Here’s Hoping You Read as Well as He Writes

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 8.02.23 AMhttp://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/trump-kritiker-jack-ridl-the-number-of-the-beast-1.3926572

Behind this link is the lovely piece Christian Zaschke wrote about Jack’s “In Time” series, his act of resistance. We are heartbroken that we cannot read it in German, because after spending a few days with Christian (after a few minutes, we knew), we realized that this writer loves his words, uses them carefully, builds and sculpts his stories. What an honor to have met him, and how kind he was to put so much effort into casting his light on this project.

Dear new readers, here are all of Jack’s Thursday posts, resisting the administration of 45, under the tag “In Time.”  https://ridl.wordpress.com/category/in-time/

So many thanks to Norbert Kraas for introducing us!

 

 

 

All I Have Is Words

(This post appeared first on the blog of the wonderful publishers of my book Losing Season, Cavan Kerry Press. I’ve remained connected with these wonderful people through their great good work in bringing the experience of beautifully made books and great untold stories to populations who might not normally receive them. I just love this publisher….

Just now Cavan Kerry is focusing their intentions on people who have disabilities. So we are writing about these, and finding writers with disabilities to write about their/our own experiences. This put me in mind of a writer I’ve been writing with for a while…)

I’ve just come back from spending a couple of hours, a couple enriching hours, with Randy Smit, the Reverend Randy Smit.

Randy and I get together at his home once every month. About a year ago, I received an email from him. I had no idea who he was. He asked if I would be willing to look over his poems and talk about poetry. Randy said that he was an ordained minister, had two graduate degrees, and through a former student of mine had developed an interest in poetry. He wanted to learn how to write poems that dealt with important experiences, ones that he felt prose simply wouldn’t embody. I was hesitant. I get a lot of these requests, and though I try to fulfill as many as I can, most of the time those who contact me do not want to develop the art; most want me to say that “these poems are very moving.” And I do understand that as well. After all, in our culture poetry is not an especially psychologically safe subject to talk about.

Randy asked if we could meet in his home. “It will be easier,” he said. And so I drove up to his place, parked, knocked on the door. A young woman answered. “Come in. I’m Elaine. This is Randy.” And she walked out of the room. “Elaine looks after me while my wife is at work at the hospital,” Randy said and welcomed me, smiling from his wheelchair. “Hey, I know you,” I said. “I’ve seen you in Sanctuary Woods when I walk our dog. I recognize you.” “It’s probably my glasses,” he replied, “a line I use all the time.” I reached out to shake his hand. “Sorry,” he said. “I can move only my head, and even that only a little bit. When we look at poems, you will need to hold what we’re looking at in front of me.”

He invited me into a spacious room with bookcases and floor to ceiling windows. “I spend most of my time here. I’ve come to know, really know the trees, the sky, the different animals and birds that hang out in the back yard. And of course the books.”

We sat at a large round table, Randy’s poems spread out there. “Okay,” he said and took a deep breath, and laughed. “I’m ready. Show me the ropes.”

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“I want to be able to write real poetry. I want it to be about my days, but I don’t want it to draw attention to myself. I want us to talk about poetry. I want us to read poems together. And I want to just see what happens when we hang out.”

“We can do that,” I said, hoping that we could.

We looked at some poems, some of Randy’s, some of mine, some of poets I thought he would learn from. Randy can’t write anything down, but it was clear that he was absorbing it all, and loving it. I asked him if he wanted me to “write any of this down.” “I’ll tell you if I think you’ve said something I might not remember. Then you can write it down.”

After a while our conversation began to explore and reveal the intersection of poetry and theology and what Randy called “spiritual practices.” It was as if the subjects themselves were having a conversation.

During a pause in our chattering away, I asked Randy the name of his condition. “I have no idea,” he said. “This is how I came into the world. All I can do is open my eyes, think, imagine, and feel. I feel a lot. And I live in words. Words are my world. All I have are words. I live in my head in a world of words. Even when I’m with other people, and I love being with other people, it’s words that bring us together. Like us, now.

I couldn’t help but think of the biblical passage about the word becoming flesh. I mentioned it to him. After all, he is a minister. “Yes!! That is what happens. For me words become flesh.”

And so since that first meeting we have gotten together and lived in a conversation that enlarges the world of each of us—through words.

After we had met a few times, I said to Randy, “You know, I will never know what it’s like to be you.” He laughed. He laughs a lot. “And I can never know what it’s like to be you,” he replied and then added, “But we can keep getting closer and closer to understanding. We’ll never get there, but we’ll keep getting closer. Poems, yours, others, mine are going to do that for us.”

From that first meeting on, if asked what it’s like to be a poet, I am no longer able to offer one of the more common replies: “Poets live in words.” No, I, and likely most poets, live in words for part of each day. Randy lives in words all day, every day.

(Randy Smit writes the very next post on Cavan Kerry’s Blog. See that here…)

Merry Everything!

Whew. It’s been quite a few weeks. Talking with Bill Littlefield on “Only a Game” was like talking with an old friend. Thanks to WGVU for making their studio available for the conversation. Littlefield loves to laugh. And he followed up the show with a terrific review of Losing Season in The Boston Globe.

Then in came an email from The Institute for International Sport announcing that they had selected the collection for their Best Educational Sports Book for 2009.

No sooner did I read that message than the phone rang and the caller was Carol Jackson from NPR’s “The Story” hosted by Dick Gordon (second story of the program, if you follow that link). Carol Jackson talked with me for 45 minutes. After a bit I started to realize that she was making sure of my being someone they’d like to have on the broadcast and that she was asking all kinds of questions in order to find THE story that they’d like to feature. I was brain-exhausted after our conversation. I’ve always wondered how they created that program, because it is done so seamlessly as a narrative rather than as a talk show or interview. A story seems to emerge organically, but it’s clear now how much work it takes to create that, taking what the featured person says, connecting it all together, splicing in Dick Gordon’s observations and insights, creating a conversation and a story. After we finished the taping, Carol came back on to say that they were going to try to get some recordings of games when my father coached. Just incredible all they do to create each segment, and to think that they are on daily! She said that she does those pre-recording calls, researches material about the subject, sets up a sequence of what Dick is going to have the person talk about, and then they tape two segments a day, one from noon until 1:30, then another from 2-3:30. I can’t imagine how many hours day after day they all put in.

You might enjoy a look at their website. The mission statement is very moving, how they are dedicated to countering the culture’s emphasis on celebrity stories while finding, celebrating, preserving stories from those they feel are doing things of value, those who have stories of value. Dick Gordon said to me that if they don’t do this, “will anyone?” He’s very very concerned about the way our culture ignores stories that most of the time are much more important than those that are usually hurled at us.

Then came Keillor’s readings of a couple of the poems — a real thrill for me, and Amorak Huey’s careful review in the Grand Rapids Press.

I have yet to meet another poet who has had a book signing at a college basketball game, and I’m betting, meantime, that I’m the only poet, ever, to enjoy such an honor. The college’s bookstore actually sold more books at the Hope games last weekend than I ever have at a poetry reading, so perhaps I’ve tapped nto a secret poetry marketing vein…?

I’m really enjoying the readings hither and thither, and especially those that come with homemade cookies, like the one at Literary Life bookstore in Grand Rapids. What a perfect place for people who love books. If you haven’t checked it out yet, this is the right time of year, when the snow is falling, to crawl that wonderful stretch of Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids, pausing there for a good read or two.

Well, it’s been a good ride already. I’m just so grateful. We’re quieting down for a gentle Christmas with blankets of snow along the creek. Hope yours is good. And your new year too!

Stretching Out There Somewhere

Where have all the flowers gone? That allusion implies how long I’ve been in the classroom

Came here to Hope College in 1971. Thought I’d stay maybe three or four years. Wednesday, April 23, thirty-seven years later, I walked out of my last class

Felt a little like Icarus in that Bruegel painting. Not that I plunged to my death. But I sure plunged. And all around me were students and teachers heading to their classes or meetings or study dates or out to lie in the first sunshine of spring, many of the students chattering away on their cell phones. I looked at the buildings where I got to be with my students and the one where I had my office, then walked to the car and drove home.

The scary thing about having a teaching life close down is that you have so little to measure it by. You hope that you did a lot more good than harm. And yet realizing even one harmful result could ignite a forest fire in your mind burning away any hopes for good memories that were trying to sprout, thrive, and offer some comforting shade.

So, you go home. When you walk in the door, Charlie the dog runs to greet you. A bit later Julie comes home from real work. You sit with her on the couch, turn on ESPN, take her hand, and feel all of what lies ahead stretching out there somewhere.

Summer Workshop Roundup

Have I ever been lucky this summer, getting to lead poetry workshops at The Far Field Retreat for Writers, at Interlochen’s first annual writers conference and at Ox Bow where I was surrounded by artists.

I highly and whoopingly recommend all three of these opportunities. They are so well run, never a bump in the road, everything moving along as if they are running themselves when one knows that behind the scenes, those in charge– Mary Ann Samyn, Anne Marie Oomen, and Jason Kalajainen–have made sure that we are in a writer’s paradise. What a joy to work with attendees ranging in age from 19-83 each carrying life stories abundant with sorrow and hilarity.

Julie and Charlie dog went along to Interlochen, and Charlie was in heaven each morning as he dashed out the door of our home on Green Lake and headed to the shoreline to roll in a dead fish. Ahhhhhh. Hmmmmm, maybe there’s a metaphor in there about this life in poetry.

Our class visited Mike Delp at his fishing camp, where Charlie tasted the life of a river dog.

Next up: A week long seminar in poetry that I’ll be leading at Hope College, July 30-August 3. Come join the good time. Just contact David James at Hope College — james@hope.edu

Then on August 5 at 2:30, I’ll get to read with Jackie Bartley at the Fenn Valley Winery. Come join us for poems and for tasting, sipping, downright imbibing in wine and one another.

What a thrill

Julie here again, posting for Ridl….

What a thrill:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/programs/2007/04/30/index.html

Thanks, all you almanac folks.

And then, today Jack received notice that Broken Symmetry is a co-winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for poetry for 2007. Jack’s blinking. This award covers work published in 12 states, and the past winners include Ted Kooser, Jim Harrison, Carl Phillips, Alice Fulton, and Richard Jones.

The Writer’s Almanac

Julie here, happily reporting:

Monday, April 30, on Blue Lake Public Radio 9:55 a.m. here, but airing different times on
different public radio stations, Garrison Keillor will be reading one
of Jack’s poems on The Writer’s Almanac:

The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor
http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/

If it doesn’t air in your area, you can find it at the site above
starting Tuesday, or download the episode from iTunes.

And that’s just a very cool thing for the old bear, don’t you think?

Detroit Historical Museum

Julie and I drove over to Ann Arbor on Saturday, December 2, hung out there and felt politically correct, wandered in real bookstores, and ate good. Then on Sunday we headed over to The Detroit Historical Museum for a book signing. After signing a book, we went out to eat with Sarah and Mollica from the Wayne Press, their friend Brooke and former student David Soubly. That was a great time as we celebrated Sarah’s birthday even though it wasn’t her birthday. It was a delight to see David and learn about his survival at Ford, his continuing to write–he’s working to finish his second novel–and his family.

Look for David’s first novel titled SANTA, CEO. You can check out the novel at www.santaceo.com or obtain copies at www.booklocker.com. And while mentioning former students, I recently learned that Jill Thiel who went to Hope College in the 70s was at the reading that Sally Smits and I got to give at IUSB.

What a joy to hear from good good her! Here’s wishing one and all the very best of these holiday times.

Reading with Sally

November 16 brought a wonderful gift. I got to read with my former student Sally Smits at Indiana University at South Bend. Sitting there listening to her, seeing her so luminous, brought back memories of this punk first year student who landed in the flatlands so homesick for her Rocky Mountains. And now here she was, a college professor and a poet you all should read, a poet whose poems are filled with glowing surprises and head/heart coherence. They dazzle but never show off. Amazing, I’d say. Julie was there, knitting away with a soft smile on her face the whole time. Following Sally felt like being the trained seal trying to follow the Queen of the Air. I balanced the bowling pin on my nose quite well, however. And there was a Q & A after, which was another delight as we responded to questions and bantered back and forth with lots of laughs.Everyone at IUSB was warm and welcoming. I loved being with the faculty after the reading and before it at dinner–one classy dinner it was. If you are ever in South Bend, go to the Main Street Cafe. I think that’s the name of it. The faculty at IUSB have such intelligent enthusiasm. They are building a writing program and it’s going to be terrific.

And former student Jill Thiel drove all the way from Chicago to be in the audience. That was so so kind of her. What a great good time this all was. To read with ones student–talk about a joy! In the spring, I get to read at Michigan State with former student Chris Dombrowski. I wanna have a tour with all my students!

Penn State, Altoona

The creative writing faculty at the Altoona campus of Penn State is magical, exceptional. What a gang of talents and intelligences–and they all woop for one another. I had such a great good time there. To be once again surrounded by my Pennsylvania mountains was rejuvenating. Todd Davis’s class was a joy to be with. Todd and Shelly and their boys, Noah and Nathan created a resort out of their home for me. Talk about good sleepin’ and good eatin and good talkin’! I repaid them by trouncing them at Rummy after the reading. Read in a chapel. I think I should set up the “Jack-in-the-Chapel Tour.” How many is that now?

So thanks to Todd and family, to Dinty Moore and Erin Murphy for being such great “instant friends.” Buy their books. They write the real stuff.