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2013-01-27 09:04:05 (UTC)

One of Twenty-Six Interviews With Poet Ron Price


Preamble-Part 1:

I began to put the following sequence of questions and answers together as I was about to retire from full-time employment as a teacher after some 30 years in the profession, 1967 to 1999. In the first dozen years of the reinvention of myself as a writer and author, editor and researcher, a poet and publisher, an online journalist and blogger, an independent scholar and reader, the years from 1999 to 2012, I added more material to what you could call this simulated interview. This is the 26th simulated interview in 16 years, 1996 to 2012. There is no attempt in this particular series of Qs & As to be sequential, to follow themes or simulate a normal interview.

I have attempted a more logical-sequential pattern in my other 25 interviews over those 16 years. I have posted literally millions of words on the internet at 100s, indeed 1000s now, of sites. Readers who come across this particular interview of about 9000 words and 22 A-4 font-14 pages will gain some idea of the person who writes the stuff they read at these sites on the world-wide-web. Readers wanting access to these sites and my work, my posts at these sites, need to simply google my name RonPrice followed by any one of dozens of others words like: forums, poetry, literature, philosophy, history, religion, cinema, inter alia.

There are more than 4000 other Ron Prices in cyberspace. Readers must ensure they are accessing my posts and my writing and not those of some other chap with the same name as mine. I have posted this interview for the interest of what has become an extensive readership, my constituency of readers, and others who come across my work for the first time, or for whatever number of times for whatever particular person.

Preamble-Part 2:

2.1 The questionnaire concept which I utilize below was originated, so I am informed, by French television personality Bernard Pivot after what was called the Proust Questionnaire. The Proust Questionnaire is about one's personality. Its name and modern popularity as a form of interview is owed to the responses given by Marcel Proust(1871-1922), the French novelist, critic, and essayist. At the end of the nineteenth century, when Proust was still in his teens, he answered a questionnaire in an English-language confession album belonging to his friend Antoinette, daughter of future French President Félix Faure. The album was entitled "An Album to Record Thoughts, Feelings, etc." At that time, it was popular among English families to answer such a list of questions that revealed the tastes and aspirations of the talker.
2.2 James Lipton (b.1926) an American writer, poet, composer, actor and dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York City utilized this questionnaire in his series of interviews entitled Inside the Actors Studio. The series premiered in 1994 and has been broadcast in 125 countries around the world reaching 89,000,000 homes.

2.2.1 Lipton asked the following ten questions:

1. What is your favorite word?
2. What is your least favorite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
6. What sound or noise do you hate?
7. What is your favorite curse word?
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
9. What profession would you not like to do?
10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

2.2.2 My answers are:

1. God
2. Fuck
3. My instinctual and human needs for: food and drink, silence and sounds, sensory and especially sexual stimulation, oxygen and physical comfort, shelter and work, love and kindness, as well as the pleasures that come from the satisfaction of these instinctual and human needs.
4. Noise, loud and aggressive people, conversation after one to two hours; most of the TV currently available to me, a great deal of printed matter. When the needs referred to in #3 above are not satisfied.
5. Some classical, jazz and popular music, some human voices and silence.
6. Any loud sounds, some human voices.
7. Fuck
8. I was a student and scholar, teacher and tutor, lecturer and adult educator from 1949 to 1999. Now I am enjoying new roles: poet and publisher, writer and author, editor and research, online journalist and blogger.
9. Law and medicine, work in the biological and physical sciences as well as the trades.
10. Well done and now tell me about your troubles in life while trying to serve Me.
Preamble-Part 3:

Below readers will find my own 31 questions, questions I began to ask and answer back in 1998 or 1999, as I was about to retire from FT teaching, a career which began in 1967. These questions were last updated on 29 November 2012.
1.Do you have a favourite place to visit? I’ve lived in 25 cities and towns and visited over 100. I have lived in 37 houses and would enjoy visiting both the houses and the towns again for their memory, their nostalgia, their mnemonic, value. When writing about these places as I do from time to time, I would benefit from such visits, but it is not likely that I will visit any of them now in the evening of my life for many reasons not the least of which is my lack of funds and my disinclination to travel any more.

There are dozens of other places I’d enjoy going as a tourist or travel-teacher, circumstances permitting, circumstances like: plenty of money, good health, lots of energy and if I could be of some use to the people in those places. My health, my new medications for bipolar disorder, medications I’ve now had for over five years, prevents me from travelling.

1.1 Tell us a little more about your health both before your writing began in earnest in the 1990s and before. Rather than go into detail here I will simply refer you to my 90,000 word and 200 page(font-14) account of my experience of bipolar 1 disorder as well as the section of my website on the same subject. You can google “Ron Price BPD”.

2. Who are your favourite writers? The historians Edward Gibbon and Arnold Toynbee, Manning Clark and Peter Gay, among a long list of historians I keep in my notebooks; the philosophers Ortega y Gasset and Nietzsche, Buber and Spinoza, among another long list I keep in my notebooks; the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith and Their successors Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice; the poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth and Roger White; the psychologists Rollo May and Alfred Adler, and a host of others notes about whom I keep in my notebooks, as well as writers from many other disciplines.

3. Who are your favorite artists? There are several dozen art movements and hundreds if not thousands or artists that can be accessed in both libraries and now, with a click or two, on the internet. I will name two famous artists whose work I like and two whom I have known personally: Cezanne and Van Gogh, Chelinay and Drew Gates. I find it just about impossible to answer a question like this given my eclectic tastes. I have tried in question #2, but found there were too many names and so I do not intend to make such a long list here. As my years of retirement from the world of jobs, community work, and nose to the grindstone stuff, so to speak, lengthen as they have since 1999, I find there are more and more artists in the history of art whose work I am just finding out about and learning to appreciate.

4. Who are your favorite composers, musicians, vocalists and singer/songwriters? How can one choose from the thousands in these categories? It is the same problem as in the previous two questions. Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Hayden come to mind as composers but, goodness, there are simply too many to list. I placed a list of my favourites at several sites in cyberspace. The list had more than 100 people and 100s of their works. Over the years, I’ve had at least a dozen different favorite composers including: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky, Dvorak and Rachmaninoff. My favorite composer seems to be the one whose musical world I’ve been immersed in most deeply at any given time.

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a master of translating melancholy and nostalgia into a musical language. He was cured of a profound writer’s block through hypnosis, and he dedicated his beloved Second Piano Concerto to his psychiatrist, Dr Nikolai Dahl. I dedicate my love for music to my mother and father both of whom played the piano in our home as I was growing-up.

5. Who are your heroes? The Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, Beethoven, Emily Dickinson, a large number of men described in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Memorials of the Faithful(1970, 1927) and many more that I come across in reading history and other social sciences, the humanities as well as the physical and biological sciences. Again, the list is too long and its getting longer with the years as I head with what seems the speed of light to the age of 70 in 2014.

6. Who has been your greatest inspirations? Roger White and John Hatcher in my middle age, Jameson Bond and Douglas Martin when I was a young man in my teens and twenties as well as a host of others, too many to list, in these years of my late adulthood, 60 to 70. Now in my late adulthood, the years after 60 in the lifespan according to some human development psychologists some new inspirations include: the essayist Joseph Epstein, the writers Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and Udo Schaefer, a number of poets and writers whose works I had never had time to read or did not know even existed---again the list is getting longer since reading and research, writing and editing have become much more central to my life, to my daily activities than during my years of employment: 1961 to 2001.

7. If you could invite several people for dinner from any period in history, who would you choose and why? I would not invite anyone because I don’t like to talk while I’m eating. After dinner these days I like to watch TV for a few minutes and then go to bed. I’d chose the following people to have a chat with at some other time during the day, but I would not have them all come at once. I would take them as follows:

7.1 Pericles: I’d like to know what went on in Athens in the Golden Age, as he saw it. I’ve come to know a great deal about Athens in the 5th century BC since I taught ancient history and I have many questions which, of course, I could answer by reading. But there are so many views of the man and the times.

7.2 Roger White: I’d like to simply enjoy his gentle humor and observe that real kindness which I could see in his letters and in his rare interviews.

7.3 My mother and father and my maternal grandparents: The pleasure of seeing them again(except for my grandmother whom I never saw since she died five years before I was born) after all these years would, I think, be just overwhelming.

7.4.1 Douglas and Elizabeth Martin, 7.4.2 Jameson and Gale Bond and 7.4.3 Michael and Elizabeth Rochester. These people were all university academics or the wives of academics who had a seminal influence on my developing values in the formative period of my late teens and early twenties.

7.5 There are many others in another list too long to include here.

8. What are you reading? In 1998, my last year of full-time employment, when I began to list these questions and provide the answers, I had fourteen books on the go: eight biographies, four literary criticisms, one book of philosophy and one of psychology. Now in these early years on two old age pensions, 2009 to 2012, I am reading mostly material on the internet and that reading list is too extensive to list here. I never go to libraries any more and, due to a lack of money, I never buy any books, although my wife does occasionally and I browse through what she buys. The internet is overflowing with enough print to keep me happily occupied until I die. My son bought me David Womersley’s 3-volume edition(1994) of Gibbon’s famous work in 2010 and after 3 years I’m up to page 140 underlining as I go the passages that I may use one day in my own writing.

9. What do you enjoy listening to in the world of music? I listened mainly to classical music on the classical FM station while living in Perth in the last dozen years of my FT employment(1988-1999) as well as some from the folk, pop and rock worlds. Now that I live in George Town northern Tasmania in these years of the early evening of my life(1999 to 2012) this is also true only hardly any pop, rock and folk and much more jazz and classical. I have written about my tastes and interests in music since my adolescence in other places and I refer readers here to the section of my website on music for the kind of detail that would lead to prolixity if I included it here.

10. What food could you not live without? I would miss my wife’s cooking and Persian and Mexican food if I was cut off from them. It must be said, though,(answering this question 14 years after beginning to answer it) now that I live in northern Tasmania I rarely eat Persian and Mexican food. Now that I am retired I hardly miss these foods. I enjoy the food I get, that my wife and I prepare and only eat a Persian meal or a Mexican meal perhaps once a year now. Do I miss it? Yes and no. I enjoy eating when I am hungry; hunger is the driving force and I enjoy many, many foods when I am hungry. If I could not have some of these foods I’d be happy with many others.

11. What do you do when you feel a poem coming on? I get a piece of paper and pen or go to my computer/word processor and start writing. Most of my poems take less than half an hour. My latest booklet of poetry comes from my poetry factory, as I have occasionally come to call this location for my production of poetry in George Town Tasmania, Australia where I write these pieces. I have also calculated the number of poems I have written per day over the last 32 years after a hiatus of 18 years(1962-1980) in my pioneering life in which no record was kept even though I was writing poetry very occasionally, very rarely, at the time.

In the first years of my life, 1943 to 1962, the influences on my writing of poetry included: my mother and grandfather, the primary and secondary school system in Ontario and the university I attended. The Baha’i Faith after 1953 was also a poetic force. All these poetic influences were completely unrecognized as poetic influences at the time since my interests were mainly sport, getting high marks at school, having fun, and dealing with life’s quotidian and sometimes anxious events.

A. From 1 August 1980 to 22 September 2012 there have been 11,734 days(circa).
B. The number of poems written per day is calculated using the following data: 7075(circa) poems in 11,734 (circa) days to 22 September 2012. That works out to: 1 poem in 1.65 days or 4.3 poems/week.
C. The maths: 11,734(days) divided by 7075(poems)

11. How important is life-style and freedom from the demands of employment and other people to your creative life? These things became absolutely crucial by my mid fifties. The Canadian poet, anarchist, literary critic and historian George Woodcock (1912-1995), once said in an interview that it was very important for his literary work that he could live as he wished to live. If a job was oppressing him, he said, he had to leave it. Both Woodcock and I have done this on several occasions, but I did not leave the jobs I did in order to write—except for the last job in 1999 when I was 55.

Woodcock broke with a university and I broke with three Tafe colleges. It's a derogatory thing to say it's a form of evasion, of avoidance or cowardice, said Woodcock, but you have to evade those situations in life in which you become insubordinate to others or situations in which others offend your dignity.

Woodcock went on to say in that same interview that when one acts dramatically or precipitately—like resigning from a job or losing one’s temper--it often has consequences that are very negative. He gave examples from his own life and I could give examples here; I could expand on this important theme but this is enough for now. Readers who are keen to follow-up on this aspect of my life can read my memoirs. Everything in my memoirs is true, but it has been "filtered and worked on". Readers tend to think a memoir is a chronicle or record of a life but, as the memoirist Kate Holden says, “it's a much more subtle form. You're compressing, eliding, using your craft.” She uses her craft to present a good story and I use it to present what I hope is a good analysis, some accurate and honest, useful and helpful reflections on life to those who read them.

12. Were you popular at school, in your primary, secondary and university days? I certainly was in primary and secondary school, but not at matriculation or university. I did not have the experience many writers and intellectuals have who received early wounds from the English school system among other influences in life. It wasn't merely the discipline at these schools; it was the ways in which boys got what was called the school spirit. In most English schools it is a brutal kind of pro-sporty spirit that militates against the intellectual who is looked on as a weakling. I was popular at school because I was good at sport and I got on with everyone.

I certainly was not seen as, and I was not, an intellectual. I was good at memorizing and that is why I did so well, but at university I could not simply memorize; I had to think and write my own thoughts and my grades went from ‘A’s’ to ‘C’s. This was also due to the beginnings of episodes of bipolar I disorder which has afflicted me off and on all my life.

14. You did not flower early as a writer. Tell us something about the origins of your prose and poetic writing. Many writers flower early. Many of them become largely forgotten whereas I have a different type of creativity which seems to be growing in meaning and personal significance, in power and vitality, literally decade by decade, again, like the Canadian George Woodcock. This kind of creativity over the lifespan is actually quite abnormal, atypical. I seem to have been the tortoise or the bull if you're going to use the Taurean symbol. I have been marching forward slowly. I think what I am writing now is better than anything I’ve ever written in my life. Who knows what lies ahead.

Some years ago a reporter from Musician magazine asked jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim a question about when his interest in music began. Ibrahim said he understood the logic of the question but that he couldn't answer it because music had always been part of his day to day living. I feel in a similar way about my relationship to writing. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a deep investment in writing. From 1949 to 1967, the age of 5 to 23, writing was the very source of my success and survival in school. If I had not developed the capacity to write well I would never have got good grades and gone up the academic ladder—but I had to work at the process back then. Any significant literary success, any published work, did not come, really, until I was nearly forty.

15. What sort of relationships do you have these days? I was reading about the Canadian writer George Woodcock whom I have already mentioned in this series of questions and answers. He said that he did not have all that many friends who were writers. He knew their problems, but he did not know the problems of painters. He said that he liked to move among painters, mathematicians, psychologists and people who could tell him something. By my mid-fifties I had had enough of people telling me about things, any things. I had been both a listening post, a reader, and a talker for so many years I was a bit of a burnt-out case and wanted to shut my ears to the endless chatter of life by the age of 55 in 1999.

If I wanted to know about stuff, about any particular person, I could read, watch TV, listen to the radio or google. If I wanted some social life I could visit a small circle of people in the little town I live in, that I took a sea-change to near the mouth of a river by the sea. After an hour or so of conversation and various forms of social interaction I usually had enough and looked forward to my return to solitude.

Due to my medications by the age of 65 and perhaps due to being in my middle years(65-75) of late adulthood(60-80) I found more than two hours with people in any form took me to the edge of my psychological stamina, patience, my coping capacity. It was better for me to seek out solitude after two hours to preserve the quality of my relationships and not to “blot-my-copybook,” as my wife often put it when I indulged in some emotional excess, some verbal criticism of others or gave vent to some kind of spleen which often resulted after that two hours---due to my mental illness, my bipolar disorder. In the 13 years since I retired I have been on a series of medication shifts which have altered my psycho-emotional life. Now I spend 12 hours a day in bed for an 8 to 9 hour sleep and work at literary activity for 6 to 8 hours a day.

16. How would you describe the social outreach in your poetry? I rarely point a finger directly at some guilty party, organization, person or movement; sometimes there is a subtle psychological base to a poem that hints at or implies some evil in someone’s court. My poetry is quite explicitly non-partisan. I have dealt with this issue several times in my series of 26 interviews. It is an important question because the wider world often judges a person by the extent to which they engage with, or in, the quixotic tournament of social and political issues in our global community. I don’t shout at any multinational or rave for some environmental group.

When I do shout and rave it is about other things and there's nothing subtle about my shouting and raving and, in the process, probably little depth in those prose-poems of mine either. With millions of readers now in cyberspace I’d say I now have a social outreach wider, more extensive, than any I’ve had in my life.

17. Some poets see their work as a form of social criticism and, like the Canadian poet Irving Layton, for example, they rage against society and some of what they see as society’s illnesses and injustices. Where does your poetry fit into this picture?

Many of Layton's more than forty published volumes of poetry are prefaced by scathing attacks on those who would shackle a poet's imagination; over the years he has used the media and the lecture hall to passionately and publicly decry social injustice. But perhaps his loudest and most sustained protest has been against a restrictive puritanism that inhibits the celebration and expression of human sexuality. My poetry is not an expression of scathing attacks on anything; nor is it a passionate and public poetic vis-à-vis that quixotic tournament of social issues that are paraded in front of me day after day in the print and electronic media.

I see my poetry as an extension of the whole Bahá'í approach to social issues and individual engagement with these issues. There are several Bahá'í books which explore this quite complex subject. One of the best was published 25 years ago. It is entitled Circle of Unity: Bahá'í Approaches to Current Social Issues. I encourage readers to have a look at it if they would like a more complete answer to this question, a question that I cannot answer in a small paragraph.

As far as the imagination is concerned it is not, in my view, the opposite of facts or the enemy of facts. The imagination depends upon facts; it feeds on them in order to produce beauty or invention, or discovery. The true enemy of the imagination is laziness and habit, as well as an ineffective use of leisure-time. The enemy of imagination is the idleness that provides fancy. I am not concerned, as Layton was, with a restrictive puritanism that inhibits the celebration and expression of human sexuality. I have many concerns in the process of writing poetry and journals, essays and narrative autobiography. I would like to emphasize here that authentic historical documents, mine and those of others, are products of the human mind and language; this is reality itself. Reality could be seen as a white light which each person sees on a spectrum of colour. Insofar as reality is thought, I deal in human reality all the time when I am writing and reading.

17. Do you think travelling has been crucial to your writing?

The Canadian poet Al Purdy(1918-2000) admitted quite clearly that if he hadn't travelled he wouldn't have written very much. He felt that he had to go further out in the world and experience place in order to write. He was one of the most popular and important Canadian poets of the 20th century. Purdy's writing career spanned more than fifty years. His works include over thirty books of poetry, a novel, two volumes of memoirs and four books of correspondence. He has been called Canada’s "unofficial poet laureate" and, "a national poet in a way that you only find occasionally in the life of a culture."

I did not travel the way Purdy did. I just kept moving to new towns, some two dozen. For a great many reasons largely associated with my bipolar disorder as well as some inexplicable fatigue with talking and listening, I became too tired, perhaps too old, too worn-out, too sick, too poor----goodness---what a sad tale, eh? Now I travel in my head and through the print and electronic media. And yes, travel in both these forms has been absolutely crucial to my productivity, but it ways that are difficult to explain since they span several decades.

18. Do you like talking about poetry?

Gary Geddes tells(In It’s Still Winter: A WEB JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN POETRY AND POETICS, Vol. 2 No. 1 Fall 1997) a great story of Douglas Dunn who was writer in residence at Hull. Dunn wanted to meet the famous British poet Larkin. But Larkin was a curmudgeon. He hated poets! Douglas Dunn was told by friends who knew Larkin that, if he wanted to meet Larkin then he had to make sure he didn't ever talk about poetry. He could talk about jazz and anything else, but not poetry. So these friends arranged this meeting and left the two of them in the pub. Finally, after a few beers, Larkin leaned across the table and said, "there are too many poets in this university. Your job as writer in residence is to get rid of them."

I don’t feel like this at all, although I can appreciate Larkin’s sentiments. If I want some congenial poetic spirits I read their poetry or I read about them, but I have no strong desire to meet and have a chat. But I like to write about poetry and that is why I’ve simulated these 26 interviews. I am fascinated by the development of poetry in my life and seek to understand how and why both my interest and my writing have arisen.

19. Do you like reading poetry?

Gary Geddes says in the same interview I quoted above that when he was translating a book of Chinese poetry with a George Leong, George would often bring him the most depressing and melancholic poems in Chinese to translate. Geddes would say: "George you gotta give me something else, I can't bear all of this stuff.” I feel that same way about a lot of poetry, indeed, most contemporary, classical and poetry from any period of history. I just don’t connect with it. My mind and heart do not engage in its content or style, or both. Often I just don’t understand what the poets are saying. The poets I do engage with hit home quite deeply, but they are relatively few. They are also people I am only now discovering since my retirement, since I have the time to read and not engage in a 60 to 80 hour a week filled with people and responsibilities.

20. Do you use metaphor in your poetry to any extent?

Not anywhere near as much as I’d like, as much as exists in its poetic potential. Aristotle once wrote that the ability to see relationships between things is the mark of poetic genius. I would not want to make the claim to be a poetic genius; how could one ever make such a presumptuous, preposterous, claim. But I see relationships between things all over the place. It’s one of the great motivators in why I write. I want to develop my use of metaphor in my poetry. I don’t think I’ve really taken off yet in my effective use of metaphor.

The philosopher Paul Ricoeur(1913-2005) sees mood and metaphor as the basis of the unity of a poem, of poetry itself. Writing poetry is certainly a mood thing for me and I’d like to make it much more of a metaphor thing as well. When emotion and intellect converge in imaginative writing, writing for example that draws on metaphor, readers can be transported to another life-world, a type of Gestalt, a Lebenswelt, to use the philosopher Edmund Husserl’s(1859-1938) term. Any transcendence that results for me and the reader of my work is not due to being taken to another realm at least not consciously.

Any sense of transcendence that does take place is due to seeing meaning, hidden meaning, meaning that did not exist before, in my or my reader’s experience, in the things and thoughts themselves. One goes beyond the familiar and finds fleeting moments rich in imaginative detail. There is a world outside language as the Canadian poet Don McKay(1942- ) asserts. It is very difficult to translate that world but some poetry can do this, can make this translation, with conviction and delight. I’d like to come back to this question several years from now when I’m in my 70s or even 80s.

21. What do you see as the function of a poet?

A poet has many functions, but two functions of this poet that interest me, to answer this question off the cuff so to speak, is: (a) to discover and distil the labour and the genius of the Bahá'í experience and (b) to give expression to the delight and the love that are at the heart of writing. The Canadian poet A.J. M. Smith wrote this in 1954. Smith had a preoccupation with death as I have, although not as intense and not in the same way as Smith’s. Out of his preoccupation with death he made poetry. I have made my poetry out of this and other preoccupations. The medications I’ve taken in the last decade or so have softened my interest in the subject of death.

From a Bahá'í perspective, of course, the arts and sciences in general, and poetry in particular, should “result in advantage to man,” “ensure his progress,” and “elevate his rank” ; that music is a ladder for our souls, “a means whereby they may be lifted up into the realm on high” ; that the art of drama will become “a great educational power” ; that when a painter takes up her paint brush, it is as if she were “at prayer in the Temple” ; that the arts fulfil “their highest purpose when showing forth the praise of God”; and that “music, art and literature...are to represent and inspire the noblest sentiments and highest aspirations.” The leader of the Baha’i cause from 1921-1957 saw such spiritual power in the arts that he predicted they would eventually do much to help it spread the spirit of love and unity. The poet, as I say, has those two functions and many others that I write about in the millions of words readers will find if they get into my oeuvre.

22. When you talk about art and the arts what do you mean?

When I say “art” or “the arts,” I mainly have in mind those that are commonly referred to as “fine arts” such as poetry, painting, sculpture, theatrical drama, film, music, dance and others. But I also have in mind the “design arts,” such as architecture and urban design as well as the crafts, such as pottery and rug-weaving because these arts operate on a spiritual as well as a material plane. Readers can now google the subject at locations in cyberspace like Wikipedia for answers to factual questions like this one.

23. What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I have a photo which I post at many internet sites. The caption, the descriptive comment on this photo, reads: “This full-frontal facial view-photo, taken in 2004 when I was 60 in Hobart Tasmania, has a light side and a dark side. It is an appropriate photo to symbolize my lower and higher natures. These are natures that reach for spiritual, for intellectual and cultural attainment on the one hand and reach for and get caught-up in/with the world of mire and clay and its shadowy and ephemeral attachments.

Of course, when I look in the mirror there is not this clear dichotomy of light and shadow. When I look in the mirror I see an external self, a face which bears a relationship with my real self, a self which is not my body. My real self is an unknown quantity and my face really tells me very little about this real self. And so, to answer your question, I see what nearly everyone else sees: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, cheeks, etc. I also see that: I need a shave; I need to put some ointment on my skin; I need to comb my hair or cut my moustache.

24. What would you bring to this interview to ‘show-and-tell’ if you could bring only one item? And what would you say about that item.

My mother-in-law, who is now 93(i.e. 2012) and lives in a little town called Beauty Point in northern Tasmania across the Tamar River from where I live, has a little figure in her lounge-room. It is a small figure of three monkeys. It has a label on it: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. It always reminds me of a quotation from Bahá'u'lláh’s book Hidden Words. The quotation goers like this and it is this of which I wish to tell:

“O COMPANION OF MY THRONE! Hear no evil, and see no evil, abase not thyself, neither sigh and weep. Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed. Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content, thou mayest put away this mortal frame, and repair unto the mystic paradise and abide in the eternal kingdom for evermore.”
-Bahá'u'lláh, Persian Hidden Words, p. 44.

25.1 Talk a little bit about the types of poetry written and read today? 25.2Do you do any performance poetry?

25.1 Part 1:

The famous American essayist Joseph Epstein wrote over 20 years ago that: “Sometimes it seems as if there isn’t a poem written in this nation that isn’t subsidized or underwritten by a grant either from a foundation or the government or a teaching salary or a fellowship of one kind or another.” Dana Gioia wrote that “the first question one poet now asks another upon being introduced is ‘Where do you teach?’” Dana Gioia, “Can Poetry Matter?,” Atlantic Monthly, May 1991.

Gioia himself acknowledges a heritage of a commentary of concern for the health of poetry extending from Edmund Wilson’s “Is Verse a Dying Technique?”(1934) through to Joseph Epstein’s “Who Killed Poetry?” (1988). But performance poetry is alive and well and, in contrast, is based in speech. Walter J. Ong so eloquently demonstrated that this poetry is fundamentally other than writing. Sound, he writes, “is not simply perishable but essentially evanescent, and it is sensed as evanescent.” These are performances of poetry, some now call mic-poetry, that practice a poetics of openness and engagement, and in doing so inherently refuse official, institutional surveillance. This mic-poetry and its venues utilize space not constructed for cultural displays, spaces such as bars and coffeehouses.

I will draw on the words of Rollo May, the man who introduced existential psychology to the USA and whose writings influenced me back in the 1970s and still do. “If you do not express your own original ideas,” wrote May, “if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.”

Part 2:

“A chief characteristic of this courage,” he went on to say, “is that it requires a centeredness within one’s own being. This is why we must always base our commitment in the centre of our own being, or else no commitment will be ultimately authentic.” Unconscious insights or answers to problems that come in reverie do not come hit or miss. They may indeed occur at times of relaxation or in fantasy, or at other times when we alternate play with work. But what is entirely clear to me is that they pertain to those areas in which a person consciously has worked laboriously and with dedication.

The Dionysian principle of ecstasy is often the result: a magnificent summit of creativity which achieves a union of form and passion with order and vitality. I encourage readers to read May’s books. They were and are an intellectual and spiritual delight for me and they answer much more fully these topics for which you wanted a comment.

Count Basie's great drummer Jo Jones once said his job was not so much to play the drums as it was to get himself into the kind of condition where he could play the things he could imagine. I think that's my job too, but imagination is only part of the story and perspiration, effort and work, is the other 99 per cent.

25.2 I did some performance poetry back in the 1990s both in my classroom as a teacher and in 1 or 2 places around Perth. In reading poetry one is into the world of entertainment. After more than 30 years in a classroom as a teacher, a place where I was an entertainer among other roles, I tired of the process. When I retired I had no desire to read my poetry.

Public readings by Russian writers including Voznesensky and Yevtushenko grew to the point that huge stadiums could hardly contain the audiences clamouring to hear the new poetry. When Voznesensky reads his voice is equal to every music his language offers, and he whips his poems toward the audience with a right arm like a tweed cobra; he delivers his lines with a passionate, almost frightening intensity.

During performances, crowds have been known to rush the podium to touch the cuffs of his trousers; after them, poetry groupies seek the kind of backstage benediction the Irish poet Dylan Thomas used to like to give. His name shows up in literary journals while his face appears in fashion magazines. He is a legend in Russia. With as many as 14,000 in a stadium, reading poetry was like a sport. Voznesensky said that this experience was a little boring because it was impossible for 14,000 people in a soccer stadium to hear you. It’s impossible to speak intimately. He also said that before his generation of Russian poets there had never been that level of public interest and response.

Reading poetry here in Australia, as I did back in the 1990s, was not that much of a pleasure for me. Poetry can’t compete with TV, the movies, having fun, and the entertainment ethos of our culture. Perhaps after having a good rest from teaching I may want to be the entertainer again. The problem now is that with the new meds for my bipolar disorder I don’t have much social stamina and reading my poetry in public would be too exhausting.

27. Popular and mass culture on the one hand and intellectual-elitist educated-high culture on the other are both evidenced in the many millions of words in your poems, essays and books. Could you comment on this dichotomy in your life and writings?

Part 1:

In recent years, since my early retirement from FT and PT work in my late fifties---in the late 1990s—and as we entered the 3rd millennium and even more so now that I am 68, on two old age pensions and have immersed myself totally in reading and writing, research, editing and publishing, I have come to understand more clearly how my investments in these two cultures were shaped as far back as my childhood.

My father became an adult in 1911 before the Great War and my mother during that war in 1917. I was a child of a working class immigrant father and a mother who was also the child of a working class immigrant father. They viewed education, ideas, and culture with reverence. This was especially true of my mother. My mother, her brother, her sister and her father read books, lots of books. They listened to classical music and were interested in the arts generally. They became reasonably knowledgeable about the arts, although not academically so. Their formal education was never beyond high school. They were what we call autodidacts.

This background created in them a disposition against popular culture to some extent. Perhaps they had a fear that common tastes might make them appear undiscerning and unworthy. I don’t know. They have been for more than 30 years. My father had a number of working class jobs, was a passionate gardener and read the newspaper more than books. He was no elitist. They both listened and danced to popular music, loved motion pictures, and played and followed sports.

Part 2:

The years after World War II transformed popular culture in important ways. The enormous expansion of consumer spending, the rise of new communications media especially TV, and the incorporation of distinct European American ethnic cultures and communities into a more generalized white identity left me with a different view of culture than the one that made sense to my parents. The comfortable lower middle class home, community, and culture in which I grew up was a happy one.

Before the age of 18 in 1962, I imagined that professional athletes inhabited a world I wanted to be a part of. In my late childhood and teens I lost myself in a Canadian culture defined by my small hometown: its baseball, hockey and football players; pictures printed on the backs of cards that I collected, and its trinity of orthodoxy: Catholic, Protestant and Jew. I was drawn to rock and roll radio programs, movies, and that world of sport. My little world was defined by the "down home" music and humor of disc jockeys, by the quiet theatricality, festivity, and sensuality of mass mediated working class culture and family, school and a little circle of friends.

Part 3:

I had my first symptoms of bi-polar disorder at the age of 18 and went on to university: 1963-1967 still battling the disorder. While I was studying the social sciences at university in the working class, ‘ lunch-pail’ city of Hamilton, I began to see my culture like a kind of suffocating tyranny. It was during these years that my interests in the Bahá'í Faith developed and these interests helped to give me a balance between the intellectual-high culture and the more populist aspects of culture. And the rest is history as they say. I have now had half a century since then(1962-2012) of an interest in both popular and high culture and am very, very far from being an authority on either.

Part 4:

The Canadian poet Archibald Lampman, who championed the idea of variety of subjects and styles as a poetic virtue wrote in his essay on “Poetic Interpretation” (c. 1895), that: “the perfect poet would have no set style. He would have a different one for everything he would write, a manner exactly suited to the subject.” It seems to me, as I now survey the last two decades of an enormous poetic output, that I have come to acquire a certain style, although the content is immensely varied from elitist to popular culture.

28. What do you think readers can learn from your prose that they can’t from your poetry?

28. To answer this question, allow me to begin with the words of a leading American critic of poetry Helen Vendler. She notes in her review of American poet Robert Hass’s 500 page series of essays entitled What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World in The New York Review of Books 27/9/’12---that: “Poets’ prose is in a category all its own. It enlarges for readers the idea of a writer’s mind and also demonstrates aspects of his character. To a reader knowing only the poetry there can be surprises, for example:

Emerson’s aphoristic journals, Whitman’s fact-filled memoranda of the Civil War, or Thoreau’s memories of his dead brother in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Poets’ prose can be formal and reticent, as is the case in T.S. Eliot’s writing; or it can be intimately painful as in Robert Lowell’s account of his time in Payne Whitney (“From the Unbalanced Aquarium”). What Light Can Do collects the poet Robert Hass’s essays of the last twenty years, in which we hear a disarming voice speaking as if to friends. His prose has an unusually wide range: he has written not only on other poets but also on photographers (Robert Adams, Robert Buelteman, Laura McPhee) and fiction writers (Jack London, Chekhov, Cormac McCarthy, Maxine Hong Kingston).”
Vendler continues: “Hass’s first instinct in writing prose is to take on the manner of a born storyteller, transporting us to a well-described setting—biographical, ecological, or personal—and naturalizing us, so to speak, into an imaginative atmosphere. In other hands, an essay called “Wallace Stevens in the World” might not begin: “My nineteenth birthday was also the birthday of one of my college friends.” Nor might a piece on the First Epistle of Saint John open with: “In my grade-school classroom in Northern California, there were pictures pinned to the bulletin boards representing the Last Supper.” Other essays begin more straightforwardly, but not without a deliberate will to surprise. The intriguing “Chekhov’s Anger” invites us in with a blunt and unsettling opening: “In his journals Chekhov notes two reasons why he doesn’t like a lawyer of his acquaintance. One is that he is very stupid; the other is that he is a reptile.”

In my case, readers will find my prose exists in my poetry as well as in my essays and autobiography. To make a long story short, I think I could go so far as to say my prose and poetry are virtually indistinguishable. That is why I call it prose-poetry.

29. To what extent is your prose and poetry confessional?
Jack Kerouac was asked once in an interview(Jack Kerouac, The Art of Fiction No. 41,Interviewed by Ted Berrigan in the Paris Review where he got his spontaneous style for his book On the Road.
Kerouac said that he: “got the idea for the spontaneous style of On the Road from seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however since they were letters. I remembered also Goethe's admonition, well, Goethe's prophecy that the future literature of the West would be confessional in nature; also Dostoyevsky prophesied as much and might have started in on that if he'd lived long enough to do his projected masterwork, The Life of a Great Sinner. Cassady also began his early youthful writing with attempts at slow, painstaking, and all-that-crap craft business, but got sick of it like I did, seeing it wasn't getting out his guts and heart the way it felt coming out”.

That’s too free and loose for my liking and whatever confessionalism there is in my writing is what I have come to call “a moderate confessionalism”. I don’t tell all from the rag-and-bone shop of my life. The general Baha’i teaching on confession guides me here.

30. What are your views on plagiarism and, on the internet, spam?

30.1 I rather like the poet Milton’s view of piracy or plagiarism of a work. Milton had the view that: "if what is borrowed is not bettered by the borrower, then it is plagiarism". Stravinsky added the right of possession to Milton's distinction when he said: "A good composer does not imitate, he steals." An example of this better borrowing is Jim Tenney's "Collage 1" (1961) in which Elvis Presley's hit record "Blue Suede Shoes" (itself borrowed from Carl Perkins) is transformed by means of multi-speed tape recorders and razor blade. Tenney took an everyday piece of music and allowed us to hear it differently. At the same time, all that was inherently Elvis radically influenced our perception of Jim's piece.1
1 Marilyn Randall, “Recycling, Recycling or plus ça change...”in Other Voices, May 2007, Vol.3.1. For an excellent overview of this subject go to this link:

30.2 I have written a brief essay on spam since I have often been accused of ‘spamming in cyberspace’. The piece is probably too long to include here, but I’ll include it anyway. The title of the brief essay is: “A New Product Hits the Market”.

The original term spam was coined in 1937 by the Hormel corporation as a name for its Spam luncheon meat: a canned, precooked, spiced meat product. The transition from meat product to internet term had a stop with the comedy Monty Python's Flying Circus. In 1970 that BBC comedy show aired a sketch that featured a cafe that had a menu which featured items like: "egg, bacon, and spam; egg, bacon, sausage, and spam; spam, bacon, sausage, and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon, and spam; and finally, lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a mornay sauce garnished with truffle pate, brandy, and a fried egg on top and spam."

To make matters sillier in Monty Python style, the cafe was filled with Vikings who periodically broke-out into song praising spam: "spam, spam, spam, spam: lovely spam, wonderful spam."

While the Hormel corporation was holding a competition to find a new name for their product, the North American Bahá’í community was formulating the details of its first teaching Plan in May 1937. This formulation took place just eight weeks before the introduction of Spam onto the market. As of 2003 the Baha’i Faith had spread to over 200 countries and territories with the largest number of adherents in India, Iran and the USA. As of 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries worldwide. The largest consumers of Spam were in the United States, the UK and South Korea.

Computer people adopted the term Spam from the Python sketch to mean, to include, the commercialization of the internet, the unwanted commercial messages that come in the form of electronic junk mail or junk postings as well as posts at Internet sites that: (a) nobody really wants to read/asks for and/or (b) are basically some form of plagiarism. These have become the primary meanings, among other meanings, of spam on the internet.-Ron Price with thanks to “A History of the Term Spam,”, 24 July 2008.

31. How did you learn to write?

The science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said that "you can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices." I never took any courses on writing, although I taught many courses myself from basic skills courses, individual tutoring to help students write essays, and creative writing. I learned a few things as a teacher; I also read dozens of interviews with writers. Finally, as I got older, I wrote more and more, and I think that was the main way I learned: by writing.

32. As a writer how do you view the past?

As George Steiner(1929- ), the influential European-born American literary critic, essayist, philosopher, novelist, translator, and educator, wrote: “it is not the past which rules us; it is our image of the past.” This is just another way of saying we construct our own past out of the facts, the events that took place. Our freedom lies in how we view our experiences. Perhaps the idea of loving or battling with our fate is also involved here.

This question could also be worded as: how do I see history? I’ve written a great deal about a Baha’i view of history. According to the Baha'i view of human history, social conditions had changed sufficiently by the 19th century that humanity was in need of further guidance from God. While lesser degrees of unity had been achieved, up to and including the bringing together of peoples to create a nation, what was now needed was the divine guidance necessary to move humanity forward to the next stage of its development: global unity. Indeed, the messenger that was now to come was the culmination of all of the religions that God had sent to different regions of the world. Readers can examine a finely nuanced view with a little googling in cyberspace.

Concluding Comment:

I began asking and answering these questions in 1998 as I indicated at the start of this simulated interview. I added more questions and answers, as I also said at the outset of this interview, more than a decade later from 2009 to 2012. The last update to the above 28 questions, as well as the 10 questions that opened this simulation, was made 14 years after beginning this process of question and answer---on 2 October 2012. Total: 7900 words and 20 A-4 pages.
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