An Interview With Australian-Canadian Poet and Baha'i: Ron Price

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In the ongoing and complex exercise of defining what I am doing and the equally complex exercise of finding and developing my poetic, my literary, voice; of describing the ‘thou’ of my poetry so that it can reach the ears of others and of locating my work in the midst of flux and fixity; of outlining my themes with a combination of obsession and detachment and of dealing with a biography which is my autobiography; of translating an activity that is both amusement and frivolity as well as seriousness and occupation, this interview continues the process: (i) of cognition and of describing poetry’s process and (ii) of working out poetry’s raison d’etre in my life and this poet's quest for self-redefinition in today's world. The impetus of inspired creativity ineluctably takes over and shapes me as individual and as artist. The immense force of creativity projects the indivisibility of my poetic story, my life-story and the story of my religion and society. -Ron Price with appreciation to several authors who have tried to describe poetry’s purpose and on which I draw in this simulated interview.
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  INTERVIEW NUMBER ELEVEN In the ongoing exercise of defining what I am doing and of finding anddeveloping my poetic, my literary, voice; of describing the ‘thou’ of my poetry so that it can reach the ears of others and of locating my work inthe midst of flux and fixity; of outlining my themes with a combination of obsession and detachment and of dealing with a biography which is myautobiography; of translating an activity that is both amusement andfrivolity as well as seriousness and occupation, this interview continuesthe process: (i) of cognition and of describing poetry’s process and (ii) of working out poetry’s raison d’etr  e in my life and this poet's quest for self-redefinition in today's world. The impetus of inspired creativityineluctably takes over and shapes me as individual and as artist. Theimmense force of creativity projects the indivisibility of my poetic story,my life-story and the story of my religion and society. -Ron Price withapprecation to several authors who have tried to describe poetry’s purposeand on which I draw in this simulated interview. Interviewer: (I) Tim Winton, a popular Australian writer, says that our society tends toarm us against the transcendent by developing in its citizenry a rationalistview of life, of reality. Do you agree? Price: (P) I personally see the rationalist-transcendentalist dichotomy as false. Thegreatest gift of God to man is his mind. Intellect and wisdom are the twomost luminous lights in the world of existence. To approach thetranscendent without the rational is to miss the whole reality. As I havesaid on previous occasions the entire nature of physical reality, indeed allthe atoms of existence, are here for our training. Existence is a school for our soul. We learn about the transendent rhough the physical. Therelationship is metaphorical. We learn about the abstract through theconcrete. The process also involves pain, discomfort. The mind must be brought into play. It is not about magic, miracle and mystery, except inthe most awesome sense of wonder. The role of the prophetic figure, theManifestation as Baha’is call Him, is to provide a metaphorical vehicle, atool to understand the world of the transcendent.I think the point Tim is getting at is that reason has kept people fromreligion. I think it has kept people from believing in a type of religion thathas no place in society any more among educated people. If you have togive up your reason to accept religion it is better to give up religion. The  two must be made compatible in today’s world, perennial truths but notarchaic ones. I: You mentioned in a recent poem that in the winter of 1992 you wrotethirty-five poems and that this was the precursor to the great flowering of your poetry, some 6500 in the last 17 years. P: Yes, I’m not sure why the flowering came when it did; I think I havediscussed this question in previous interviews at least to some extent, anextent that can always be elaborated upon in a multifactored hypothesisand analysis. Like the last great symbolist poet, Paul Valery(1871-1945),who filled his notebooks with observations on the creative process, Icould expatiate on the ways and means of my methods of inquiry. Therehas certainly been a massive flow of material, somewhere between threeand five million words as a guesstimation: an artistic birthing of life-experience as one poet called the process. But, to quote Valery, it would be a mistake, folly, to see this vorrent of verbiage as a spring of truth or myself as some oracle. 1 Poetry,” Valery wrote, “is simply literature reduced to the essence of itsactive principle. It is purged of idols of every kind, of realistic illusions,of any conceivable equivocation between the language of truth and thelanguage of creation. 2 A poem is never finish, Valery emphasized, onlyabandoned. While my poetry, any one of my poems, is never finishedinspite of appearances and or my claims on occasion to the contrary, I’msure my work is neither purged of idols, illusions or equivocations. I: People write best about what they know best, don’t you think? What doyou think you know best? What are your core themes in your poetry? P: I have often said my poetry is autobiographical, so I am writing aboutmyself. I am writing about my experience, my experience with: myreligion, my family, my world as a teacher, the places I’ve lived, mythoughts which I live with day after day all my life and especially sinceabout 1962 when I started reading a great deal and pioneering from placeto place. That will do as a summary of what has become a great mass of  poetry which is difficult to summarize.I would like to say something about my Baha’i experience. It is nowapproaching sixty years since my mother first contacted the local Baha’icommunity in Burlington Ontario. I was nine years old then. It isimpossible to summarize in a few pithy sentences these six decades of  1 Paul Valery, Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci , 1895. 2   Paul Valery, Littérature , 1930 .  activity and thought. But I try in my poetry to tell the story of thisexperience. I try to be real, to use everyday language, to be true to life,authentic, to run the gamut between the luminous ideals and vision andthe often tragic and melancholy day-to-day stuff which would test the patience of a saint and the wisdom of Solomon as I often say. There is astory in my poetry that I don’t think is often, if ever, told. I want it to beaccessible, readable, enjoyable, entertaining, thought provoking,stimulating. I trust one day it will. I live in hope.I: Tell us something about your voice as a poet, about its beginnings anddevelopment.P: I see myself, as I’ve said before, writing in the tradition begun byRoger White. But alot of his poetry is not accessible to ‘average readers’.I’ve met many who can’t read him. They just don’t understand what he issaying. I don’t have a problem myself with White in this way. He startedme on my poetic road. But by the spring of 1992 I was beginning to findmy literary voice or should I say my poetic voice. I had published some150 essays in the 1980s and, in the 1970s, I had begun to have somesuccess, some confidence in my writing and in my academic career, acareer with a strong literary component.My voice became by the mid-1990s much more the voice of everyman, of simplicity, of the vernacular, the authentic down to earth telling it like itis, like it was and like it might be. This voice was spiced with some heavyintellectual baggage for the heavy-weights who might one day read my poetry. But the heavy stuff was spice around a core of quite simpleverbiage that the average fellow could understand if he was at leastinterested in reading and interested in the subject matter of my prose and poetry. I: Many writers talk about being connected to the landscape. What roledoes place have in your poetry? P: I am not conscious of the importance of landscape in my poetry, but Iam conscious of the importance of place, of location, of home and hearth.I think I have a rich interplay between place and ideas in my poetry.Experience takes place inside, in an inner world for which place andideas, people and things are like a mise en scene. The landscape that isreal, rich, all important to me is an inner one.   That’s a quick, off the cuff,response.I: Tell us a little more about how you see the process of writing poetryand your relationship with readers.  P: As a poet I transpose observation into language through a heightenedawareness that challenges the reader also to observe. The poet cannotexist isolated from the experience of the reader. Experience, meaning,the form of the poem itself and the reader are never separated from the poet; the poet depends on each of these components of movement. Theauthor lays claim to a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, only some of them srcinal, blend and dash. There exists in mywords a tissue of ideas drawn from the innumerable centres of culture. 3  There is what might be called a poetic objective which is the liberation of the mind and the spirit from the prison of life. It is a prison which barsaperson from accessing his or her source of inspiration. The poet’simagination must be broadened by an ability to dream while theconscious mind remains open for the heart to follow suit. When theworld of imagination, inspired by visionary observation, begins to seepinto the writer, he/she must watch, wait, and listen for the cue: the poetwears extra eyes around his neck,his mind pokes out his ears the way an Irish Setter's nosepokes out a station-wagon window. 4 I can’t help but feel the concerns and sentiments of the Canadian poet, journalist, novelist, short story writer and lawyer, A.M. Klein(1909-1972). Klein saw himself—and poets in general--as throwback, relict andfreak who have been cheated by modernity out of their historic role and position as poets. Klein saw the position and deposition of the poet asone of self-fragmentation. Other social figures, he argued, had replacedthe poet as guides and teachers of people in the many humancommunities: the successful businessman, the celebrity, the politician, therich popular artist and the scientist with his inventions ans well as hisdeadly inventions. The world continued to both inspire and preoccupyKlein. The purpose of the poet’s interest has been transformed. Now the poet explores a world, as Klein sees it, which has banished poetry. 5 3   Roland Barthes, The Death of the Author, Literature of the ModernWorld , editor, Dennis Walder, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1990, p. 231. 4 Alanna F. Bondar, “DESIRE: THE METAPOETICS OF DONMCKAY'S BIRDING, or desire,” in Studies in Canadian Literature ,Volume 19, No. 2, 1994. 5 Rachel Feldhay Brenner, “A.M. KLEIN'S THE ROCKING CHAIR:TOWARD THE REDEFINITION OF THE POET'S FUNCTION,” in Studies in Canadian Literature , Volume 15, No. 1, 1990.
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