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In this episode, Dr. Deb Van Duinen has a conversation with Jack Ridl. Jack Ridl taught at Hope from 1971 until retiring in 2006. With his wife Julie, Ridl founded the Visiting Writers Series at Hope College, later named the “Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series” in his honor, He is the author of several collections of poetry, and has also published more than 300 poems in journals and has work included in numerous anthologies. He has given readings of  his work and led workshops at colleges, universities, art colonies and other venues around the country.

The Dry Wallers Listen to Sinatra While They Work

This morning, my mother, here 

for the holidays, is washing 

the breakfast dishes, when Al, wiry, 

coated with dry wall dust takes

her hand and says, “I bet you loved 

Sinatra. Dance?” The acrid smell 

of plaster floats through the room. 

Frank is singing, “All or nothing

at all,” and Al leads my mother 

under the spinning ballroom lights 

across the new sub-floor. He 

is smiling. She is looking over 

his shoulder. The other guys 

turn off their sanders. Al 

and my mother move through 

the dust, two kids back

together after the war. Sinatra

holds his last note. “It’s been 

seven years since I danced,” 

my mother says. “Then 

it was in the kitchen, too.” 

Al smiles again, says, 

“C’mon then, Sweetheart!” 

biting off his words like the ends 

of the good cigars he carries 

in his pocket. Sinatra’s singing

“My Funny Valentine” and 

my mother lays her hand in Al’s.

And they dance again, she looking 

away when she catches my eye,

Al leading her back

across the layers of dust.

Jack Ridl

First published in Poet Lore
First place winner, Poet Lore Prize, chosen by David St. John
From Broken Symmetry

Recommendations from Jack Ridl:

Best poetry site for your goals: The First Sip

Two anthologies: How I Love the World edited by James Crews  and Poetry of Presence edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai

Watch our 2021 event with Jack himself!

Jack Ridl’s Work:

Ridl is the author of two other full-length collections, and three chapbooks, including Outside the Center Ring from Puddinghouse Publications, a collection of circus poems published in 2006, and Against Elegies, which was selected by Sharon Dolin and former Poet Laureate Billy Collins for the 2001 Chapbook Award from The Center for Book Arts in New York.

In 1996, The Carnegie Foundation named Ridl “Michigan Professor of the Year.” He was chosen by the Hope College students for the “HOPE Award” given to “Hope’s Outstanding Professor Educator,” was selected the student body’s “Favorite Professor” in 2003, and has twice been asked by the students to give the college’s commencement address.

More than 85 of Ridl’s former students are now published authors, and nine of his students appeared in “25 under 25,” in blind judging, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Of his poems, Naomi Shihab Nye has written, “Jack Ridl writes with complete generosity and full-hearted wisdom and care. His deeply intelligent, funny, and gracious poems befriend a reader so completely and warmly, we might all have the revelation that our lives are rich poems too. What a gift!” and “Jack Ridl is a superstar in the realm of compassionate, transporting, life-changing poetry.”

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