. -Ron Price with thanks to The Gladstone Diaries(1825-1832), p.xix of the introduction.
With spiritual credentials scarred on
I moved to the end of the Earth and
experienced such a deep wound I
nearly died: death warmed me over
before throwing me up onto the shore
with my life barely intact. In December
I got back on a jet and ran for cover,
surviving it in the great Melbourne jungle.
I'd never had a year so torrid, so hot, so
sensually satisfying, but spiritually so
terrifying; so successful in my career, but
ultimately so debilitating, so weakening
spiritually that I will probably never quite
recover, although the lesson was so sharp I got a
protection I could never have acquired otherwise.
28 April 1996
Men understand now the impossibility of speaking aloud all that is within them...A man cannot say all that is in his heart to a woman or another man. The waters are too deep between us. But poetry, in its passion to express our deepest impressions, our quickened sense of life, of sorrow and of our enthusiasms, gives voice to the splendour and tragedy of our experience and its aweful brevity. As part of our desperate effort to see and touch, poetry brings some electricity, some magic, as we move from point to point. -Ron Price with thanks to William Hazlitt, Matthew Arnold and Walter Pater in: A Choice of Inheritance: Self and Community from Edmund Burke to Robert Frost, David Bromwich, Harvard UP, London, 1989, pp.120-124.
The red flowers of the Kunzia1
glisten in the sun, rain-soaked,
outside my window while honey-eaters
drop by to suck sweetness
into their yellow faces.
White clouds, gleaming bright
roof of eternity, trail their splendour
into my eyes like some Israfil2
bringing life to my spirit,
dried up with the years,
teaching me to turn away
from myself to become wholly Thine,
attain the lights of the Beloved
in this last plane of limitation3
among the Kunzia, the clouds,
the rain and the honey-eaters.
27 September 1996
1An Australian flowering shrub with red bottle-brush type flowers
2Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, p.14.
3Baha’u’llah, ibid.,p.17: the valley of knowledge
Teachers cannot tell if their work is having any results....the results are inside their students, subtle and difficult to test...good teaching is difficult to define in a job which is never finished and which is, essentially, a private act. Shakespeare puts the process metaphorically when he refers to the "rising senses" which "begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle their clear reason." -Ron Price with thanks to Daniel A. Lindley, This Rough Magic: The Life of Teaching, Bergin and Garvey, London, 1993, chapters 6 and 7.
There is a charm dissolving this space
where desks and faces fill my world, now.
Morning slips by and I warm and the sun
warms the cold walls. It has melted the
darkness before I arrived, silently. I have
become a seeker of the not-yet-known and
a kaleidoscope of feelings enter, making
combinations, with numberless feelings stored
in chambers of my brain, a myriad images and
phrases, impossible equations like fluid dynamics.
Something new has emerged between the twilight
blackness and the setting gold, between the
azured vault and this earth of footsteps, between
the oceans where I pass my days. Yes, as if by
magic, by sprinkled drops of blood, by some
partial dissolve of me and thee, some recompense,
part of those splendorous clouds which cover my
world a thousand times a thousand, gifts hidden and
known, charms felt to the bone, at home and here,
where empowering spirits mingle as insensibly as ever.
29 March 1996
...the only important thing that ever happened to me: the description I made of part of my life...it was the most important because I fixed it in words. And now what am I? Not he who lived but he who described. -Italo Svevo in The Complex Image: Faith and Method in American Autobiography, Joseph Fichtelberg, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989, Preface.
The following poem is one simple way of describing, summarizing, my experience of the 1960s. I was 15 when the sixties started. I wrote this poem after seeing a 1990 movie Flashback. About the only external thing still left that stands out easily from this period of time is the fact I still say "Man". -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 4 February 1996.
I was too busy at high school
and university and teaching kids
to really become part of the sixties.
state kept me on heat, nose-down,
although I had time for a beard,
a demonstration, a little sex,
but nowhere near as much as
I would have liked
and that some guys got.
My dad died; I grew up;
taught Eskimos, country,
small town kids; got married.
It was a busy decade for me,
back then and when it ended
I got ready to go to Australia.
Sex, drugs and rock-and-roll
always stayed on the edge
of my life, periferal to the core.
And my religion remained intact,
Surprisingly, protecting me.
4 February 1996
A REMOTE PERIPHERY
The great artist has in the end, always, his audience. For the vitality of poetry must be drawn from common life, from passionate, normal speech. The greatest poetry requires some audience to listen to it, an actual, defined group of people to ground the poetry. -Michael Ryan, "Poetry and the Audience", Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor,1996, pp.161-164.
I keep trying this one on for size,
this audience of mine, little feelers,
stick them out, send them a package,
read them one, in the lounge, always
wondering, each person so unique,
thinking nothing at all, turned on,
wondering ‘what the hell?" and
"what’s he on about?", not quite like
that Heroic Age before a Golden Greece1
when poets knew what they were describing
and audiences knew it too and the poet
was self-effacing and got out of the way.
This audience of mine, an incremental
cultivation, one by one, with most people
in a remote perifery with not much to say
at all about what they heard or read that day.
1A period from about 1600 to 1200 BC
Ron Price 20 October 1997
I find reading poetry in public an ambivalent act. Being the entertainer, mixing laughs and knowledge, I have enjoyed for years. It’s like classroom teaching, although the pleasure of the interaction is losing its dynamism after ten thousand appearances. There’s a certain range of human types you must deal with when working with an audience, in the classroom or a public place for reading poetry, if your emotions are to remain intact. There are the loud types who laugh immoderately in the wrong places, or talk to themselves or others in the middle of your oration; there are the people who buttonhole you with questions about every conceivable topic under the sun, with some thoroughly unappetising anecdotes along the way in which a certain fained interest is essential.
I enjoy reading poetry in public, although I don’t go out of my way now after all these years. But I do not enjoy going to poetry readings given by others. I get bored and listening, I find, is hard work. Occasionally, I go out of a sense of duty and solidarity. I prefer to read in private or get a poetry reading on video or cassette. With the great burgeoning in all fields, with the explosion in population, with the new channels of accessibility to poetry on the internet, there are more people today reading and writing poetry than ever before. We have before us, as in all fields, the greatest audience in history. -Ron Price with thanks to John Metcalf, Kicking Against the Pricks, ECW Press, Downsview, Ontario, 1982.
Most poetry is incomprehensibly
below the threshold of meaning,
or trivial, muddy words I cannot
quite connect with. Perhaps the
very act of writing a poem is so
artificial and irrelevant now that
it’s beyond resuscitation in this
world of commercial fashion,
technology and change. It can’t
compete with the on-off button on
the TV and stereo, McDonald’s, with
a generation of busy eyes and minds that
cannot follow ideas without pictures.
Some other muse tells me, John, it is not
as bleak as this: this is the age of the great
awakening, burgeoning. It has really only
just began. This renaissance may last for
decades, ages yet to come. But you must
take your eyes off the mass of yahoos,
barbarians; the mass is filled with coteries,
dozens of coteries with rich and fertile life. 30/8/ 97.
This evening I chanced upon, for it was not a planned intellectual exercise, Arnold Toynbee’s discussion of the inspiration of historians in his Study of History Vol.10. Since the work I am doing is as much a consuming passion as, say, Ludwig Schleimann’s study of Greek; since I must do my work at times when I am not involved in my work as a lecturer, as a father, a husband, an LSA member, a friend of those who need my time, a person who sleeps, swims, walks, watches TV, videos and movies; since I must discipline my time in a way that is aimed at the eventual triumph of intellectual purposiveness over intellectual dissipation; since I have, from at least 1992 and perhaps as far back as 1974, had an aeger appetite for knowledge which I sometimes have felt was devouring me; since I feel I am in the possession of an intellectual destiny connected with a scheme, a plan, which took a powerful hold of me and my imagination as early as 1962; since there seems to be so much happening in and around me which I want to record in some written genre; since it is virtually all part and parcel of the growth of a unique and fascinating prophetic message: what Toynbee has to say is highly relevant. -Ron Price, 8:30-10:00 pm, Friday, 26 December 1997.
I have been directing my reading
and writing for twenty-three years,
at one thousand hours a year, across
an immense range of social sciences
and humanities with essentially one
aim: the illumination, the cross-
fertilization of my religion, my life
and the intellectual cross-currents
that boil up from the great sea. I
have done this while pioneering and
teaching during a great burgeoning,
an immense consuming passion that
tried to utilize every moment in some
productive form, seeking consolation.
It took so many years to get a focus.
1962 to 1972 was a series of obstructed
streams; 1972 to 1992 saw a strengthening
of every fibre of my being by endless running
down circuitous routes—and then my wings
were free to soar and the river could at last
break forth, after learning how to communicate
ideas to other minds, the most arduous stage in
learning literary composition. I took to work, to
writing, because I felt possessed, as if by a demon,
and the daily round, however enriching, did not
fatten nor appease my hunger. Those years of
great tribulation sewed the seeds and now they
grow gradually in the soil of my imperfections. 26/12/97.
DOWN AND OUT
On 30 October 1974 I got ready for my last few days of teaching at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education; watched the famous Foreman vs Ali fight from Zaire and wrote to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia Inc., requesting the removal of my voting rights for disobedience to Baha’i law. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, April 27, 1997.
It had been a quick rise to the top
after being down and out in Whitby
and Toronto but a few years before.
I was getting the lesson that Foreman
got that night, one that would teach me
some caution in a dangerous world, as if
all of life was one long education from the
Master of Love in the schoolhouse of oneness.
Messing with Baha’i law has disastrous
consequences, as disastrous as what
Foreman got that night, taking winners
into the loser’s corner, changing a whole
life by burning away veils with one’s sighing
and being wearied out with one’s own life.1
22 April 1997
1Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, USA, 1952, pp. 28-32.
A TRACELESS MEMORY
In teaching the humanities and the social sciences for twenty-eight years I frequently come in contact with young women, say 18 to 35 years of age, beautiful, exquistely beautiful. Sometimes, when they come up and talk to me, they slightly invade my space. It is just about intoxicating, taking my breath away. At such times, I strive for distance and must take several deep breaths. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, September 18, 1998.
Such soft swelling, white-cream,
oh so gently up, off her smooth
chest, so little really, and then
blue lace and that small descent
into darkness and a mystery that
will never be unfurled to me, with
her, as long as we look and talk
about the things people talk about.
Such youthful innocence and charm,
oh so freshly up from childhood,
on the edge of life's great song,
She is so small really, and a face
that would charm the dead from
their graves and me from mine.
But she will never be unfurled,
only her soul, only the faintest
part of her being, as we talk and
look as people all look and talk.
Such beauty: she invades my being
like a rush from heaven, breathless,
imprinted on my brain for a year
before she slips into history and
become a traceless memory, gone.
18 September 1998