Poetry Journal Highlights the Poetry and Career of Jack Ridl

Our Big Read team is excited to announce that Jack Ridl will be our Poet in Residence this November for our 2021 Big Read program.

Jack Ridl began teaching English at Hope College in 1971 until he retired in 2006. He is the author of several national award-winning collections, as well as poetry textbooks and anthologies. His most recent collection, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, Wayne State University Press, was released in 2019. His poems have appeared in more than 300 journals, and his work has been featured in numerous literary anthologies. He has given readings of his work and led workshops at colleges, universities, art colonies, elementary and high schools, and other venues around the country. More than 90 of his students’ work has been published.

1. Why do you enjoy poetry and what made you decide to become a professor of English? 

I don’t so much enjoy poetry as I find it the only way my brain works. Poetry is a way into and to see everything in the world. The poems of others open and widens my experience of everything and affirms that there is no such thing as the ordinary. I never decided to be a professor of English. I did want to teach in ways that would be helpful and meaningful to the lives of students both in their present and future. 

2. How do you think the poetry selection, An American Sunrise, will benefit our Lakeshore community? 

An American Sunrise suggests that it is time for a metaphorical sunrise of awareness of the native peoples and their cultures and ways of caring for the earth, all of which were eradicated by colonization. There is so much we could learn from them, and it’s nearly too late to restore respect for what they value and know, and to enable them to live their lives with dignity and without impoverishment on all levels.

3. What inspires your poetry? 

I go through my day titling my experiences and then write out from any title that brings my imagination to life. I follow the poem wherever it leads.

4. Do you have any advice for readers as they approach An American Sunrise?

Try to get yourselves out from under the tyranny of the reductionist question “What does it mean?” The poems are “about” being. Once you enter the poem as a creation of experience you can discern multiple realizations, and make discoveries within the poem. Attend to whatever in the poem grabs your attention and curiosity. If nothing does, simply move on to another. Suspend trying to “figure out” the poem. Instead, open yourself to letting the poem affect you, and realize that there is a voice talking to you in language that is musical. There are many, many things to find of interest within the poem. Instead of getting trapped in the word “meaning,” use the word “meaningful.” What do you realize, discover that is particularly meaningful? Enjoy the opportunity to leave your own world for a time.

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