THE BEGINNINGS OF THE MODERN AGE
As the Revelation which flowed out from the souls of these twin manifestations pierced the atmosphere of the nineteenth century a new poetry began to find its way into the souls of other men. This Revelation gradually unfolded over a period of half a century. Bahá'u'lláh's creative energies witnessed an unbelievable expansion over some forty years. Poetry during these years went through a radical redefinition. It slowly became a large domain, containing multitudes, contradictions, a spaciousness, huge possibilities, hidden languages, unnamed strangeness and a newness that touched old words with difference and fresh diversity.
-Ron Price with thanks to Ed Folsom, "Introduction: Recruiting the American Past", A Profile of Twentieth Century American Poetry, editors, Jack Myers and David Wojahn, Southern Illinois UP, Carbondale, 1991, pp. 1-22.
And not just in the world of poetry.
Perhaps the process started in the
mind and heart of Shaykh Ahmad
in those years 1753-1793, those years
of gestation before his journey, his years
of anguish and expectation, his dream of
Imam Hasan, his perfumed and honeyed
tongue, an inward light, some revolutionizing
Word about to begin its transmission trans-
forming all of creation to its very depths and
unveiling signs of universal discord. Perhaps in
his irrepressible yearnings he could see that Hell
itself was about to blaze and Paradise made visible
to people's eyes. A new romance was in the air.1
8 January 1997
1 Bahá'u'lláh refers to these images of Hell and Paradise in Prayers and Meditations, USA, 1969(1938), p. 296. The worlds of music and poetry, politics and the writing of history, industry, science, etc. saw a quickening, an increase in pace and change. At the same time, I am more than a little aware of the whole metaphor of change beginning with the Greeks as outlined by Robert Nisbet in his History and Social Change, 1969; and his critique of developmentalism in The Making of Modern Society, Wheatsheaf Books Ltd., Sussex, 1986. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's description of the role of religion in the origins of western civilization in His The Secret of Divine Civilization cannot be ignored here.
RING LARDNER AND THE EVOLUTION OF A NEW ORDER
Ring Lardner* was a popular humorist, the funny-man of the 1920s, an authentic commentator on American society in its frantic flowering. He was the chronicler of a moribund social order, of the diversions of a period bent grimly on pleasure. While he was chronicling the material successes of the wealthiest nation on earth, the Bahá'í Cause evolved into a distinctive and exclusive religion under the guidance of Shoghi Effendi. -Ron Price with thanks to Maxwell Geismar, Writers in Crisis: The American Novel 1925-1940, E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1971, pp.3-36; and Peter Smith, "Reality Magazine: Editorship and Ownership of an American Bahá'í Periodical", From Iran East and West: Vol.2, Kalimat Press, 1984, pp. 135-155.
You told of the complacency, Ring*,
that kept a generation, an age,
from getting even close to the new light
that had cast its first rays of Order
over a western sky.
You told of a vanity, of an incapacity
to learn, even survive, as people jumped
into chasms that over-confidence had hidden,
into a narcissism that closed down
the bigger picture, hid the light of that Order.
You told us of the Jazz Age, its myths
and beliefs, your anger and disillusionment,
your hatred of aggressive American capitalism,
its final covered wagon, camping ground
and an outrageous individualism
always covering the light.
Such an emptiness in your portraits;
no deeper answers found here,
no historical perspective, spiritual stability.
The whole scene was all too fast, too new,
fleeing the Calvanist fires, on a merry-go-round.
A cultic milieux of religious esotericism
and inclusivism had given us a sense of being part
of a forceful current of social change
not some small religious collectivity, but slowly
organizational exclusivity changed that ethos.
You could say we became a religion back then,
Ring, not just a spiritual attitude;
we acquired a communal cohesion
and distinctiveness, throwing off
an extreme epistomological individualism
and any cult of personality
as an undesirable heterodoxy.
4 March 1996
STARS OF THE MOST GREAT GUIDANCE
All my beautiful safe world blew up....
-F. Scott Fitzgerlad,Tender is the Night.
It is truely breathtaking to contemplate the devising(26 March to 22 April 1916) of the Divine Strategy for the redemption of the planet in the midst of the din and destruction of the old order.
-Amin Banani, Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1977, p.x.
After fifty-two slaughterous months
that changed the world another kind
of place emerged and with it a new poetry
of war. All the poetry since then has been war
poetry.* It was about this time that a new Order
was visibly emerging, its white buildings and its
poetry of war for the spiritual conquest of the planet.
Explosive tensions and energies, at hysterical intensities,
formerly bottled up, were released and canalized into His
Plan sending people all around the world which many saw
as a wasteland and which others saw as a garden about to
bloom at new thresholds, new anatomies, as millions sought
to escape from self and others a framework for their self in a
world where God was clearly dead but being born anew with
stars of the most great guidance.**
3 June 1996
*Francis Hope in A Profile of Twentieth Century American Poetry, Jack Myers and David Wojahn, editors, 1991, p.54.
** 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, 1977, p.5.
HISTORY IN THE SHADOWS
As the world's great Depression was beginning to let up and as that apocalyptic second war was becoming a tangible reality in the late 1930s, in those few years between two kinds of hell, with humanity entering the outer fringes of the most perilous stage of its history, a stage we have not yet left, the Bahá'í community turned its energies toward worldwide expansion, its first organized international missionary campaign.
-Ron Price with appreciation to Loni Bransom-Lerche, "Development of Bahá'í Administration", Studies in Babi and Bahá'í History, Vol.1, editor Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, 1982, p. 295; and Shoghi Effendi, "Message to 1936 Convention", Messages to America 1932-1946, Wilmette, 1947, p.6.
We had the pattern for our Order, our instrument ,
for Administration, in place, we in North America;
we had the fear of God stirring in our soul due to
that devastating crash and wondering when the next
great shake-up was coming---when this vast Plan was
sprung on us from his teeming brain from which sprang
just about our whole conception of what it was all about,
for so little was the little that we knew in that first century.
This wondrous pearl, born from Twin resplendent seas,
having swum in His ocean1 of vision, of mystic intercourse,
our brother who comforted us, though we did not comfort you,
through your books, letters and translations we gained deeper
understandings of the spiritual base of our embryonic order, while
history's hunkered spectre brooded watchfully in shadows as
millions died chrysalis-birth to an order the world still scarcely knows.2
5 June 1996
1'Abdu'l-Bahá was like an ocean in the sense that he could receive and give without any sign of disturbance, Priceless Pearl, 1969, p.21.
2 In the dozen years 1933 to 1945 millions perished in Stalin's purges and in the battles of WWII: the greatest bloodletting in all of history.
PROSECUTED, AT LAST
...Prosecute uninterruptedly teaching campaign...in accordance with Divine Plan.
-Shoghi Effendi, "Message to 1937 Convention", Messages to America: 1932-1946, Wilmette, 1947, p. 9.
I love this process by which each passing day is captured, not only its impressions, but also, at least by suggestion, its intellectual direction and content as well, less for the purpose of remembering...than for taking stock, reviewing, maintaining awareness, achieving perspective.
-Thomas Mann, 11 February 1934, in Thomas Mann: Diaries-1918-1939, Andre Deutsche, editor, London, 1983, p.vi.
While Hitler was getting very serious
and Stalin was mowing them down;
and Scott Fitfgerald was moving to
Holleywood. Dorothy Parker was
working hard for the Communist
Party and the Screen Writers Guild.
Ernest Hemingway was making a
film about the Spanish Civil War;
the New Deal was speeding through
its second phase; physics was
deciding the age of the earth and
producing its immortal work--the
international teaching plan was
prosecuted, at last, throughout the world.
4 October 1995
PIONEERS COMING OUT
1 September 1962
This was the first day of my pioneering life, although I could take it back to about August 20th when I left Burlington to go to a Bahá'í camp at Kashabog in northern Ontario. I was eighteen and I was about to start my matriculation year at high school. The world was warming up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 1 September 1992.
When I started pioneering,
wandering as I was
between two worlds:
one dead, the other
having just been born,
seeking my own identity,
trying to give birth to myself,
so tentative, so new, so fragile,
so alone and by myself
in a vast and spacious land:
marginal, inferior, inadequate, mute,
dissolving, a nobody. That's how
it was back then at the end
of the Ten Year Crusade
when I was 18.
I felt like some quintessence of nothingness,
some empty shell, cavity, social vacuity,
humanly crippled, passive,
like a water colour
which does not exist,
at the end of a conversation,
with a tongue half in shadow
and half like a frozen bone.
I passed through groups
like a breeze at room temperature,
could be a missing person
noone missed, modest,
in the picture somewhere,
difficult to say where precisely,
but you can find me if you look
long enough. I'm that fellow
you can hardly see, right there--see?
PS Thirty years after pioneering, at the age of 48, my world had been transformed so many times. I was a different man, different person.
So many had come out in these years:
women, blacks, ethnics, lesbians, gays
and another generation of pioneers.
I'd been crushed and blown
to the ends of the earth,
but a new man had been born,
a new gold of some worth,
a chalice of pure light
had made me drunk
from far up in the north
way down to places that stunk.
Part of a new race of men
slowly coming to birth;
it's gone on to great progress
in these first decades
at the end of this tenth stage of history.
We're mapping the cosmos
and the human brain
as knowledge expands
beyond what anyone can attain:
the fruit of these years
with the rain coming down,
in a dark heart of transition
with a whole world of new sound.
The journey's been swift;
the journey's been long,
on a tortuous road
with my paths yet to lift me
up and away to a world quite beyond,
to that sweet undiscovered country,
far away from this abyss.
1 September 1992/
16 June 1996
QUITE A BIG YEAR: 1963
The pulsar's most vital function seems to be to serve as an empyreal enzyme inside the quasar, which in turn must ultimately...nourish the cell-plasm of the greatest celestial outburst ever dreamed: that of the whole exploding universe. Since the 1960s astronomy has developed so fast that thousands of quasars are known and ten million are estimated...all of life seems to have passed at some stage through the cauldron of the stars.
-Guy Murchie, The Seven Mysteries of Life, Houghton Mifflin, 1978, Boston, pp.396-402
We came from the stars by some
vast and circuitous route of exploded
stellar material, super-nova, some
extraordinary sequence of events for
atom-rich molecules. So the astro-
physicists tell us and the molecular
astronomers as they study star dust,
ice crystals and tiny diamonds by the
quadrillions in the 200 billion star
families in this Milky Way. As if in
some giant maternity ward stars are
born, celestial swaddling stars, have growing
pains and childhood diseases and in some
exploding brilliance they shoot out whole
worlds at 100,000 miles a second in crucibles
of brewing life, mystic sanctums of the universe
and exploding galaxies, a thousand supernovas
blowing up in one great chain-reaction which
were called quasars in 1963: the most astounding
astronomical development since Galileo saw the
moons of Jupiter.
16 March 1996
1963 WAS A COMPLEX YEAR
The Bahá'í community in 1963, when the apex of its administration was elected, had about half a million adherents. The deep conservatism of society just about everywhere was beginning to undergo a tremendous shift. The question and the issues in relation to this shift are immensely complex. The last several decades are, among other things, the story of this shift. This poem is written from a perspective looking back thirty-four years to London in 1963.
-Ron Price with thanks to Spencer Pearce and Don Piper, editors, Literature of Europe and America in the 1960s, Cambridge UP, NY, 1989.
The Beatles, the government and
the flower children got it wrong
back then in '631: it was a thousand
times more complex than they ever
imagined and right outside everyone's
perspectiveexcept for a fewas the
tenth stage of history opened as if in
some second generation Garden of Eden.
This grand design2, a million miles from
the Profumo affair, obscenity issues3 and
confessional poetry, 4 was so much more
than Adam and Eve could ever be, a new
beginning with new forces to deploy as
history pursued its predestined course.
26 July 1997
1 The Beatles released their first LP in 1963: Please Please Me.
2 The Universal House of Justice refers to Shoghi Effendi's vision as 'the grand design' in its first letter 30 April 1963, in Wellspring of Guidance, Universal House of Justice, USA, 1969, p.1.
3 In the summer of 1963 a sex scandal dominated English news, the Profumo affair. In 1960 Lady Chatterley's Lover was established as 'not obscene'; in 1962 the Vassall case, involving obscenity and homosexuality, titillated English sensibilities.
4 The New Poetry was published in 1962 by Al Alvarez. It contained a strong confessional element.
THE WINDS SURE DO BLOW COLD AWAY OUT THERE*
...we must applaud the good sense of the Christian princes, who viewed with a smile of contempt the last struggles of superstition and despair....so rapid, yet so gentle, was the fall of Paganism that only twenty-eight years after the death of Theodosius the faint and minute vestiges were no longer visible to the eye of the legislator.
-Edward Gibbon, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chatto and Windus, 1960, p.421.
The wind blew fiercely through those days
while some obscure Light began to shine
in the smallest corners of a vast and sprawling
world: warm and quiet, hardly seen, opening
up some kingdom of heaven to minds afflicted
by calamity's firey scourge while worldly wise
continued in doubt with their vain superiority.
Sages, a long list, rejected this new perfection,
or overlooked in silence or contempt, what
was then diffusing itself to the remotest and
fairest regions of those dominions through the
efforts of obstinate and perverse enthusiasts
who persisted in their submission to a simple
Truth and revelation which excited the wonder,
the curiosity and devotion of that chosen few.
And even now, in this latter day, when winds
blow cold over a larger land and calamity's
unprecedented violence runs its scourging
fires through new seasons of pacem et
circenses1, a new force insinuates itself
in all the corners of this global politic and
establishes its holy seat with supernal splendour.
27 December 1996
* line from a popular folk song in the 1960s, "Four Strong Winds".
1 bread and circuses
5 AM ON A RAINY NIGHT
Those who feel compelled at some time in their life to embark on autobiographical writing do so because they have no choice: they must do it.
-S. R. Suleiman, Risking Who One Is: Encounters with Contemporary Art and Literature, Harvard UP, London, 1994, p.212.
This poem was written on getting up on a rainy morning at 5 am in the last weeks of autumn in Perth Western Australia.
The night is dark; the wind blows
a driving rain onto the roof and eves.
I hear the trees, like generations of
men tossed, lonely and alone, again
and again until, at last, silence falls
and the leaves and branches of lives
are at peace again, still, tranquil,
at ease, in a great quietness that
descends on their bones and marrow.
This night world is often bathed in moonlight;
even the stars seem to carry an easy glow.
But tonight all is blackness, only the faintest
street-lighted zone; only a cold, wet, darkness,
one that I have often known. And so the
world waits out this darkness; soon the rains
will cease their pelting down. Shortly the trees
won't blow in blackness. The sun will shine
on a blue sky, tinted white, one we know as home.
8 May 1996
A BEAUTY THAT ELUDES ME
I draw in on myself in acute joy, again to ransack the self for the dispensable. Today-ah, today, the clamorous will, hardest to relinquish.
-Roger White, "Letting Go", Occasions of Grace, George Ronald, 1992, p.60.
Another blazing beauty dazzling
in the sun by the ocean,
golden hair falling
on athletic shoulders,
before my eyes.
Tell me this is not
a gift from God,
a gift of such intense loveliness
yet cannot be touched,
does not touch
my concupiscible appetite
on its long journey to
the acme of mature contemplation,
reminding me that
walking humbly with my God
in this universe
presents me with endless signs,
doors, symbols, tokens and means
to access His flawless beauty,
irradiated by blue-perfection
and a brightness that fills existence
with gleaming, radiant, burning, light.
Tell me, this aging man,
flawed from head to toe,
stomach distended, false teeth,
balding, far, far, from such radiance
and beauty, that this creature
does not touch my soul.
She fills my upturned branches rapturously
with light and the roots of my tree
gorge silently in her brown
and solid soil, but alas
it does not fatten nor appease the hunger.
For this creature of perfection
has a beauty close to soul,
could raise me to the music
of my real existence-presence-
dearest ingot, gold. But, somehow,
that beauty eludes me,
as love rages to subdue me,
hazards all around me.
I hear her say with head turned,
hair golden with trapped sunlight:
ignore your dreams, forget the rainbow.
28 December 1997
This poem was written while ballots were being cast at Unit Convention Area Number 56 held in the Woodlupine Family Centre in Forrestfield, a suburb of Perth in Western Australia.
-Ron Price, 2:30 pm, Saturday, February 15th, 1997.
In the shade of a garden
far off near the sky a new
tree is blooming. I can see
it growing now, glistening
in the sun, the leaves dancing
in the brightness. It has a small
place in the corner garden; the
rains have come and there are
more, so much more, to come:
life-enhancing rains, clouds and
thunder, soon to come in this long
spring, soon to come the flowers and
fruits of our consecrated joy, soon to
come that sweet new life, tasted full.
They tell me it rained a billion years long ago,
filling our oceans and making our rivers run.
15 February 1997
A BITTER SWEETNESS
But suppose that one of those men of aspiring spirituality were to be confronted with the reality of the aspiration of their lower self by living out some of that aspiration, that desire, that lust, in some everyday-life setting, in some theatre of passion, would they feel condemned for eternity? Would they, then, hang on to those instruments of redemption, as we all must if we but knew it, instruments forged just recently in history by the tribulations of One of those luminous Gems of Holiness?
-Ron Price with appreciation to the Universal House of Justice, "A Tribute to Bahá'u'lláh", 28 May 1992; and Roger White, "The Death of the Lady Killer", Occasions of Grace: More Poems and Portrayals, George Ronald, Oxford, 1992, p. 73.
It was on this night, a Tuesday if I recall,
that the sinewy blond with the longest of
smooth legs accepted his verbal overture
and the light from his never-fail Dunhill.
She was all acquiescence as he gazed into
her blue lids against the curling smoke and
her long golden hair flecked with diamonds
in the soft red-light of the plush piano-bar just
off downtown. In the heat of conversation they
left and took a taxi as the rain cast fleeting green
tints which struggled on her smooth skirt and in
the curls of her hair falling like trapped starlight.
This would be a night, he mused, as he took a
furtive look onto her many pastures of pleasure.
Her smooth chest deepened into that dark river
where his hand would soon drink of long awaited
pleasures. Soon, she stood by the mirror of his room,
in a black slip, smoothing the silk fabric over her breasts,
more perfect than anything he knew amidst his world of
paper and books. Soon, his hands ran where hands must
when such beauty offers itself on a dry desert and he took
his full as she gave what was her custom, what she knew best.
For she was alone in a universe of absurdity that was beyond
her understanding. And he was starving on that desert: partly
of his own making, partly destiny, partly an obscure reality that
would remain an unknown factor forever, clouded by the moment,
clouded by a taste of things done and things undone, a fragrance
soured with a bitter wine, bitter only because it was his life.
28 March 1997
A BLINK'S SPAN
I gained it so-
By Climbing slow-
By Catching at the Twigs that grow
Between the Bliss-and me-
-Emily Dickinson, Number 359.
These were years for all those Hands
who served the King and we his thralls,
the many dancers who came and went,
and some in special meriment, incandescent
was their glow. With a blink's span some
still come and go into our lives, and just as
sharp as knives. They trotted far across the
globe; over all those years they were like Job.
Their long-suffering tells of sacrifice, of the
little time left and of a special ransom as they
tried to awaken a sleeping world to this new
heaven. Now mostly they sleep where simple
stones are arrayed, a hovering presence in a
cradling shade where in the future much will be
made. A constant motion, even to the end, unable
to ice their wings, or in stillness unable to fit any
distraction into their fleeting days they succumbed
in quiet valour, undramatically, in some suburban bed,
blunted by nonimmortal domesticity, not all, of course.
20 January 1997
A BURNING-CRYSTAL STREAM
The maturing process is the gradual realization of one's vocation, the acceptance of God's design, freeing oneself from idle fancies and vain imaginings, from one's lower self, finding one's lifelong, defined, firm and focused purpose, actualizing one's potential, as expressed in the multitude of definitions in the sacred Writings. In the process one must impose order and stability on one's wayward impulses, free oneself from life's seductive traps, from the anarchy below the surface of one's own nature, a prison of the wrong kind, not the Most Great Prison which is the only one worth entering.
-Ron Price with thanks to The Picturesque Prison: Evelyn Waugh and His Writing, Jeffrey Heath, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1982.
I have found some liberating home,
a prison of my own making, intensely
serious for so long, painstaking care,
darkened periodically by illness and
melancholy and despair's bleached skull,
on the run for so long, criss-crossing two
continents, as if fixed and predetermined,
and some fortunate star shone as I came
to dwell in a quiet garden where I could
serve that Ancient Beauty, as if God's
gentleness and favour hemmed me round
so I could spend my days in gladness, writing
poems, with fire's cool flames, using me
up like a candle in a burning-crystal stream.1
28 September 1997
1 Nabil-i-Zarandi, Bahá'u'lláh's poet-laureate, possessed a poetic gift like a crystal stream.
A CELESTIAL COMPANY
Sunday, all day nothing.
-Samuel Beckett in ABC Radio National, 23 November 1997, 7:00-8:00 am.
He breaketh the cage of the body and the passions, and consorteth with the people of the immortal realm.
-Bahá'u'lláh, Seven Valleys, p.12.
Writing at the end of an age,
the beginning of an age, a stage.
So much was, as you1 said,
and we must go on; we will
go on, even if we do not move;
even if we sit and gaze; for we
must see, as Camus said, Sisyphus
as happy; we must go on, indeed,
we do go on in one way or another,
for there are many ways, even if
the plumber comes at 9 and Sunday
looks and feels like nothing. For
the Kingdom of God on earth has
become, in an institutionalization of
charisma, which is quite a distinct form
of the incarnate God Who will remain
forever and ever beyond the learning
of the learned and the comprehension
of the wisest of the wise. And so we wait,
as you said so many times and as we must,
and fill our souls with a celestial company,2
a people of some immortal realm.
23 November 1997
1 Both Beckett and Bahá'u'lláh wrote a great deal about the inability of words to define reality.
2 Memorials of the Faithful, p.122; Seven Valleys, p.12.
A CERTAIN OTHERNESS
In the end poetry rests with the poet, at the end of some long line of cultural influences, culture in the widest sense as defined anthropologically. In the end poetry is what we are, and what we are has a great deal to do with cultureand genetics of course. Poetry is a celebration of life, of the intellect and the feeling, of the whole man; it is an expression of the whole man and of a time in h istory. It can not be imparted in a three credit course; it is the slow accumulation of endless acts, thoughts in a wonderfully mysterious interaction with a biological-genetic input.
John Metcalf, a Canadian writer, says that little poetry is taught any more in high schools. What was taught before about 1950 rested on an architecture of hierarchy and authority, a hierarchy that was in its last days. He says his own writing attracts few readers; he does not worry about his readers at all. Poetry, he argues, tends to be elusive, difficult , hard to pin down, baffling sometimes.
-Ron Price with thanks to John Metcalf, Kicking Against the Pricks, ECW Press, Downsview Ontario, 1982.
There's a certain otherness I find
when I pick it1 up again, a kind of
"who was this?", a distant cousin,
intimacy, definition, from those days,
occasional embarrassment, surprise.
This going back amidst tons of reading
is a part of my digging in for the long
siege that, hopefully, will finish out my
days, ordering my life as I must amidst
the endless acts and thoughts of thirty
thousand days and a flow, clear and right,
from, within , a vision, nourishing and
ongoing, life in the rivers and streams,
the rivulettes and creeks, not yet dry.
86 Fitzroy Road
30 August 1997
1 my poetry from days gone by.
A FRESH INFLUENCE
In the last year archeologists have discovered a rich heritage of rock art in northern Australia, in the Northern Territory and in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, which is rewriting the history of human settlement in Australia and the world. During this same year the human community has arrived on Mars, discovered an ocean on one of Jupiter's moons and spread out a tapestry of beauty on Carmel's mountainside.
-Ron Price, A Survey of the Last Twelve Months, 1996-1997.
As we go out into the universe
we are mapping the past: back,
back into archeological and
geological epochs, finding
carboniferous and jurassic
anomolies and Aboriginal
rock art by brilliant artists
portraying dynamic musculature
and interpretations of the past
unveiled by ferro-luminescence,
as tremendous forces latent in the
inmost reality of this precious Faith
exert daily a fresh influence1 and my days
like unto a gentle breeze2 in the Antipodes.
20 September 1997
1 Universal House of Justice, Baha, 154 B.E.
A FRIEND YOU NEVER KNOW
There are no pat formulas for mapping out a poem or for living a life, or for finding a trace of the Traceless Friend. There are words of guidance, suggestions, descriptions of the ways of others for both how to live and how to write poetry. Life is like an uncut diamond in the earth. Our job as people who would 'live the life' or 'write poetry' is to learn to facet the diamond, to find its proportions and angles, its cleavages, so that its beauty may be revealed. Diamonds exist under great pressure and cutting diamonds is a skill that must be acquired if the beauty of the diamond is to be revealed. This is equally true of 'living the life' and 'writing poetry'.
When two people meet the interaction is a dance. 'Writing poetry' and 'living the life' are equally a dance. It is best to say a prayer before you dance. -Ron Price with thanks to Jimmy Santiago Baca, Working in the Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio, Red Crane Books, Sante Fe, New Mexico, 1992.
Your allowances to let me become
whom I wish and give me advice
when I need it-is this the mark of a friend?
Aristotle says "there is no friend." I
say "except the true Friend."
He Who possesses my whole soul
and cannot admit of a rival.
He is the hardest thing to find.
You have no need of another,
but you never know the proximity
of this Friend. Friendship is enjoyed
proportionally as it is desired
and should I not behold His beauty
even after a hundred thousand years
I would not falter, for there is
only One Friend ever to find.
5 October 1997
A GENERATIVE MATRIX
Bahá'u'lláh's Writings, indeed the works of all the Central figures of this Faith, and the Universal House of Justice, represent a powerful institution of self-reflection slowly becoming embodied in the central cultural practices and ideological milieux of an emerging global civilization, a civilization still in its infancy but barely visible in a model of community that has just stuck its head above the ground. This vast corpus of print will one day come to saturate humanity's social life with imagery and self-representation as the Homeric epic came to saturate Classical Greece.
The miracle of Greece, the Hellenic spirit, found its origins, its source, in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The miracle of this new Order, now just in its embryonic form, its nucleic spread, finds its origins in the Twin-Manifestations of the nineteenth century, the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh. -Ron Price with thanks to Barry Sandywell, The Beginnings of European Theorizing: Reflexivity in the Archaic Age: Logological Investigations Vol.2, Routledge, NY, 1996, p. 50.
We codified our sense of identity,
idealized vocabularies of conduct
in the generative matrix of a Prophet's
art, a unique enterprise, effectively
inaugurating a global act that would
translate a spiritual kingdom into a
physical form, begin a new type of
communicative institution, at the
beginning and end of civilization,
a brilliant supernovum of a collapsing
galaxy, history's supreme monument
of Revelation writing, of jewel-like
emanations and effusions from an
indefatigable pen, God's artistry.
13 December 1997
In 1852, several months before Bahá'u'lláh had the first intimations of His revelation and station in the Siyah-Chal, Hadji Murad died in a war between the Russians and the Muslims of the Caucasus. Murad became the source and model of Tolstoi's greatest hero and novel.
-Harold Bloom, The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, Harcourt, Brace and co., NY, 1994, p. 338.
You1 found yourself a hero you could
create as you while you were dieing in
your final hours so few. And while this
hero did his thing Another, agonized,
received the Sacred fire, but somehow
you missed His hour of birth in His place
of stygian gloom. Once the Maiden had
descended He became quite worthy of your
rich characterization, your dramatic sympathies,
vividly individualized, His intricately defined
ethos, His fate overly determined, confronting
impossible odds: triumphant in His radiance,
His creativity, His maturation at the Hand of
Destiny. For He did indeed love, this most
precious Being ever to have lived. His desires
were increasingly to leave this world so that He
could energize this place much more than He was
then able, to a degree unapproached on this earth.
27 September 1997
A LIFETIME CHOREOGRAPHY OF DEPARTURES
I don't like good byes; they are always sad; somehow you can never quite say it all, what needs to be said, I mean, but for some reason, can't.
-Overheard on a train, or was it a bus or a plane?
Our departures are choreographed clumsily:
from those slow exits when your organs of
sight and speech are put on shutdown and
you lay about becoming someone else whom
you can't even recognize; to those simple
goodbyes in one of those towns you lived in
after several years of tightly-packed life. A
perfunctory wave, a moist kiss colliding
distractedly, with a touch of embarrassment
and a don't forget to write! And you do and
you will, but after ten or fifteen towns they
all somehow slip into a grey, not-quite-oblivion.
There is much less choreography of departure
now in these middle years. You can carve a good-
bye in the hazy air as quick as a wink, merge with
the pedestrians in another delirious street, flag a cab
and slip into anonymity as fast as James Bond in yet
another incarnation, but you don't and you won't for
this hello is one that will endure forever. You are no
longer bored with safety; your world is no longer dense
with unarticulated motives; you are no longer keen to
populate your world with private mystery, become yet
again an inexplicable stranger climbing a ladder, moving
through ambition's corridors, the fresh ambience of
another town where you can make a name before hitting
the road again, in this wide world and another mise-en-scene.
A NEW TRIBAL POETRY
Pound had believed for his whole life that the world had come to an end. He thought he could actually "restart civilization" by inflating the poet's role, especially T.S. Eliot's, by trying to make the world possible for poetry. In a way he was right: the old world did end and a new one was spread out in its stead. A new global civilization has begun; a new order was taking its first shaping just as Pound was beginning his poetic inflation. While he wrote his Cantos(1917-1967ca) an age ended, the Heroic; and a new age, the Formative, moved through its first half-century.
-Ron Price with thanks to Michael Ryan, "Poetry and the Audience", Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1994, p.166.
And the world did, but so differently
from the way you thought it would.
Civilization has started again and a
new Order just as you began to sing
your song, your Cantos. I trust your
endless song, your tortuous road, was
not all in vain as you gave poetry a new
start, but it has stayed on the edge in
the West never really meeting the person
in the street with much at all to say, with
little importance to our happenings day-to-day
and it has been that way since Gutenberg's1
invention when poetry was heard not read.
But slowly, maybe since Wordsworth's day,
there's been a binding force in great humanity,
beyond the egotistical sublime, beginning in
the wondrous Poets2, far beyond all other men,
giving birth to a thousand, million poets of the
mass who have absorbed the earth as the earth
has absorbed them as they looked it squarely in
the eye with the subject again the tribe, a global
tribe, one tribe on the wings of electric aesthetic
and an inevitable: communitas communitatum.3
19 October 1997
1.Gutenberg's press was invented in the 1440s. The Gutenberg
Bible was issued in 1456.
2 The Bab and Bahá'u'lláh
3 One great community of communities.
A NEW VOICE
Price wanted his poetry to be of use to the Bahá'í community. For this community had been a part of his life for more than thirty years. He believed he was developing a unique rhetoric, a refreshing individual voice, a concern for a special set of issues that were shaping the nature of his poetry and charging him with a renewed sense of his poetic function. The slow introduction of this voice, this poetry, into the Bahá'í community, first in the 1990s, allowed the inevitable connections he had come to make with people, connections that were both empowering and unnerving, to be made gradually and be more easily coped with. After five years of extensive writing he was still hardly known and read even less.
Price could continue to relish in the simple pleasure of writing, of naming things and experiences in the spaces of his many-lived self. Life, he found, had many secrets and silences and poetry provided a channel for his passions to transform them. Truths and discoveries, he also found, he made in the process of writing. They helped him accept his failures in ordinary human interaction, failures which were sometimes burdensome and debilitating and failures of connectedness with the wider world.
-Ron Price with thanks to Claire Keyes, The Aesthetics of Power: The Poetry of Adrienne Rich, University of Georgia Press, London, 1986.
Holiest dust on the holy mountain,
nine-sided silent teachers in the cities
and mountains of the world, Bahji,
Akka,Tehran, Shiraz, Tabarsi, back,
back past Siyyid Kazim to Shaykh
Ahmad-an intense spirituality radiating
out from this gestating, fructifying life
whose implications are far more radical
than the world has come to appreciate
and which is slowly and unobtrusively
changing the face of the earth amidst
black darkness etched in memory with
a brimful chalice of calamity and the
face and eyes in despair's bleached skull.
5 August 1997
A PERSONAL HERMENEUTIC
Poets are tempted by fantasies of totally unified organic societies, freed from the burden of differences inescapable in actual political life. But, if their work is to last, they must help to provide that luminous background, an interpretive paradigm, an idea of order, a community of ideas, against which we can project all our experience
-Ron Price with thanks to Painterly Abstration in Modernist American Poetry: The Contemporaneity of Modernism, Charles Altieri, Cambridge UP, NY, 1989, p.383.
Giles Gunn, The Interpretation of Otherness: Literature, Religion and the American Imagination, Oxford UP, NY, 1979, p.174.
If what I have seen so far of this
organically unified society is any
indication, there will be enough
differences to keep us all busy,
each with their own burden, forever.
Whether this world I am describing
will last, will remain alive in a future-
present, in some historically transmitted
web of meaning, some eternal network
of consciousness and experience, familiar
and yet new, fundamentally different, fresh
food for thought, new habitual modes, unified
by common thoughts, aspirations and feelings,
infinitely varied around one unchangeable pattern:
is entirely a question involving a personal hermeneutic.
12 August 1997
A PIONEER SEED
David Suzuki described the beginnings of life on Hawaii some two million years ago, with a pioneer seed.
-Ron Price with thanks to David Suzuki, "Cracking the Code", September 4th, 1997, ABC TV, 11:05 pm.
He was a pioneer seed, founder of
a botanic dynasty, two million years
ago in far-off Hawaii, on a bare and
desolate scape, now lush and variegated
for us all to see and enjoy. And I, a
pioneer seed, part of the earliest days
of a Formative Age,1 that will, in time,
produce an Order that will reverberate
through this world, this cycle, this era,
far, far into the future, a future dominated
by the political and religious unification of
this planet: so I see this seed, its home. The
gradual accumulation of changes, the leap
and thrust, occasionally, of its majestic beauty.
5 August 1997
1 The Formative Age began in 1921 and my pioneer days in the 41st year of that Age.
A PREDICTABLE WONDER
It is not enough to marvel: the sea asks more.
It does not casually strew enticing shells
or call the bronzed athletic family lightly.
There is calculation in its murmur,
frothed treachery laps its shore.
-Roger White, "Lines for a New Believer", The Witness of Pebbles, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.95.
Sparse nourishment the slow years gave,
told timeless feast hereafter and in foreign
places: a province of India, an island of the
Pacific, a youth explosion or among an
indigenous people somewhere, somehow.
And so we grew, maybe, thirty times1.
Still, we were hungry, most of us, in the
west; we'd been hungry for most of those
forty years, like years in the wilderness
before our home in Canaan came, before
settling in the mountains and hills, home.
We were warned not to stroke too swifly
toward the green opposite shore where death
rehearsed and where the pearl-promising waves
told us of the wet danger, but some ignored the
warning and drowned, energy depleted; others
thought the big bird had lied and had not told
them of the torn pinions and the bloodied head.
Many I'd seen had shouted Land! Land! when
only another long wait, another voyage, inching
their consequential and necessary way through
some miasmal ooze leaving them with dry throats,
puzzling faith and the predictable wonder of their
ordinary lives, unscripted, flawed and plausible.
20 January 1997
1 the numerical strength of the Bahá'í community in 1957 was about two hundred to three hundred thousand; by 1997 it was about six million.
A RACE IN THE MIDST OF SIN
The eyes of the spirit begin to grow sharp only when those of the body begin to fail. The soul burgeons and comes into full flower as everything slips away and dissolves-life, memory, strength and courage. The body wanes and the soul rises to its epogee but only through perpetual recoveries from defeat, only as a lukewarm weariness drains our faculties and the spirit of life, little by little, goes out, after being the source of a deep spring feeding what we are and what we say.
-Ron Price with thanks to Simone de Beauvoir, Old Age, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1972.
Like some indefineable point, unseeable
epogee, after a lifetime of sharpening the
pencil is now unseen more than ever; and
that lukewarm weariness drains it all away,
everything I have ever called life. The deep
spring waters, feeding my active and concupiscible
self, slowly run to the sea and I am left with that
soul, that acme of mature contemplation, to nourish
me from things unseen, to assist me to manifest virtues
and perfections to the end of my days, even should my
mind cease to show the light, or not yield the fruit
contained in the tree of my soul, that lamp from which
is born all the light of my life and the patience to run
the race that is set before me in the midst of my sin.
22 March 1997