An Interview with Ron Price

Ron Price

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Q: What about the human influences, the affect of people, on what you write? Is it as great as books which obviously have quite a significant impact from what you say?

Price: Many of my poems are the result of experiences I have with my colleagues and students at work. I lecture in the social sciences and humanities at the West Australian Department of Training. I am also very committed to the Baha’i Faith and this commitment brings me into contact with many different kinds of people and situations. These generate another group of poems, as does my family and friends. My poetry is very autobiographical and I often will write a poem about someone whom I knew many years ago, my mother or father, say. And then, this may sound strange to you, but I like to think of, and I certainly believe in, the influences on my poetry from those who have gone on to another world. This is a much more subtle, more intangible, process; but it is certainly a human influence I can not discard because I am often conscious of it. Just exactly how this influence takes place I do not know or understand.

Q: Have you tried to publish your work? Does this interest you much at this early stage of your writing?

Price: I have now been writing seriously for about a dozen years and poetry for four or five. I have had a few of my poems published in half a dozen magazines and newspapers. The Baha’i publishing houses I have sent my work to have indicated to me the difficulty of moving poetry in the Baha’i bookshops. Since my poetry is very strongly autobiographical and influenced by my religious proclivities I can not seriously consider the vast range of non-Baha’i publishers. It is not that I am not interested in publishing; it is rather that the outlets for my type of writing are very limited. As an alterative I: often give copies of poems to friends, send one-offs to magazines and send a single copy of virtually every poem I write to the Baha’i World Centre Library.

Q: Do you read your poetry often?

Price: Occasionally I give it a try at school but I am not impressed with the process. Students don’t know what to say after they hear a poem, or group of poems. Rather than being a unifying force it seems estranging in an inexplicable sort of way. I tend to think that what I write is meant to be savoured in a one-to-one reading situation; it is not part of some group experience. When I do try to go public, I feel like a performer and I choose poems which have a bigger impact, some comic or emotional response.

I’ve been listening to the Baha’i writings, the most beautiful poetry I know, being mangled by people who are essentially non-readers, or non-English speaking readers, for over thirty years. I would not want my own work to be read and mangled as well, by others. On those rare occasions when I read my own work I have to practice to get it right. Reading well is an art. It’s a little like doing vaudeville or being a poet in residence. I don’t think I’m a good enough entertainer. I’m getting better at it with the years, but I may never make it as ‘the entertainer’. I heard Roger White give a reading once to an audience of three hundred. He was very funny. I don’t think I’d want to do it if I could not keep the troops laughing, slipping the serious stuff in on the side. Perhaps I’ll feel more positively about the process in the future, when and if I become successful at the entertainer role.

Q: Do you talk much about your work?

Price: I do an incredible amount of talking since I am a teacher and have twenty-five hours of class contact, another ten hours roaming about talking to colleagues and students outside class and, say another ten hours a week in various types of Baha’i community activity. After forty-five hours of talking and listening I have little interest in doing any more in a one week slot. Teaching provides all the outlet I need to talk about writing in general and poetry in particular. Occasionally I find myself out in the wide-wide world, away from work, family and the Baha’i community, talking a bout writing, but it is a rare occasion and then only very briefly. That is probably why I agreed to this interview. I don’t talk about writing poetry for an extended period of time to anyone, ever. I’m not sure I would even want to, given my recent experience with such dialogue. Structured interviews with people who take a serious interest in poetry, that’s different.

I’ve known writers all my life. My mother and grandfather were writers. Doug Martin and Jameson Bond, two men who have made significant contributions to the Baha’i Faith had seminal influences on me as a young adult. They were both writers. Working as I have in post-secondary educational institutions I have known several writers. I find I often have little in common with writers. There is a lady I occasionally talk to at the moment, Fran Vidente. She’s just finished writing her first book and she is quite excited about it. We are as different as chalk and cheese: philosophically, religiously, in just about every way. But we understand each other. I warm to her when she comes in the room. We both shrug off the differences or ignore them. There’s some kind of inner sensitivity which understands even if it does not like the other.

My wife has read more of my poetry than anyone. She likes what I write generally. She has also admitted to a certain jealousy insofar as my poetry is concerned. She is a very honest woman; she has a tough edge, but gentle. She lays you low but kindly. Her encouragement has meant alot to me. So much of what I have written since 1982 she has not liked. So when she says she likes my poetry her words have special meaning, a certain impact. Occasionally someone will make a comment about a poem they have read. This is also encouraging. But the kind of discussion I got when I used to teach English Literature is virtually non-existent now, outside the occasional chats with my wife which seem to range corrections of my spelling and grammar to genuinely fertile dialogue.

Q: Could you talk a little more about the influence of Roger White on your writing, your poetry?

Price: I first opened a book of his poems in late 1979 in Tasmania. I think I was visiting in the home of a jazz ballet instructor in Devonport. I remember the detail because his poetry spoke to me so vividly that I was excited for the first time in my life about poetry. Roger always said that I was better at prose and essays than poetry. Well, much of my poetry is as much prose as poetry, so in a way he was right. Roger died in 1993 and I wrote a collection of essays about his poetry. He read all the essays before he died and gave his seal of good housekeeping. I tried to publish them but Kalimat Press and George Ronald were not interested so I sent them all to the BWCL. I’ve had an incredible outpouring of poetry since he got sick and on death’s door and especially after he passed away. I like to think his influence is immeasurable. I believe it is, but it is not the kind of thing I can prove.

Q: Tell us more about the autobiographical aspects of your poetry. I understand Roger White used to say, quoting Tagore, “the poem not the poet. ” What philosophy, what approach do you subscribe to insofar as writing about yourself is concerned?

Price: I think everything you write about is, in one way or another, about yourself. Even Roger’s work. In fact, I think the reason he said to read his poetry, if you wanted to know about him, was because his poetry was about himself but not in a narratively structured, time sequenced sort of way. I have written a great deal, several thousand words anyway, about my poetry and how and why I go about putting it together. Roger has written briefly about his poetry but, at least in his published works, what he says in prose form is pithy, humorous and very succinct. My poetry is blatantly autobiographical. In fact I’ve organized all the poetry I have written as Section VII of Pioneering Over Three Epochs, entirely an autobiographical exercise.

Finally, let me make one more comment here, for fear of allowing everyone to think I am an ego-centred, narcissistic writer with an entirely self-oriented perspective. I have developed over the years, especially since about 1984 when I was forty, a sense of myself as a pioneer. My identity is strongly related to this role that I have had in the Baha’i community since 1962. This poetry, this autobiography, is all part of this expression, this definition of self, this personal view of who I am in terms of my international pioneer role since 1971 and before that a homefront pioneer beginning in 1962. It is a role that will have some importance for generations to come, indeed I see myself as one of the foundation generations of decades if not centuries to come. It is my hope to provide some concrete, specific, identity-orienting material for future generations. And so I write.

Q: Could you talk briefly about becoming known, popular, read by many others? I have already asked you about publishing, but I’d like you to talk in the wider sense about the whole issue of popularity, fame and acknowledgment of your work.

Price: Everyone who writes likes to be read; it’s a little like talking; we like to be listened to when we talk. It’s natural, even necessary. I’ve got nothing against fame or wealth. But now in the late twentieth century there are thousands of poets and millions of people who write the stuff. To get through to become someone whom others read, what we could call a minor poet, like Roger White, is no mean achievement. I may make it; I may not. . Maybe with Internet and modems it might get easier. But not for me. My market is essentially those who have joined the emerging world religion known as the Baha’i Faith or others who are at least interested in it. I am a Baha’i poet. It is that explicit. Of my 2500 poems, maybe a few have a clear secular dress, but not many. My poetry speaks to, and of, the Baha’i experience, all one hundred and fifty odd years of it now. It speaks to a Baha’i view of history, to an emerging Baha’i consciousness in world literature and the arts.

If my poetry becomes popular it will be because the Baha’i Faith has become popular, at least more so than it is at present. My potential readership at the moment is so small that the question of popularity is not a relevant issue. I would go so far as to say I am not even interested in fame or popularity except insofar as it is connected with the popularity of my religion. I tend to think that in the end, while I am alive, my poetry will be for a coterie, for a coterie of a coterie. The mass media, print and electronic, are so very powerful. Poetry has always been for a coterie; that coterie is getting numerically larger and larger. But it is still a coterie. Millions, most people I’ve ever known, have little to no interest in poetry, except in some kind of distant sense, like my interest in gardening, or cooking. I do a little dabbling here and there out of necessity. But few approach poetry out of necessity, unless they are in school. To such people, the great mass of those whom I will ever know personally, or even know about, poetry is irrelevant to their lives. If my popularity or fame were to rest on their response to what I write, I would be doomed. I don’t write for money or fame, except in the sense referred to above. I write because it gives me pleasure. It is a skill which in the exercise thereof I am happier.

Q: Thanks for your time Mr Price; I look forward to a second interview at some future time when we can continue exploring the poetic dimension and some of your own thoughts and experiences in that dimension. P: See you again one day.


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