Reflections on Seamus Heaney: 16 Months After His Passing
On hearing of the passing on 30 August 2013, at the age of 74, of Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, widely regarded as the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, I put together the following 7.500 word package of 24 A-4 pages, of several pieces of prose, and several prose-poems, which found some of their inspiration in the last years of my student-working life, 1949-1999, and the first years of my retirement from FT, PT and most volunteer work: 1999 to 2015.
Readers are advised to read just to the extent that their interest is maintained. I stop reading all the time when I lose interest, and I advise readers to do the same. I have revised the text of this somewhat lengthy piece several times in the first 18 months that it has been in existence.-Ron Price from 31/8/’13 to 7/1/'15 in George Town, Tasmania, Australia.
In 1999, just as I was taking a sea-change and an early retirement at the age of 55, and beginning to enjoy my new roles, the reinvention of myself from teacher and tutor, adult educator and lecturer, to poet and publisher, writer and author, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, reader and scholar, Heaney translated a much-praised version of the medieval epic Beowulf. Heaney(1939-2013 ) was the last of the poets from the Silent Generation, the poets, entre deux guerres, poets born from 1919 to 1939.
Heaney was an Irish poet, playwright, translator and lecturer, and the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. In the early 1960s, just at the start of my own writing-life, he became a lecturer in Belfast after attending university there and he began to publish poetry. He lived in Dublin from 1972 until his death.
WITH THANKS TO SEAMUS
“The strengths and limitations of poets,” wrote the former American poet laureate Robert Pinsky back in 1980, “seem to come from intensity of focus.”1 The insights and ideas that are at the base of their expression grow somehow from the complex, subterranean roots of their concern with composition, its circumstances, its rationale, its connection to mind and spirit and with the most urgent and painful questions of the past, the present and the future.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Robert Pinsky, “The Prose of An Irish Poet,” The New York Times on the Web, 21 December 1980.
Whatever vitality and seriousness
readers find here in this poetic
derives from a particular soil, and
the unique and moving narrative
that arose meteorlike, traversed
a somber sky and burned itself out.
With Seamus my ambitions have
always been more private, but my
gift, whatever it may be, is more
analytic than lyric, more narrative
with place a part of personal drama,
with analysis of the heart & the mind
& communal drama following behind
& its commentary on the human-social.1
I have inherited a two-humped tradition:
a long one back to the Hebrews & Greeks,
essentially intellectual, books and ideas;
and a second of shorter thinner-vein, of
place, town, country, globe and universe.
I draw from a multitude of poetic modes:
one that got me jump-started back in 1980
thanks to Roger White who put my life
in poetry for the first time; another thanks
to Wordsworth, the first poet in retreat
from society, its disorienting forces that
had beset my spirit for many a year, to
solitude’s restoring, refreshing, bastions
so my psyche could find its sacred place
and develop the poetic self’s sensitivity.
I should not forget my mother whose
poetic influence will always remain
a mystery but, when she passed away
two years before my own poetic began
its journey, she may just have become
a leaven that leaveneth the world of my
being and furnisheth a certain power!!!
Many others, too, gave to me a structure
and sustaining landscape, not imprisoning
but liberating and distancing so I could be
opportunistic, unpredictably susceptible.
1 J. D. McClatchy, “Minds Beyond Themselves,” The New York Times on the Web, December 24th 1995. ---Ron Price,12/3/'06 to 7/1/'15.
THANK YOU SEAMUS
I try, though my prose-poetry, to vocalize my inner life and the ‘being-there-ness’ of life in all its forms.1 Sea, stone, wind and tree play a part in my poetry but, thusfar, the note of nature is not a dominant one. My poetry displays a strong sense of the poetic process, a particular and complex entity, that is for sure; this poetry of mine also displays my trust in the future possibilities of my work which I feel, even after 35 years, is still very beginnerish.
What began as a quiet unobtrusive eddy in the current of my life in the 1980s became a manic rush in the 1990s, a saving grace, a new lease on life. I hoped, of course, that people would acquire a taste for my poetry, that one day they would enjoy it, that it would give them pleasure and delight, even though, thusfar, there was little evidence that this would take place. I have not been able to separate the act of writing poetry from life itself; they seemed and they seem to be one continuous process. One day, I have often mused, my enthusiasm for writing poetry might die out, but in the meantime writing poetry would continue to occupy one of the centerpieces of my life that it has become.
This poetry, such is my aim and hope, will be a match for the complex reality that is life, life which surrounds and generates all that I write. My poetry, unlike the poetry of Seamus Heaney, is not loaded with anxiety and self-tormented power; nor does the world exert some kind of despotic pressure, as James Wood says is exerted on Heaney's poetry by the world. By the time I came to write poetry seriously in the 1990s there was a pressure from the world, but I would not describe it as 'despotic'. I would use the words benign, gentle, generous, liberal, even obliging. The closest I might come to despotic is obsessive, at times feverish and impulsive, passionate and even frenetic. By the time I was taking both seroquel and effexor in 2012, and nearly 70, I would only use those words in that benign and gentle camp.
But it is the function of my poetry, as it is the function of Heaney's poetry, to be ordained and controlled by the greater power of 'the world we live in and endure.'2-Ron Price with thanks to 1Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978, Faber, London, 1995; and 2James Wood, "Scruples," a review in the London Review of Books, 20/6/'96 of The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures, Seamus Heaney, Faber, 1995, and The Spirit Level, Seamus Heaney, Faber, 1996,
Thank you, Seamus, for your understanding.
Writing poetry and understanding the process
both seem to be important to me, and it is such
a mystery why I continue to put down poem after
poem in these small booklets which no one reads
and which sit on my shelves over my head in
this study of my house defining my life in
more depth than I ever could in any of the
conversations with those I love and know.
23/10/’00 to 7/1/’15.
I COME HOME
The achievement of a poem is an experience of release, of buoyant completion and of a timeless formal pleasure which comes to fullness and exhaustion; of something which occurs equidistant from self-justification and self-obliteration. A plane is fleetingly established where the poet is intensified in his being and freed from his predicaments.-Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue, Faber and Faber, London, 1988, p.xxii.
Freed from tact and fidelity,
the tongue ungoverned, a
impractical but possibly
illusory, I come home
to a space, a people; I
create, an economy of
feeling, an emotion
cultivating form, a
a thrill of continuance
amidst all the change.1
24/4//'98 to 7/1/'15.
A NEW BOOK OF POEMS BY SEAMUS HEANEY
Back in April 1988, in my first year as a lecturer in a technical and further education college, now a polytechnic, in Perth Western Australia, and in my early years of middle-age, a leading poetry critic, indeed famous in poetry circles, Helen Vendler wrote a review in The New York Review of Books of a new book of poems, The Haw Lantern, by Seamus Heaney.1 Vendler(1933- ) Vendler has written books on Emily Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, John Keats, and Seamus Heaney. She has been a professor of English at Harvard University since 1980; between 1981 and 1984 she taught alternating semesters at Harvard and Boston University. In 1990 she was appointed to an endowed chair as the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor. She is the first woman to hold this position. She has also taught at Cornell University, Swarthmore and Smith Colleges, and Boston University.
“Here are thirty-two new poems by Seamus Heaney,” she began, “from this poet of abundance who is undergoing in middle age the experience of natural loss. As the earth loses for him the mass and gravity of familiar presences—parents and friends taken by death—desiccation and weightlessness threaten the former fullness of the sensual life.”
By my mid-forties I was no “poet of abundance.” That delightful poetic ride was waiting for me as I got into my fifties and here I am, now 70, and that poetic ride feels like it has only begun after two decades of travelling many a mile with many booklets of poetry posted along the way, thousands of poems, millions of words and—as the 21st century advanced---millions of readers in cyberspace’s vast landscape.
“The moment of emptiness can be found in other poets,” continues Vendler. “Already I take up less emotional space / Than a snowdrop,” James Merrill wrote at such a point in his own evolution. Lowell’s grim engine, churning powerfully on through the late sonnets, did not quite admit the chill of such a moment until Day by Day:
We are things thrown in the air alive in flight…
our rust the color of the chameleon.
It is very difficult for poets of brick and mortar solidity, like Robert Lowell, or of rooted heaviness, like Heaney, to become light, airy, desiccated. In their new style they cannot abandon their former selves. “I balanced all, brought all to mind,” said W. B. Yeats, using a scale to weigh years behind and years to come. The struggle to be one’s old self and one’s new self together, that is the struggle of poetry itself, which must accumulate new layers rather than discard old ones. Heaney must thus continue to be a poet rich in tactile language, while expressing emptiness, absence, distance. The Haw Lantern, poised between these contradictory imperatives of adult life, is almost penitentially faithful to each, determined to forsake neither.
The great systems of dogma, patriotic, religious, ethical, are often, but not always, abandoned, by poets as they come into late middle age and late adulthood, to say nothing of old-age, the years after 80 according to one model of human development used by psychologists of the lifespan. Heaney’s own dogmas, says Vendler, “must be abandoned in favour of a ceaseless psychic sorting,” but he takes little joy in sorting.
Heaney has several times quoted Mandelstam’s notion that “poetry, and art in general, is addressed to the reader in posterity.” Poetry, in Heaney’s view, is not directed exploitatively towards its immediate audience although, of course, it does not set out to disdain the immediate audience either. It is directed towards the new perception which it is its function to create.2-Ron Price with thanks to 1Helen Vendler, Second Thoughts, The New York Review of Books, 28/4/’88; and 2 Seamus Heaney, comments during a symposium on art and politics at North-eastern University, 1986, printed in Working Papers in Irish Studies, issued by North-eastern University, 1986, p. 33.
1 With thanks to Herbert Read, The Meaning of Art, Faber and Faber, London, 1936(1929). “By the time you start to compose, more than half the work has been done," wrote Irish Poet Seamus Heaney. "The crucial part of the business is what happens before you face the empty page," he continued, "before the moment of first connection, when an image or a memory comes suddenly to mind and you feel the lure of the poem-life in it.” Most of the writing in my memoir has taken place since I took an early retirement, a sea-change, at the age of 55 in 1999. Much of the work, the living, had indeed been done: half, three-quarters, nine-tenths? Time would tell how long I would remain on this mortal coil. Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney in "Notes From the Underground, " The Courtland Review, 25 March 2006 to 7/1/'15.
POETRY AND PLACE
That there is a connection between poetry and place, it might be seen on first appearances, to be only stating the obvious. Knots of narrative, of prose and poetry, are tied and untied in places where a writer finds, in the words of Michel Tournier, artifacts of archeological excavation. Time in these places, Tournier says, becomes in effect, palpable and visible.1 The poetry and prose worlds that the writer is creating become concrete. They take on flesh and cause blood to flow. Hopefully this flesh resembles that of the living and not the dead and, hopefully, that blood has warmth and life-giving qualities and is not clotted and dry.
In the process, the past, a past, my past, is materialized in the present and the words come to serve as a vehicle for my personal and cultural memory. Heaney has what he calls "an archeological view of poetry", poems as elements of continuity, as revelation of the self to the self and self as the restoration of the culture to itself.2 Yes, I find this to be so, layers of life deposited over many years, internalized and now excavated, recovered whole or partial, dug-up by memory with imagination working its wonders, its recreating forces. And I search for images and symbols adequate not only to my life but to the life of my society, as I articulate an inner world, a private and public landscape, an intimate voice.1-Ron Price with thanks to 1Anthony Purdy,“Michel Tournier: the bog-body as mnemotype: nationalists, archeologies in Seamus Heaney and Michel Tournier-Critical Essay,” Style, Spring, 2002, 24 October 2008, and 2ibid.
The essence of my spirit,
my life experience, and
the resolution of my inner
tensions is in words with
many levels of meaning
like the sediments laid
down over eras, epochs
and ages; these are the
sediments which speak
a language far beyond
their texture, colour,
extent and any mass
observed and felt--a
language that tells a
story, that dramatizes
and grasps history and
time in a single step &
helps in my complex, &
with issues, with my own
identity and with my art.
As I seek a kind of excited
and heightened awareness of
the quotidian and the spiritual,
the mystic and the practical, I
also seek to impose universality
on the particular, the particular
on the universal as well as that
sense of mystery before all the
common & everyday sense of life.
A global community springs to life
as I write in front of my words
like a flower opening......and I
know that what I write is not
private, although I am a very
private man, but public, global
and part of the very axis of this
new oneness of all humanity.(1)
(1) J. A. Triggs, “Hurt Into Poetry: Verses of Seamus Heaney and Robert Bly,” The New Orleans Review, Vol. 19 No. 3-4, Fall & Winter, 1992, pp. 162-73.
29/10/'08 to 7/1/'15.
HURT INTO POETRY
The poet, and the poetry, of Seamus Heaney is not a product of the conflict in Northern Ireland, except in the sense that his is a sensibility that seeks to assuage and to heal. It would not be true to say of Heaney, as Auden wrote of Yeats, that “mad Ireland hurt Heaney into poetry.” It would also not be true to say that the conflict in his native province, his home, as has been suggested by some, has significantly stimulated him as a writer. Unlike the early Auden, whose genius was sharpened by the revolutionary currents of the thirties, Heaney would prefer not to have lived in a time of violence.” On the other hand, if Heaney is seen as a symbol of rapprochement and healing, then the political symbolism of his Nobel Prize is brilliantly apt. -Richard Tillinghast, “Seamus Heaney’s Middle Voice” The Criterion Online, Vol. 17, No. 9, May 1999.
When Heaney was 14 his family left the farm where he had been reared from his birth in 1939. His life since then, since 1953, has been a series of moves farther and farther away from his birthplace. But these departures have been more geographical than psychological. Rural County Derry, the "country of the mind" is where much of Heaney's poetry is still grounded.
Heaney's poems first came to public attention in the mid-1960s when he was in his mid-twenties, and I was in my early twenties. I knew nothing of Heaney back then, occupied as I was with the social sciences, with achieving some basis for a career, a career with some meaning; and also occupied with
mood swings due to my bi-polar disorder and finding a mate for the long-haul ahead.
Heaney always had a deep preoccupation with the question of poetry's responsibilities and prerogatives in the world. His poetry was poised, such was Heaney’s view, between his need for creative freedom and the pressure he felt to express his sense of social obligation as a poet & as a citizen.-Ron Price with thanks to “Biography of Seamus Heaney,” Nobelprize.org.
In the last twenty years or so, I have been working toward an imaginative expression not of Irishness and not of a politics of place, language and identity, as was the case with Heaney, but an imaginative expression of my own dear life, of my hybrid identity as a Canadian-Australian and as a Baha'i in a deeply secular society. Like Heaney, though, I am involved in a complex engagement with several issues through which I create my pluralist sense of identity predicated on the future rather than being mired in the past.
To express the quintessence of the human spirit, I draw on poetry and history for the many layers of meaning found in my total oeuvre. I draw on poetry that relates to my life experiences and history of our past and present age, as I seek a prose-poetic resolution of inner tensions that I meet with in familial and local, national and international domains and regions, histories and cultural life. These tensions relate to the issues of writing and identity, of self and other, of ideology and dogma, and my engagement with literary and sociological, psychological and historical theory. Nature, though, for me as it was for Wordsworth is nurse and guide, as well as a guardian of my heart and soul.1
I would like to point out here that I regard myself as a writer who happens to be a Baha'i, not a Baha'i writer. In making this point I am reminded of the famous novelist Graham Greene who objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic. Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially his four major Catholic novels. Baha'i themes are also at the root of much of my writing. This Faith has provided the grid for my moral thought, and the Baha'i teachings come in time and time again at this website.
I, too, moved further and further away
from my birthplace and, by the end of
my years, I was about as far away as I
could be, & still be on the planet Earth.
The country of my mind was not the land
where I was born, though it often appeared
in my mind’s eye unannounced without even
knocking at the door and making its own cup
of tea in the kitchen before sitting down to chat.
My poetry came much later that yours, Seamus:
poured out of me about the time I was fifty and
still does in these years of late adulthood2 and,
perhaps, even old-age if I last that long. And yes,
it’s about poetry’s responsibilities & prerogatives
and my social obligations in an Order that is the
structure of a moderate freedom3 for humanity in
the tempest of this long-complex antediluvian Age.
And was I hurt into poetry as Yeats way back then?
Well, partly Seamus, partly--then there was healing
and the river flowed down to the sea quietly at times
often in swirling-white currents going every which way.
1 Quoted in: John McGurk, "Seamus Heaney: The Making of the Poet", Contemporary Review, November 1993.
2 some developmental psychologists define late adulthood as the years from 60 to 80, and old-age as the years of 80 and beyond.
3 Letter to the followers of Baha’u’llah in the United States of America,” The Universal House of Justice, 29 December 1988
10/7/’07 to 7/1/’15.
As I mentioned in the previous prose-poem: "There are tensions in my life that relate to issues of writing and identity, of self and other, of ideology and dogma, and my engagement with literary and sociological, psychological and historical theory." To unpack these tensions could occupy a whole book, but I will mention one particular tension, a tension between the personal and inward and the social and outwardly political. "My poetic nature and habit toward inwardness" follows, in the process, the sobering advice of W.B. Yeats: "I think it better than in times like these/A poet's mouth be silent, for in truth/We have no gift to set a statesman right."1 My public, political and more controversial role is not a poetry of protest but, rather, a poetry of celebration where I "leap up into this other psyche."2-Ron Price with thanks to 1Jeffery Triggs, "Hurt into Poetry: The Political Verses of Seamus Heaney and Robert Bly." This essay first appeared in The New Orleans Review , V.19, No. 3-4, Fall & Winter 1992: pp. 162-73, and 2Robert Bly, Talking All Morning Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 1980, pp. 100-01.
When I write this poetry of community
something springs to life in my very
words, like a flower opening-up, for
it is the community that is opening
FAST EXCHANGES IN A SAUNA
Sometimes an event in one's daily life is deserving of a poem, at least the feeling arises that "I should write a poem about this." Perhaps the feeling that arises is part of something the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote about poetry and philosophy, namely, that "philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry."1 Perhaps the inspiration to write a poem arises from the feeling that, as the philosopher David Hume once wrote, it is the business of poetry to bring every affection near to us by lively images and representation; or, perhaps, as Marcel Proust once wrote, it is to express something that has struck the heart or the imagination;2 perhaps it is a simple taking pleasure in one's own sensibility;3 or, finally, like the Irish poet Seamus Heaney, it's essentially a part of putting the practice of poetry more deliberately at the centre of my life.4 -Ron Price with thanks to 1L.Wittgenstein, Culture and Value and 2 Marcel Proust, Selected Letters: 1880-1903, Doubleday and Co., Garden City, NY, 1983, p.xxii; 3 idem, and 4Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose: 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, 1980, p.13.
There were twelve girls
up on the benches in the
little sauna bath for the
first time in their lives.
I was having my monthly
trip to this hot room….to
this spa and pool to relax
the timbers of my being as
I stepped to the top bench.
These nymphs came from
a private school: grades 3
to 5 in their little bathing
suits, such little girls, full
of life they were bubbling.
I poured some cold water
from my bottle on their
shoulders one at a time,
on invitation, & we all
laughed & talked quite
spontaneously for a time.
There was that engagement
which comes in those fast
exchanges, with those small
youthful, innocent life-forms
bathed in that Water of Life.
We parted company as fast as
we had met in the few minutes
of this delightful, this brief and
refreshing, little-tiny symbiosis.
8/12/’01 to 7/1/’15.
INTENSELY PRIVATE: YES SOME OF IT
This afternoon, while on my summer holidays, I read some of the poetry of Sharon Olds, an American poet who graduated from the University of California in 1964. She is clearly one of my contemporaries. I graduated in 1966. In a little over an hour I read several reviews of her work, and some of her poems. I waited for my wife to finish shopping so that we could have lunch together in the city of Perth WA. This was a rare exercise for us. Seated on one of the comfortable chairs in the Alexander Library in downtown Perth, I read about a poet with an obsession different from my own.
Clearly, Sharon Olds is a poet with an obsession. Mine is a different one to Sharon’s, but there is little question that we are both obsessed. All flesh is flawed, as the poet Donald Hall puts it, and all poems are flesh. Seamus Heaney says that “when poets talk about their childhoods they come close to the centre of the mystery they are to themselves.” Sharon got close to this in her several books of poetry.
Another poet, Robert Bly, talks about “knots of energy in the psyche that build up on the voltage wires of life.” Poetry is a result of this voltage, this energy. Others might say that poetry is essentially ‘the emotional life of the individual.’ There are many ways to discuss one’s obsessions. There are many ways to refer to the purpose of poetry. Some would say poetry is written to try to understand and recreate human experience. One can get a handle on Ms. Olds’ poetry from all these perspectives. And the reader can get a handle on my poetry: a different obsession, a different energy, a different experience, if he or she is so inclined.
Sharon Olds had a brutalized childhood and this childhood became the storm centre around which her poems furiously revolved. I slowly got caught in the vortex, the enthusiasm, of a movement which claimed to be the emerging world religion, the latest of the Abrahamic religions, so it claimed to be. The process of ‘getting caught’ took place in a ten year period: 1953 to 1963. My poetry is, for me, a sizzling intellectual perspective in contemplation of that early warm-up period, and some thirty-seven years of travelling-pioneering and teaching this new Faith across two continents. This is the storm centre around which my poetry furiously and not-so-furiously revolves.
Robert Lowell described Sylvia Plath’s poetry as “the autobiography of a fever.” I think this is a fair description of the poetry of Olds and of myself. There are themes which occupy Olds, that obsess her and so also is this true of me. Obsessions are common to poets. Some reviewers will regard Olds’ poetry and mine as a belabored set, sequence, mass of settings, scenes and situations, over-dramatic and over-emotional. Does our voice become tedious after so many repetitions? I hope not. I hope the reader will find in both Olds’ poetry and mine: sincerity, honesty, not too much sentimentality, a useful comment on experience and the times from one person’s perspective. -The reviews and the poetry I read of Sharon Olds were in Poetry Criticism: Vol.22, Carol J. Gaffke, et al. editors, Gale, London, 1999, pp.306-314.
What is confessional poetry?
Intensely private, I like that.
Some of mine is just that:
some of it is not: so public.
7/1/’99 to 7/1/’15.
ANOTHER RAID ON THE INARTICULATE
What counts in the poetic raid on the inarticulate1 is the quality, intensity and breadth of the poet's concerns, his emotional capacity, intellectual resourcefulness, self-forgetfulness, a certain consciousness of his multi-personed self, and the general civilization and sensibility he maintains between raids. What counts, too, among a host of other factors, is the world of creative thought evoked by his use of the Greatest Name. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue, Faber and Faber, London, 1988, p. 170; and 'Abdu'l-Baha, Analysis of Ya Baha'u'l-Abha.
We bring it all together here
in these multifoliate poetic
words describing some new
15 years of peace1 in an old
Athenian beautification that
was transferred across the sea
in a democratic theocracy, a
religious apotheosis, glorification
of this day and cheering our eyes,
embodiment of an ideal, a way, &
an order, on an isle of faithfulness,
a shipwrecked victim washed onto
the shore, positioned in a place of
honour in the central square---the
most beautiful creation in the world,
a grace still contained & unknown.
25/4/’98 to 7/1/’15.
1 It is anticipated that this Athenian period of peace: 446-431 BC will be repeated in another form which Baha'i call the Lesser Peace and the Greater Peace. This prose-poem found its origin in my teaching ancient Greek history: 479 BC to 404 BC in Perth WA, Australia in the early 1990s.
Readers will find in my poetry the living present and the persistent themes of daily life. Seamus Heaney refers to writing poetry as a gift, and describes it as possessing "an awful necessity" to keep going. Keeping it going, maintaining the writing of poetry as an activity, is a "lovely wonder" he continues. He says the writing of poetry, a poetry that keeps going, that continues over many years, is an art, an art that is "tutored by an instinctive cheer and courage."-Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney, The Redress of Poetry, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NY, 1995, p.78.
I, too, ground my convictions
upon the sensation of rightness
experienced as indelible, first
impression, growing, surviving
in my mind as pleasure & delight,
as potency, principle, & pastime.
It survives only for a time; it
occasionally is reborn, if often
entirely forgotten, and then it
exists as a pull in the mind of
readers as a kind of, type of,
under-music that readers sing
with me, well, at least a few.
4/9/’03 to 7/1/’15.
NO STRONGER THAN A FLOWER
Sometimes an event takes place in my day's travels that I want to celebrate with a poem. This is due to the fact that verse has a place in one's home, one's work, one's interests, in the ordinary rituals of everyday. Poetry feels to me like "a gum which oozes." The action of a poem, though, "is no stronger than a flower."1 -Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations Selected Prose: 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, 1980.
If I was going to all the trouble of writing poetry in order to communicate I would have given up long ago. So very few read what I write; at least this was true until the early years of the 21st century. I write to gain relief from the weight of the accumulation of ideas, to arrange words in a way most suited to the occasion. When I am finished I experience a feeling of rightness, a feeling of completeness, a feeling of having thought things through. I feel easy, relaxed; sometimes I am exhausted. I feel unburdened from time to time, unburdened by both the definable and the undefinable. The determining factor in my poetic work, in the quality and connectedness of my feelings and thoughts, is an entire theology. -Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, London, 1980, pp. 79-97.
My life and my work
are not separate, but
make a continuum on
behalf of the world of
vision……It’s the fine
flower of my efforts to
live and teach the Cause
over three epochs that
defined this dark heart
of the age with a type of
sincerity, an experiment,
an ordinary speech of man.
But a poet is never one of the
people, for he is detached,
remote and beyond all the
inevitable small-time talk.
He is, though, in a childhood
self that real self, the core of
it, where what it is that is his
verse was born. So he writes
what he alone could write.
22/10/’00 to 7/1/’15.
Seamus Heaney describes poetry as the process of putting feelings into words, the process of revealing the inner person, the inner life, of restoring culture itself. It’s the process, he says, of finding elements of continuity and giving to those elements the aura and authenticity of archeological finds, finds which are like plants, finds which are permanent and impressive objects, possessing an almost magnetic power, a field of force.
Like the archeologist, the poet relies on a certain relentless concentration, self-criticism and analysis as well as on those mysterious processes of chance for the poem’s ‘bright emergence,’1 for the poem’s point of entry into or exit from the buried life of feelings. Many poems arise out of almost unnamable energies which hover over bits of language and landscape. They arise, too, out of a trust in certain moments of satisfaction which are extensions of life, where words and images rush of their own accord into a vortex, a vortex stimulated by memory’s quickening voice.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations: Selected Prose: 1968-1978, Faber and Faber, London, 1980, p. 52.
I search for words, a language
adequate to these epochs, to the
past and the future, to express
my daily renewal and play my
part in creating that fresh, new
conscience of an age, where men
may forage to assist their personal
spontaneity, their pouring out, and
their telling it to the open fields,
with their cheerful confidence
in things to come,1 that they may
surrender to energies in the centre
of their mind and heart as they turn
in their verses, not as the Romans
did as they ploughed their fields,2
but to the new centre ‘round which
the realities of the prophets and all
there is of creative thought stirs,
moves and has its being on earth.
1 William Wordsworth
2 The word verses comes originally from the Roman farmers turning in their fields as they ploughed.
THE EDGE OF A DISH
A man dabbles in verses and finds they are his life, as if letting a shaft down into something called ‘real life’. It produces excitement, confidence, insouciance? This dabbling is his craft, his technique, his stance toward life and toward his own reality, what takes him beyond the accidental and the incoherence of life, beyond what lies hidden.
I wrote this piece on a journey my wife and I made from Western Australia to Tasmania when I took a sea-change at the age of 55 and an early retirement. -Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney.
This would be a good place*
for a Buddhist, as close to a
nothingness as you can get,
below an open sky, endless
tracks of grass, bush, and
greyness as far as the eye.
The Baha’i, too, could plunge
here into a sea of light, for that
is all there is above this oh so
flat earth, this flat plain, this
edge of a dish and this strange
longing for a home of glory
‘neath a canopy of grace.**
20/7/’99 to 21/10/’00
* the Nullarbor Plain
** See Baha’I Prayers, USA, 1985, p.140.
AFTER APPLE-PICKING, THEN WHAT?
The first poet who ever spoke to me seriously in my adult life was Roger White. The first poet who ever spoke to Seamus Heaney, who some say is the greatest living poet in English, was Robert Frost. Heaney compares Frost’s poetry to “the crestings of a tide that lifts the spirits.” He particularly liked “After Apple Picking” which he said possessed a sense of surrender. I, too, liked that same poem and wrote the following to try and emulate its spirit and content.-Ron Price with thanks to Jeffrey Meyers, Robert Frost: A Biography, Constable, London, 1996, pp.351-2.
It’s not the apple-picking
I got tired of, Robert,1but
another great harvest that
I myself desired for years.
Once I thought,2 oh to have
some great love down in my
breast that I could sing of,
rich, right at life’s big crest.
And, oh, it was so true.
The song was sweet,
a long, rich, taste, brew.
I could not have wanted
more. My desire was at
last fulfilled, to the core.
Some of that love is gone, finished.3
A winter sleep is in my night, and I
am drowsing off with a deep fatigue
behind my sight and in my raw-brain.
A new love, now, with softer hews,
not the heat or the hard edge. I have
me now sweet morning dews. On the
grass, the trees and hedge: all of it, all.
I’ll let you know when it’s gone, and I
am back again amidst the heat of day
and endless song,4 or in that night from
which no one returns, the black night,
dark and long from which I awake with
a wetness on my tongue and sinews-all.5
1 This is a reference to the poem “After Apple-Picking” by Robert Frost.
2 In my early years of pioneering and travelling, after leaving my home town, from about the age of 18 to 21, my great desire was to have something to fill my life up with meaning and purpose. I had been a Baha’i youth for several years(15-21) but found it difficult to get a sense of meaning and direction in my late teens and early 20s. In October/November 1965 the pieces began to come together. I found this emptiness left me and my life was filled with meaning increasingly over many years in different ways: in pioneering, in teaching, in learning and by my late forties, by 1992, in writing poetry.
3 Four weeks ago I stopped work as a lecturer/teacher, after nearly thirty years.
4 One day desire or necessity may take me back to the heat of the classroom.
5 Some of the more unpleasant aspects of old age.
30/4/'99 to 7/1/'15.
CLOSE TO HIS ARK
A poet appeases his original needs by learning to make works that seem to be all about his work and his life...then begins bothersome and exhilarating second level needs to go beyond himself and take on the otherness of the world, feeling, a world awash with love and tragedy. For me the two stages are inextricably intertwined through an enduring, unshakeable, indubitable community born in blood and beauty and alive today in these poems, this meaning.-Ron Price with thanks to Seamus Heaney, The Government of the Tongue, Faber and Faber, London, 1988, p.23.
I write about the new res publica,
think of myself as a type of poet
laureate of this ideal state given
the finest, refinest, definition, by
this Ancient Beauty, where these
fragrances of mercy have all been
wafted over all created things.
I carry this City in my brain as the voices
of all created things slowly find the tones,
the volume, the mode, the manner, the
motive, the etiquette of expression. Trying
to make it a poetic canopy, trustworthy,
far from a perfect heaven, above my and
your vulnerable heads, close to His Ark,
enduring, unshakeable, indomitable.
24/4/ '98 to 7/1/'15.
AN INTANGIBLE SOMETHING
My son stayed in Perth and my wife and I moved to Tasmania on 12 July 1999. It was exactly 28 years after my arrival in Australia. It took ten weeks of travelling and searching for a home to buy before we settled into our new location in George Town, Tasmania. As I write this redraft of a prose-poem I wrote in the spring of 1999, I reflect yet again on the occasional ‘attack-of-nostalgia’.
The first attack that gave rise to this original poem, occurred on an afternoon while I was supervising two young six year old kids in a park by the Tamar River. One of these children was my step-grandchild, Tobias Wells. While I watched and occasionally chatted with these two children from middle-childhood, I began to think of my own child now grown up but who, less than twenty years before, played in these same Launceston parks while I also watched and read.
Perhaps it was my reading the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel prize winner for Literature in 1995, that stimulated the following poem. For while the children played, I read, as I often am want to do. It is often difficult to know why a poem arises when it does. What actually arises is not a poem: it is a feeling, a thought, a memory, an intangible something, that becomes a poem because I am a writer and author, poet and publisher who has begun reinventing himself after retiring from his roles of teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 1999.
After his early years, he always slept
with his door quite shut, emerging in
the morning, as if from his chrysalis:
egg, larva, pupa, adult; it was a quiet
process, this growing, silently, safe, &
protected: as much as I could protect.
Now I miss the noise of his growing,
the humour of his wit, for he was if
nothing else: funny, always seemed
to fit my mood, a clever dude, and
where did he go this my young son?
Surely, our life together is not done?
21/9/'99 to 7/1/'15.
LANDSCAPES AND ELSEWHERES
My poetry has come to be defined by some things, some topics, to such an extent that it is simply unimaginable to contextualize my total oeuvre without recognizing the significance, the importance, of these subjects; the essence of my poetry is so much associated with this typical, prototypical, subject matter and so detailed in the particularities of description and definition that I construct, in the process of writing my poetry, a world, a home, a place, a mise en scene, where these topics invariably occupy locations in a physical and intellectual landscape and domain. These subjects appear again and again. For some readers this repetition will be tiresome, I’m sure.
I have made my home, my place of residence, in life in so many places, so many towns and houses where the sense of home did not exist before. It had to be created, recreated, again and again. I always had a mother, a father or both, a wife or children or both to help now, as I go about articulating, excavating, the archeology, the layers, of the myriad deposits that make up my memory. I’m not so sure I would have done a very good job of giving my life its text and context, if I had been on my own: a single man, a loner, alone and by myself in the vast and spacious landscapes of the two continents and dozens, indeed, 1000s of places I have come to inhabit for various lengths of time.
I would have found the task too lonely and immensely routine to do as good a job. Indeed, on the two occasions before each of my marriages, when I had the opportunity to live alone, I went for companionship and sex, marriage and the family over a solitary life-style. I may never have the opportunity again to live alone. In the meantime I will try and get the best of both worlds as I go through my 70s and 80s, if I last that long.
None of us are islands; we all tend towards insularity in some respects and sociality in others. That has been especially true of me since I retired. We also contain multitudes within us. I became very conscious of this internal diversity as the decades advanced in the 50 years before I retired(1949-1999), years filled with high levels of social interaction. Shakespeare says that we need to be able to people our solitude and know how to feel alone in a crowd. That is what I do now that I am in my seventies. These insularities and these social engagements are, it could be said, the countries of our soul, countries mostly unnamed and unknown. My poetry begins to name, to describe, these unknowns.
We all have, too, what Hugh Kenner calls ‘elsewhere communities’, places we travel to and things we do and think about to find out who we are. The traveler, the pioneer-travel-teacher absorbs this ‘elsewhere community’ into himself to become what defines him throughout life.1 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Hugh Kenner, Massey Lecture, 1997.
I have my own Grand Tour1 now,
my elsewhere community, my own
journey through what I know to
what I have yet to know; and when
the war is over I will go home.
1 In the eighteenth century the Grand Tour was the trip from some place in European civilization through Europe to Italy and Rome. This is no longer the Grand Tour. We all make our own now.
22/4/'06 to 8/1/'15
end of document
married for 48 years, a teacher for 32, a student for 18, a writer & editor for 16, and a Baha'i for 56(in 2015).
Last edited by RonPrice; 01-09-2015 at 12:51 AM..
Reason: To update the wording