INTERVIEW NUMBER ELEVEN In the ongoing exercise of defining what I am doing and 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 selfredefinition 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 apprecation to several authors who have tried to describe poetry’s purpose and on which I draw in this simulated interview. Interviewer: (I) Tim Winton, a popular Australian writer, says that our society tends to arm us against the transcendent by developing in its citizenry a rationalist view of life, of reality. Do you agree? Price: (P) I personally see the rationalist-transcendentalist dichotomy as false. The greatest gift of God to man is his mind. Intellect and wisdom are the two most luminous lights in the world of existence. To approach the transcendent without the rational is to miss the whole reality. As I have said on previous occasions the entire nature of physical reality, indeed all the atoms of existence, are here for our training. Existence is a school for our soul. We learn about the transendent rhough the physical. The relationship is metaphorical. We learn about the abstract through the concrete. The process also involves pain, discomfort. The mind must be brought into play. It is not about magic, miracle and mystery, except in the most awesome sense of wonder. The role of the prophetic figure, the Manifestation as Baha’is call Him, is to provide a metaphorical vehicle, a tool to understand the world of the transcendent. I think the point Tim is getting at is that reason has kept people from religion. I think it has kept people from believing in a type of religion that has no place in society any more among educated people. If you have to give 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 not archaic ones. I: You mentioned in a recent poem that in the winter of 1992 you wrote thirty-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 have discussed this question in previous interviews at least to some extent, an extent that can always be elaborated upon in a multifactored hypothesis and analysis. Like the last great symbolist poet, Paul Valery(1871-1945), who filled his notebooks with observations on the creative process, I could expatiate on the ways and means of my methods of inquiry. There has certainly been a massive flow of material, somewhere between three and five million words as a guesstimation: an artistic birthing of lifeexperience 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 its active principle. It is purged of idols of every kind, of realistic illusions, of any conceivable equivocation between the language of "truth" and the language of "creation."2 A poem is never finish, Valery emphasized, only abandoned. While my poetry, any one of my poems, is never finished inspite of appearances and or my claims on occasion to the contrary, I’m sure my work is neither purged of idols, illusions or equivocations. I: People write best about what they know best, don’t you think? What do you 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 about myself. I am writing about my experience, my experience with: my religion, my family, my world as a teacher, the places I’ve lived, my thoughts which I live with day after day all my life and especially since about 1962 when I started reading a great deal and pioneering from place to 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 now approaching sixty years since my mother first contacted the local Baha’i community in Burlington Ontario. I was nine years old then. It is impossible to summarize in a few pithy sentences these six decades of


Paul Valery, Introduction to the Method of Leonardo da Vinci, 1895. Paul Valery, Littérature, 1930 .

activity and thought. But I try in my poetry to tell the story of this experience. 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 and the 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 a story in my poetry that I don’t think is often, if ever, told. I want it to be accessible, 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 and development. P: I see myself, as I’ve said before, writing in the tradition begun by Roger 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 is saying. I don’t have a problem myself with White in this way. He started me on my poetic road. But by the spring of 1992 I was beginning to find my literary voice or should I say my poetic voice. I had published some 150 essays in the 1980s and, in the 1970s, I had begun to have some success, some confidence in my writing and in my academic career, a career 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 it is, like it was and like it might be. This voice was spiced with some heavy intellectual baggage for the heavy-weights who might one day read my poetry. But the heavy stuff was spice around a core of quite simple verbiage that the average fellow could understand if he was at least interested in reading and interested in the subject matter of my prose and poetry. I: Many writers talk about being connected to the landscape. What role does place have in your poetry? P: I am not conscious of the importance of landscape in my poetry, but I am 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 and ideas, people and things are like a mise en scene. The landscape that is real, 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 poetry and your relationship with readers.

P: As a poet I transpose observation into language through a heightened awareness that challenges the reader also to observe. The poet cannot exist 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. The author lays claim to a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, only some of them original, blend and dash. There exists in my words 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 bars aperson from accessing his or her source of inspiration. The poet’s imagination must be broadened by an ability to dream while the conscious mind remains open for the heart to follow suit. When the world of imagination, inspired by visionary observation, begins to seep into the writer, he/she must watch, wait, and listen for the cue: the poet wears extra eyes around his neck, his mind pokes out his ears the way an Irish Setter's nose pokes 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(19091972). Klein saw himself—and poets in general--as throwback, relict and freak who have been cheated by modernity out of their historic role and position as poets. Klein saw the position and deposition of the poet as one of self-fragmentation. Other social figures, he argued, had replaced the poet as guides and teachers of people in the many human communities: the successful businessman, the celebrity, the politician, the rich popular artist and the scientist with his inventions ans well as his deadly inventions. The world continued to both inspire and preoccupy Klein. 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 Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author," Literature of the Modern World, editor, Dennis Walder, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1990, p. 231. 4 Alanna F. Bondar, “DESIRE: THE METAPOETICS OF DON MCKAY'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.

Although I understand Klein’s concerns, expressed in the wake of the great depression and the holocaust, from the 1930s to the 1950s, I don’t share his deep pessimism. The role and function, indeed, the very nature and forms of expression of poetry have been transformed in my lifetime. There are more poetry writing and reading poetry now than ever before in history. While I can’t help but agreeing with much that Klein writes about the poet, my views are more nuanced and more complex. I approach the questions and issues Klein dealt with vis-à-vis the poet in a very different way to him. But I mention him here because he is a useful reference point and his sensibility is a strongly contrasting one to my own. I: Sir Laurens van der Post, the modern mystic and philosopher, said we need to seek an inner voice. is this another way of defining what you are trying to do? P: Unquestionably! One of the reasons I write is that sometimes I find the voice, spot on. It is exhilarating. It’s like connecting with your soul. Much of it is connected, I like to think, with a rich vein of Baha’i experience which other Baha’is can tap into and experience that sense of delight, surprise, pleasure, the ‘aha experience’, that feeling of ‘this fellow has said it the way I felt it.’ The last several decades have not been easy ones building the Baha’i Order, its administrative system around the planet. A lot of people got worn out, exhausted, in a battle which in some ways is uniquely Baha’i experience. I have tried to tell this story as best I can. It’s my story but it belongs to everyone who has worked in and for this World Order of Baha’u’llah. I: Writers of fiction it is said are myth makers. Historians construct history; while writers of poetry, says Aristotle, are more philosophical and studiously serious than historians because they deal with the universal. Do you think there is any thruth in this general view? P: I’m not so sure about these distinctions. I think one can make many refined definitions of genre which can be useful. I think the central question is “what is the writer trying to do?” Wilde, Joyce and Shaw were trying, among other things, to define what it meant to be Irish at the turn of the century; Twain wrote about what it was like to live on the Mississippi River in the American south at a certain time in the nineteenth century. I write about what it was like to be a Baha’i in the last half of the twentieth century in Canada and Australia and, more especially, an international pioneer.

I think the poet Jimmy Santiago Baco defines a certain central honesty that I like to think is at the heart of my own poetry. He says he follows what his poem is describing, what it is doing at the moment of its setting. He follows it, as he puts it, ‘in his blood.’ His poetry, he says, lives not only on the page but, when he reads it, he becomes the poem as it makes and remakes his body and soul. I like this perspective, for it is mine, too. I: Tell us something about what you do and how much writing occupies your life. P: I'm driven and have been for years, although my medications soften the edges of this drive, this activity, this focus on writing. I don't do much else these days and haven’t since I retired from FT, PT and casual work in the years 1999 to 2005. I don't have much of a social life and don’t want one. I've been very circumscribed by other circumstances in my life which keep me writing. I am a naturally social person but after half a century(1949-1999) of a social focus, I wanted a more solitary style of life in which I could give myself to writing, to reading, to independent scholarship. I think I would have continued my life of endless social pursuits if I had not tired of it by the late 1990s. I: We’ll let you get back to it then, Ron. P: thanks very much. Ron Price 11 July 2009