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Ron Price

Rookie (23/07/1944 / Hamilton Ontario Canada)

Poetry of Abundance


So much lies ahead, after
I am gone, long after I am
gone…for my epigone1 to
whom I direct the required
new perceptions which have
been slowly coming into my
mind as I try to balance all,
using a scale to weigh years
behind me & years to come.

My engine is not so grim as
Robert’s, churning as it did
in the midst of his bipolar
disorder2….although I, too,
have my rust which must be
cleaned from off my heart on
a daily basis as I write & write
surounded by an abundance &
emptiness, with the loss of some
sensuality, a gain of some degree
of dessication as several doctors
deal with my bodily maladies as
the evening of life incrementally
goes insensibly into a long night.

Submitted: Friday, June 14, 2013
Edited: Friday, June 14, 2013
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Poet's Notes about The Poem

POETRY OF ABUNDANCE
Part 1:

Back in April 1988, as I was finishing my first term in my first year as a lecturer in a technical and further education college in Perth Western Australia, and as I was beginning the first years of middle-age, Helen Vendler wrote a review in The New York Review of Books. It was a review of a new book of poems, The Haw Lantern, by Seamus Heaney.1 Vendler(1933-) was and is a leading American poetry critic. Heaney(1939-) was and is an Irish poet, playwright, translator, lecturer and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.

“Here are thirty-two new poems by Seamus Heaney, ” Vendler 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.” Heaney, twenty-five years later and as I write this reflective piece of prose-poetry, is now 74. More people in his life have been “taken by death.” More of that “fullness of the sensual life” has been taken by life. The academic John Sutherland, among others, see Heaney as 'the greatest poet of our age'.

By my mid-forties I was no “poet of abundance.” That delightful poetic ride, which was Heaney’s gift, was waiting for me as I got into my fifties. Here I am now, nearly 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 incrementally- -millions of readers in cyberspace’s vast landscape.

Part 2:

That moment of emptiness, to which Vendler refers in the life of Seamus Heaney, is also found in other poets. Vendler attempts to describe the human experience of aging by quoting other poets. “Already I take up less emotional space / Than a snowdrop, ” James Merrill(1926-1995) wrote at such a point in his own evolution. Merrill was an American poet whose awards have included the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1977.

Robert Lowell’s grim poetic 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(1917-1977) , 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. Yeats(1865-1939) was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature.
“The struggle to be one’s old self and one’s new self together is the struggle of poetry itself, ” Vendler goes on, and “it 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.”

Part 3:

The great systems of dogma: patriotic or ethical, religious or philosophical- -are often, but not always, abandoned by poets as they come into their late middle age and late adulthood, to say nothing of old-age, the years after 80 according to one model of the lifespan used by psychologists of human development. Heaney’s own dogmas, says Vendler, were “abandoned in favour of a ceaseless psychic sorting, ” and he took little joy in sorting.

Heaney has several times quoted Mandelstam’s3 “notion that poetry—and art in general—is addressed to…’ The reader in posterity: ’
“It 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; 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; and 3Osip Mandelstam(1891-1938) was a Russian poet and essayist.

So much lies ahead, after
I am gone, long after I am
gone…for my epigone1 to
whom I direct the required
new perceptions which have
been slowly coming into my
mind as I try to balance all,
using a scale to weigh years
behind me & years to come.

My engine is not so grim as
Robert’s, churning as it did
in the midst of his bipolar
disorder2….although I, too,
have my rust which must be
cleaned from off my heart on
a daily basis as I write & write
surounded by an abundance &
emptiness, with the loss of some
sensuality, a gain of some degree
of dessication as several doctors
deal with my bodily maladies as
the evening of life incrementally
goes insensibly into a long night.

1 In the Greek myth the descendants of the Seven against Thebes undertook a second expedition against the city and eventually captured and destroyed it.

2 Robert Lowell was one of the twentieth century's most esteemed American poets. As a manic depressive who experienced alternating bouts of depression and mania, he was also one of its most tormented. In The Poetry of Heartbreak, July 2003, The Atlantic, Peter Davison reviews this collection and situates Lowell’s extensive body of work within the context of his chaotic life.

By the time Lowell died in 1977 at age sixty, he had been married and separated three times, had renounced his Protestant roots for what turned out to be a temporary obsession with Catholicism, and had spent much of his adult life in and out of mental hospitals. During his manic spells, he was overtaken by surges of larger-than-life emotion that ended up reflected in his poetry. As Davison describes it: “Ambition, religious passion, poetic genius, and dementia throbbed together in verses that gave off a powerful music, enthralling to some readers but puzzling to others.”

Ron Price
14/6/’13.

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