Interview #2: Ron Price

187 views

Published on

INTERVIEW NO.2 WITH RON PRICE

Preamble

This is the second in a series of interviews with Ron Price, a writer of poetry, prose, and prose-poetry who lived in Perth Western Australia when this interview began, and in George Town Tasmania when the last additions to this interview were made.

The first interview in what is now a series of 26, took place in January 1996 on a certain literary stage, at his home while Ron was on holiday from his job as a lecturer in Human Services at the Thornlie College of Technical and Further Education, Tafe, what is now the Swan College of Tafe. Interviews like this are, from Ron’s perspective, part of an ongoing dialogue that can help a writer of poetry, an author, to define the act, the process, the experience whereby his prose and poetry seem to come from somewhere, from everything that ever happened, is happening and might well happen and become available on a page.

The interview as a medium of expression also allows the reader to have a better understanding of just what a writer is trying to do and why he is trying to write at all. Writing poetry helps define, express, and shape the prayer of the human soul. The Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke(1875-1926), who is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language, said that these things are the essence of poetry. Writing poetry is like a personal experience of deepening because it enables the poet to sustain his capacity for contemplation, a useful skill in a world of increasing velocity.

Published in: Education
0 Comments
0 Likes
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Views
Total views
187
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
2
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
2
Comments
0
Likes
0
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Interview #2: Ron Price

  1. 1. INTERVIEW NO.2 WITH RON PRICE Preamble This is the second in a series of interviews with Ron Price, a writer of poetry, prose, and prose-poetry who lived in Perth Western Australia when this interview began, and in George Town Tasmania when the last additions to this interview were made. The first interview in that is now a series of 26, took place four months ago in January 1996 on a certain literary stage, at his home while Ron was on holiday from his job as a lecturer in Human Services at the Thornlie College of Technical and Further Education, Tafe, what is now the Swan College of Tafe. Interviews like this are, from Ron’s perspective, part of an ongoing dialogue that can help a writer of poetry, an author, to define the act, the process, the experience whereby his prose and poetry seem to come from somewhere, from everything that ever happened, is happening and might well happen and become available on a page. The interview as a medium of expression also allows the reader to have a better understanding of just what a writer is trying to do and why he is trying to write at all. Writing poetry helps define, express, and shape the prayer of the human soul. The Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke(1875-1926), who is considered one of the most significant poets in the German language, said that these things are the essence of poetry. Writing poetry is like a personal experience of deepening because it enables the poet to sustain his capacity for contemplation, a useful skill in a world of increasing velocity. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -- Questioner(Q): I’d like to continue our examination of just why you write poetry. Price(P): We examined a number of reasons in that first interview, but one thing that I did not talk about sufficiently is the simple pleasure of writing and that it is an essentially democratic activity. There are many synonyms for democratic: autonomous, common, communal, free, friendly, informal, just, orderly, populist, self-ruling, and more. That great English essayist, William Hazlitt, in his essay On Poetry writes that: “Poetry is the language of the imagination and the passions. It relates to whatever gives immediate pleasure or pain to the human mind.” I’d like to quote liberally from that essay as a way of answering your question.
  2. 2. So many people think of the act of writing poetry as distant or above them, as if it belongs in the territory of some elite group. This may have been true through most of history when so few people could read or write. But as education has been spreading to more and more of the population of the globe, poetry is becoming more and more popular. It is a part of people’s lives, their souls, their pleasures. It is about their inner lives. We all have inner lives and we all need to put words around what happens there. Writing about our inner life allows us to get hold of this world, grasp who we are inside, at least to some extent. It is not the only way; it is my main way. Also poetry is about saying the truth no matter what. It is difficult to be absolutely truthful in the public place where tact and a kindly tongue are crucial. You need some place where you can call a spade a spade. One does not write poetry for money, but to say what you might never say in everyday discourse. Poetry can strike through like lightening to plumb the depths of private or institutional life. There is a kind of heightened speech in poetic utterance. I find it keeps my thoughts and my experience fresh, like fresh fruit or vegetables. The world, my world, is more vivid, vital, alive. For me this is important because much of the world is also tiresome at the external, lived, level. It had certainly become so by my 50s, by the time that poetry came to play an important, a personally meaningful, role in my life. Poetry is like a booster, a step-up transformer, to take me to my inner world and make it articulate. It combines and compresses the complexity and helps me understand it. You can see yourself having a conversation with yourself. It seems to create a special energy in the act of writing. Hazlitt writes that: “wherever there is a sense of beauty, or power, or harmony, as in the motion of a wave of the sea, in the growth of a flower that 'spreads its sweet leaves to the air, and dedicates its beauty to the sun', -- there is poetry, in its birth.” “If history is a grave study,” he continues, “poetry may be said to be a graver: its materials lie deeper, and are spread wider. History treats, for the most part, of the cumbrous and unwieldy masses of things, the empty cases in which the affairs of the world are packed, under the heads of intrigue or war, in different states, and from century to century: but there is no thought or feeling that can have entered into the mind of man, which he would be eager to communicate to others, or which they would listen to with delight, that is not a fit subject for poetry.” That is enough of Hazlitt for now. I leave him and his essay with readers. This essay of Hazlitt's served as an introduction to his work Lectures on the English Poets. first published in 1818.
  3. 3. Q: Do you find something about the writing process that pulls you away from people? P: Yes and no. Yes in the sense that writing pulls me into a quiet space, a space that the first African-American poet laureate, Rita Dove, said is part of my connectedness with my own history and the world’s. This quiet space is inhabited by me with fibers that lead everywhere in a multi-dimensional hookup. Hookup is a term that has come into popular parlance in the online world of cyber-dating. In this space, this inner and private space, I have total control and there’s an influence of souls, of spirits, such is my belief, in ways that are essentially indefineable. This process requires, certainly for me, a withdrawal from the public space. It involves a savoring of experience, a tasting, a slowing down, a going down, a going in, into. Sometimes the writing, the experience, is quick and jazzy, sometimes slow and very simple. Poetry is something that comes, like an orgasm; you can only control the process to a point and then biology, or sociology, or some other ‘ology takes over. In the embroidery of poetry I define my life, my culture; the process is not a social experience, except tangentially, except once I put the piece of writing into the public space. I explain myself to myself and, although this can be done in company and is, it can also be done by writing poems. And I do. I’ll add some more from Hazlitt. “Poetry is that fine particle within us”, Hazlitt writes, “that expands, rarefies, refines, raises our whole being: without it 'man's life is poor as beast's'. Man is a poetical animal: and those of us who do not study the principles of poetry, act upon them all our lives, like Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who had always spoken prose without knowing it. The child is a poet in fact, when he first plays at hide-and-seek, or repeats the story of Jack the Giant-killer; the shepherd-boy is a poet, when he first crowns his mistress with a garland of flowers; the country-man when he stops to look at the rainbow; the city-apprentice, when he gazes after the Lord Mayor's show; the miser, when he hugs his gold; the courtier who builds his hopes upon a smile; the savage who paints his idol with blood; the slave who worships a tyrant, or the tyrant, who fancies himself a god; -- the vain, the ambitious, the proud, the choleric man, the hero, and the coward, the beggar and the king, the rich and the poor, the young and the old, all live in a world of their own making; and the poet does no more than describe what all the others think and act. If his art is folly and madness, it is folly and madness at second hand. There is warrant for it.' Poets alone have not
  4. 4. 'such seething brains, such shaping fantasies, that apprehend more than cooler reason' can.” I quote this lengthy passage because it throws light on the essentially solitary- social nature of writing poetry. This dichotomy, this polarity, is at the core, along with many other things, other principles and concepts, in the writing of poetry. Q: There are some things which the garment of words can never clothe, as Baha’u’llah says. Does poetry have anything to say about this world of the unsayable? P: Carl Jung says there are some problems which are better left unsolved because they are at the core of life and they give you the tests which keep you fine-tuned, so to speak. And as you say, life is full of things which words cannot express. There are some longings, some loves, that can’t be put into words. It’s like a divine discontent. But you try. You try to put words to the many paradoxes and complex dubieties in life, the joy at the center of grief for example. Laughter sometimes comes close; irony gets close to the bone and poetry can bring out both. I have not really developed these talents yet. They may not be in me. Life is pervasive, complex, inexhaustible. I’m a little like the ant which the poet, Coleman Barks, talks about. Barks(1937- ) is an American poet who neither speaks nor reads Persian, but he is nonetheless renowned as an interpreter of Rumi and other mystic poets of Persia. Barks says that he doesn’t know what the anthill is doing but he plods away everyday with his job of writing poetry. The plodding gives him enough joy and pleasure to keep going and, when it doesn’t, he puts it away and does something else. The ant can’t do this, victim of instinct that he is. But I certainly can, given my free choice. And I do. Also, our culture is very noisy: TV, radio, hi-fis, cassette-tapes, talk-talk-talk, electronic and print media, a million poets with a billion things to say, et cetera, et cetera; exercise, sport, busy-busy-busy-go-go-go. Poetry is more of a stop-stop- stop, find some inner person, if you can, listen to the quiet voices if they’re audible above the din of channel 5, above all the channels. I’m rather of the opinion that many people, if they looked within for the Real Me, would get lost, would not know where to begin the exploration. The focus of so much meditation is to still the chatter; what I want is to change the chatter into thought, thought that finds concrete expression in words. Hazlitt quotes from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in his essay, and I will add some of that quotation here because it says so much:
  5. 5. “…..as imagination bodies forth/ The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen/ Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name." Of course, this is what artists and poets, musicians and actors do. They use their art to create a world within the piece they're working on. Many people are more familiar with this in the theatre, in TV drama and in the movies. Each show, each program, performed in or directed, produced or acted-in, created a world, a "habitation" in which to tell some story, to take of some “airy nothing”, something which has no words, and give it a name, words, meaning. Q: Poetry can contribute to the withdrawal of a poet; can it contribute to his community participation? P: Yes, unquestionably. As Barks also points out, poetry can be a way of being with your friends. It was for the poet Rumi. Poetry for him had something to do with community. And it has for me. I sent several thousand of my poems to the Baha’i World Center Library. I have done this primarily because what I write is quintessentially community poetry. I define myself within the context of community. I don’t give poetry readings very often for several reasons, some of which I have already explained. But poetry does not have to be read out loud. If there was no Baha’i community I doubt very much if I would bother writing at all. For my whole identity is wrapped-up with this community. Until 1999 I spent 50 to 80 hours a week earning a living, going to meetings, and being involved in all sorts of ways in community life. I found it difficult to write; but after 1999 and taking an early retirement at the age of 55, wrote many books of poetry and prose. I don’t think I could keep the pace that Rumi did of twelve to fourteen poems a day. The American poet Stanley Kunitz(1905-2006) who was appointed Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress twice, first in 1974 and then again in 2000, says that poets are solitaries with a heightened sense of community. I like that way of putting it. Right now I am having personal difficulties with aspects of my Baha’i community life because my medications for my bipolar 1 disorder have resulted in an incapacity to engage in the talk-fests I had been part of for decades. It has taken me some time to accept this asocial, more solitary life; it caused me inner turmoil for years because this community is important to me. From time to time over what is nearly sixty years of Baha’i community life I have had to withdraw from active involvement; this time the withdrawal is a longer period of time. I have always found aspects of this withdrawal uncomfortable,
  6. 6. unhappy, but I am learning to live with this and learning to monitor my social life into smaller chunks of time. Some of my keenest pain and grief over the decades has arisen out of my relationship with the Baha’i community itself. This is a common experience of people in community, any community. In many ways the Baha’i community represents one, or many, of the significant others in my life. The support and challenges I get from those around me: poets, non-poets, artists, a great tradition of writers and thinkers is an inspiration which carries me away from solitariness into what you might call a literary tradition. Although I am often alone in a room, I have the company of a vast host of those who have passed on and those not yet born. It is very important for each of us to define that degree of sociability that is consistent with our needs and wants. Some are loners and some seem to need others around them more. I always liked Baudelaire synthesis of these two tendencies: he talked about peopling his solitude and being alone in a busy crowd. The poet, the writer, the creative person, all of us, must make decisions here. Although the Cause provides broad parameters that help us decide, we each must work them out individually. I am part of a great stream, a river, of life; a river that is full of meaning, richness and life. The stream, the river, is the same for all of us but we are each different parts. William James(1842-1910), one of the founders of psychology, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States, wrote about different personalities, as did Abdu’l-Baha, James said that some people have a personality that is constitutionally weighted on the side of cheer; others are more somber, reflective, even melancholic. It is important in life to have as accurate a picture as possible of our own self and the selves of others, and to have realistic expectations of ourselves and others. Q: I’d like to talk a little bit more about your moving from place to place, your pioneer and travel teaching as you call it. P: The Baha’i community has been engaged in an international plan of expansion since 1937. I came on the scene as a pioneer in Canada in 1962 and on the international stage in 1971. In some ways my whole life and all my poetry should be seen under this great umbrella of an international teaching crusade. I don’t go around telling people I’m engaged in this crusade. I wear a much quieter umbrella of words. But the moving is about the extension of this Cause to the remotest and fairest regions of the earth. I have alluded to this before, but it needs reiterating to
  7. 7. drive the point home with crystal clarity. At this stage of the operation-nearly sixty years on-the game is largely unobtrusive and the Baha’i Faith is no threat to anyone. But these are the early days and my story, my poems, are about these early days, days before the Lesser Peace. Part of me feels very strongly that this account and all the poems will become part of the greatest drama in the world’s religious history, how large a part, or how small, does not concern me. It is one piece in the great puzzle. That is enough. I feel I just must write. It’s like an inner compulsion. The Texan poet, Kenneth Irby, talks about the centrality of place in his poetry. He calls this type of poetry pastoral. He says pastoral poetry feeds us. In this broad sense all of my poetry, I like to think, feeds us, feeds me, feeds some of those who might read what I write. I have lived in many places and a little bit of my soul is scattered around two continents now. Most of my memories are located in specific places, geographical regions. I like to think that together they make up a universal man. Q: We have talked in that first interview about your writing prose and poetry. Could you tell us something about how you experience both these forms? Price: What makes poetry is the simultaneity of ideas, the greater density of language. There is some attempt at linearity and the sequential in poetry, but these are the chief features of prose. Much of my poetry is very much like prose and this is because of the sequence and the linearity in my poetry. I do this partly to make it readable. I’m after simplicity and communication, not obscurity and complexity. But these goals can’t be reached all the time. I write quickly in both forms, but the length of novels puts me off. I don’t have the energy and enthusiasm for fifty to one hundred thousand words. Also I don’t like writing dialogue so most story forms are out of my league. And reworking pieces of writing is also something that does not interest me. I write a piece and move on: poetry or prose. When I read it later on it feels like the work of someone else. It feels fresh, new. Q: Tell us about how much time you devote to writing poetry. What do you do beside writing poetry? Price: For the last four years I’d guesstimate averaging two hours of writing a day. I try to spend two hours per evening. On the weekends I usually spend an average of six hours per day reading and writing. This has been the basic pattern since about 1992. Before then poetry writing was episodic for ten years: 1982-1992. But reading has seen a long term involvement since 1974. I’d guess, say, two hours a day every day for the last twenty two years. That would be the absolute minimum and it might be as high as three. Job, family and community responsibilities keep
  8. 8. me away from my books and from writing more time than I care to think. I’ve talked about quantities of hours before and the data I gave maybe a little different. I don’t sit around tabulating and averaging; these figures are somewhat off-the-cuff, so to speak. I don’t do much else besides my work, forty to fifty hours a week over the last ten years; family and Baha’i community work at a number of hours that is difficult to determine, maybe twenty to thirty a week. I sleep eight hours a night; twenty five hours a week on reading and writing and a dozen doing an assortment of things: ‘other’. I don’t like gardening, fixing things, cooking, the general domestic side of life; I wash alot of dishes, do alot of laundry. I talk more with my wife than I used to; in fact we are starting to do more things together than we have in all our twenty years of marriage: bike-riding, going to the beach, walking in parks, even making love. My son is eighteen and I’m waiting to have my first conversation with him. We laugh alot together like a playful bear and his cub; I think talking will come later. Q: Tell us about your first poem. Price: The first poem I wrote, that I kept, was on 19 August 1981. I wrote poems in my late teens and occasionally in my twenties and thirties, but I did not keep any of them. I wrote a poem to my son Daniel on his fourth birthday. I was living in Zeehan at the time and working in a tin mine. Q: Are there any mystical influences in your poetry? Price: All religions are essentially mystical in the sense that there is a strong element of contemplation and self-surrender aimed at oneness with God. It is a mysterious process, awe-inspiring, often hidden. This is what I mean by the mystic. My religion is quintessentially mystic. I have been praying for the mediating influence of souls who have gone on to the next life for nearly twenty years. I do not have any extrasensory experiences, nor am I looking for them. But I often feel as if some secret, hidden, strength has helped me in writing my poetry. I find it difficult to account for the amazing rapidity with which I write: 2500 poems in less than four years amazes me when I think about it. Most of the time I don’t think about it; I just write and I enjoy-love-the process, although it is often quite tiring. Love is a much abused word but when I talk about it in relation to writing poems I’m talking about many things at once: an openness to life and experience, a self- discipline, a concentration-the kinds of things Eric Fromm talked about years ago in his book The Art of Loving-a melody of eternity, a rhythm of creation itself, solitude, some mystic intercourse between myself and people I have never seen or
  9. 9. met in the past and present, some kind of vibration, and much more. It is, again, a mystery; it is part of the mystic. It is scarcely capable of being clothed in words. It is a connection with the great ocean of the past, the great souls and with the future at the great linking point of now, the present. The work, then, of writing a poem, is the whole of your life; it is what precedes the sitting down to write. There is the work. The poem becomes a kind of supplication, an openness to one’s past, to the world of creative thought, to some higher vibration. I don’t find I have any special talent or receptivity, no extra-sensory experience, but I believe in what Baha’u’llah calls a vibration of utterance which He says produces a spiritual result. Again, I cannot define it, but it is part of a dance, a delight, that makes the writing of poetry a pleasure. It is addictive; time will tell how long I’m going to need a daily fix. Ultimately, I think there are a myriad influences on each poem. Most of them you are unaware of. Q: You mentioned in that first interview about your manic-depressive illness. Do you think it has any relationship with your poetry? Price: My manic-depression was successfully treated over fifteen years ago now. If there are any residual effects in my life now it is an exhaustion between ten and eleven in the evening, an early morning blues and a general fatigue with many aspects of human existence: my job, much of Baha’i community life and many human relationships. This is the depressive side of things. At the manic end, I can work for six to eight hours a day with great energy and application to writing and reading and even teaching classes. There is a new sensory excitement in the air for me as well as a great weariness. These are symptomatic of manic-depression, but not the genuine article, nothing in extremis, no incapacitating experiences like sleeplessness, paranoia, intense depression. Actually, I think much of my experience of poetry in recent years is a result of having my manic-depression sorted out. Q: Many poets place great stress on reading poetry aloud. You have talked of this before. Could you extend your comments here? Price: I don’t write poetry to have it read, but when I do read it aloud (which I have done here in Perth both in the classroom and at a cafe in Fremantle where poetry is read publicly), the whole experience of a poem is different. As I said before, you become an actor when you read. The history of poetry has a strong oral center, but that is partly because until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most of humanity could not read. The pendulum has shifted now and we have a much more literate culture. Poetry has many functions, many artistic features, of
  10. 10. which being read is just one. Reading successfully requires a number of interrelated skills. Using silences, absences of sound, voice tone, pitch, pace, stress, volume, a good voice, eye contact, body language, among other features, the reader enhances his delivery. If you give your poem, or someone’s poem, to others to read, they usually cannot get the rhythm, the flow, the inflection, the tonality. Effort to get these things right must be put into the process. It is a skill and in the voice of a trained reader poetry can be a delight. But many in this audio-visual age need pictures or music to enjoy sound. The rock culture needs a certain kind of sound; the poet needs a certain kind of mental receptivity. Gary Snyder informs us that In October of 1955 reading poetry got a shot in the arm in San Francisco. We have never looked back these past forty years, although in many towns and cities there are quiescent periods where poetry reading wanes. Poetry reading is a sign of community life and it needs to be cultivated, as does community life. Q: What are the essential disciplines, skills, abilities for writing poetry? Price: I think each person brings a particular set of assets that makes his or her poetry unique. I’ll tell you one or two things about my particular mix of assets. I brought thirty years of great quantities of reading to the poetic experience when I got started at poetry writing in a big way at the age of 48. I also brought my own share of suffering, the dark nights of my soul, to the writing of poetry. I had to seek the inner world because the outside world had exhausted me in different ways. If I had not been able to go inward I’m not sure if I could have continued living. I don’t know, but I think writing poetry is like a ‘salvation experience’ that people talk about in religious circles. Part of this ‘salvation’ is a plunging into the waters of your own life to come up with a freshness, a delicacy in your own past. You need to be ready, receptive, to the sounds, the pulses, the wilderness, of your own history, especially the pivotal points in your own story. For most of history, as I’ve said before, poetry writing and reading was done by an elite, but in the last half of the twentieth century there has been a great burgeoning. There are more poets alive now than ever before. I think what they are trying to do is work out a whole complex of issues and if you read interviews like this one you get a sense of what those issues are for each poet; you get a map, some of that poet’s geography, sociology, psychology, philosophy. Q: The famous American poet Stanley Kunitz said that “poetry is the most difficult, the most solitary and the most life-enhancing thing that one can do in the world”. Would you like to comment?
  11. 11. Price: There is certainly a solitariness to the writing of poetry. I need privacy and silence, perhaps a little quiet music in the background. I find writing poetry gives life greater meaning, but I don’t find it a particularly difficult process. I have found my greatest tests and battles out in the world in relationships, in community, with my health. Poetry is a therapy in helping me cope with my tests but it does not solve them. The sharpest edges of life’s challenges serve as part of the mix within which poetry gets written, but the writing of poetry itself is more pleasure than problem, more dance than difficulty. There is an exhausting side of my own particular approach to poetry and that is the amount of reading I do. As I may have indicated in that first interview, I read a great deal: perhaps fifteen books a week, or ten a week when averaged out over the last twenty-two years. I push myself to read by an insatiable curiosity, by habit, by a sort of orgy of acquisitiveness, perhaps a certain obsessive-compulsiveness. And the process of reading, hour after hour, makes me very tired, utterly exhausted. That is the worst part of the process. But the answer is simple: I go to bed and sleep like a baby. Writers have different work capacities: Jane Kenyon, the American poet, goes for two or three hours; Xavier Herbert, the Australian novelist, could go for thirty-six hours straight. I drive in a middle range: six to ten hours a day when I don’t have to go to work. I find the process quite ‘life-enhancing’ to use Kunitz’s phrase. Q: Whom do you write for? Price: I’m not sure I really write ‘for’ somebody or some group, or even for me. I write for the pleasure of the experience, the exercise of the intellect, the feelings, the power of thought. I believe Mozart composed to work things out. I like that way of putting it. It’s not really for anyone. It’s like some inner whelling up, working toward, out, in. I write especially with the Baha’i community in mind and the great souls who have gone on, as I have indicated before. There’s a certain excitement and mystery in this. So much of my inspiration comes from my religion. But let me say a little more on this subject. The Baha’i community shares my values and beliefs, but much of my poetry is what I might call experiential, non-denominational, non-sectarian, neutral as far as labels are concerned. Tomorrow I am going to be giving a twenty-minute poetry reading at the cafe I mentioned earlier. I will read poems that please, that I hope everyone understands and that touch people’s minds and hearts. Hopefully the listeners will laugh occasionally and a necessary entertainment function, at least here in Australia, will be supplied. The audience is part of an enormously expanding one around the world. The whole process of participating in a way of life, of creating a way of life that will give us all respect and a little joy, if not alot, need not be a burden. At the
  12. 12. moment in most places it is. That is probably why my own poetry is, as yet, not read much in the public place, especially the Baha’i community. We have not yet quite learned how to make community life a joy. But we will, slowly. Also, as I have indicated before, getting poetry published is difficult, or costly, or both. Given this reality I have to content myself with writing the poetry, with communicating with myself, with the great unseen souls of history and the future. I feel, I think, my poetry will one day occupy a place in Baha’i history. I may be wrong. I’m not arrogant about this intimation. Writers like to be read, the more readers the better. Q: What do you think is the first lesson, the key, to understanding poetry? Price: We need to know to whom the poet is listening. In my inner life I have been listening to the central figures of the Baha’i Faith most of my life. I have also read a great mass of other material: perhaps Arnold Toynbee and Edward Gibbon have had the most influence on me from the word of books. My parents, grandfather, my first and second wife, my son, my two step-daughters: have all been seminal influences. There have also been a host of other influences from the twenty-five towns, the thousands of Baha’is and students I have known and talked to over the last thirty-four years since leaving my home town. If we know something of these primary influences, we know something about the person who writes the poetry and thus we understand the poetry more than we ever could. We need to focus on the poetry, not the poet, the words, not the personality. The reality of man is his thought, his poetry if you will, not the shape of his face and the length of his hair. As a writer of poetry, not the reader, I think the first thing you need to be aware of in understanding poetry is that in writing free-verse you slowly feel your way into the poem. A writer also needs to know a great deal; at least I feel this is important to me. These two qualities are important in my understanding of poetry. Q: Do you think poetry has any use? Price: Poetry’s purposes should be expressed in terms of the true and the beautiful, not the useful. It’s like religion. The religion I have been associated with now for nearly forty years should be evaluated in terms of whether it is true not whether it is useful. People use religion and they use poetry, but I think this emphasis, this approach, is secondary, or tertiary. It is inevitable that both poetry and religion have uses, that they have utilitarian functions, but their core is spiritual, mystic. Q: The American poet Diane Wakowski says that good writers have problems as they approach middle age; as their lives become less eventful, less tense, their writing loses energy and shape.
  13. 13. Price: If one defines middle age as the ‘middle adulthood’ period of human development, then I began to overcome the major battles of my early life and early adulthood, as Diane described. But I had enough to keep me busy until my mid- forties, so that tension and difficulties continued to face me. By my late forties life was for the first time more peaceful and a period of relative tranquility, like a kind of golden years, entered my experience. It is this relative ease of life than has been the backdrop for this poetry. But even here there is enough tension, struggle, activity, to provide some base for a creative edge. By my late forties I had been a teacher for nearly twenty-five years, a pioneer for nearly thirty. I had been as popular as a teacher can get for many years. Popularity held no buzz. I had never aspired after wealth. The major problems of life had been sorted out to all intents and purposes. Overt interest in my religion seemed to have reached a point where no matter what I did only seeds got planted. The world of action simply did not yield great fruit, or at least any different fruit than it had already done for at least two decades. I think writing often takes over when human action cannot go anyplace else. And so writing began to fill the spaces of my life where living had reached a dead end, where it repeated what I had seen a million times, a million. My writing has given me enormous satisfaction. It is action, as satisfying as an overseas trip, a stimulating conversation, a good meal, even an erotic experience. Q: Thank you again for your time; we look forward to a third interview one day. Price: Thank you, I do too. Would you like a final cup of tea? Rivervale WA 18 May 1996

×