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Poetry and remembrance

By RILEY KELLEY Daily News Staff WriterMay 16, 2019

On Saturday, the Ludington Writers will host celebrated Michigan poet Jack Ridl for a discussion and reading of his latest book of poetry, “Saint Peter and the Goldfinch.”

The discussion will take place at 2 p.m. in the Judith Minty Writers Room at the Ludington Area Center for the Arts, 107 S. Harrison St.

Ridl, who hails from Douglas, said he’s excited about the opportunity to reconnect with the Ludington Writers, a group with which he has long-standing ties.

“My relationship with the Ludington Writers dates back to when George Dila first started the group,” Ridl told the Daily News. “I was part of their first meeting, and George and I were buddies.”

Ridl said that as the group’s visiting writer, he plans to let the writers and guests in attendance lead much of the discussion.

“I’m going to clearly say from the beginning that this needs to be directed by (the audience) — whether it’s questions about what I do, or questions about what they do or how I can give them insights or approaches or techniques,” Ridl said. “I want to be of use to them, and deflect the attention off of me so I can focus on what they want to do.”

He’ll also read excerpts from “Saint Peter the Goldfinch,” and talk to audience members about the poems and their significance, as well as his creative process and readers’ interpretations of his work.

“I want them to feel comfortable talking to me about anything in the book that struck them, anything that wasn’t clear to them and anything that touched them,” Ridl said. “I’ll just try to keep it as conversational as I can. That’s the best thing.”

The event will double as a memorial for Dila, who passed away on April 25, 2016, and in addition to reading and discussion his poetry, Ridl will have an opportunity to speak about his friend.

“A bunch of people are going to get together to celebrate George and they asked for me to say a few words about him,” he said. “I’d written a long piece that they’d read at the original memorial service.”

Ellen Lightle of the Ludington Writers said the group is overjoyed to have Ridl back.

“Jack’s poetry is very high quality,” Lightle said. “He has been a loyal friend of Ludington Writers and has not visited us for several years. It’s time to see him again.”

‘Saint Peter and the Goldfinch’

Writing and compiling “Saint Peter the Goldfinch” was a long process, taking about seven years in total, according to Ridl.

The poems in the book cover a variety of themes — from the personal to the universal — and explore moments in Ridl’s own life as well as meditations on feelings of loss, joy and love.

Ridl said it’s a family practice in his home to avoid choosing favorites, but there are a few poems in the book that hold special significance for him.

“I don’t think there’s a favorite poem,” he said. “Some of them are closer to my heart than others are.”

One of those poems, “My Brother — A Star,” is of particular significance, as it explores how Ridl processed a trauma experienced early in life.

“It’s about the brother I never had, and that’s always been an important poem for me,” he said. “It’s about my brother, who died as a child, and how I keep him alive in my imagination.”

Ridl said writing the poem helped him get in touch with another key theme of the book — imagination.

“Up until that point, I hadn’t realized how important imagination is,” he said.

Ridle said many of the poems in “Saint Peter and the Goldfinch” share a reflective and contemplative quality.

“Most of them are just very quiet and meditative,” he said. “Some of it is (based on) personal experience, some is reflective and some is imaginative.”

The book is broken up into four sections: “The Train Home,” “The Man Who Decided to See,” “The Long Married” and “Waiting for the Astronomer.” According to a release from Wayne State University Press, the first section focuses on personal history, the second section focuses on people and events, the third addresses the “mystery of love” and the final section is about imagination.

More about Jack Ridl

Ridl has been a poet for more than 50 years, earning his bachelor’s degree from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

He wanted to continue his studies and pursue poetry in an academic capacity, but he said that at the time of his graduation there were very few graduate programs in the discipline.

Ridl decided to continue his education in a different way, pursuing his poetry training in the form of an apprenticeship.

“When I graduated from college, there were probably only about five MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs for poetry in the country, so I decided to apprentice myself with … the primary poet in Pittsburgh, Paul Zimmer,” Ridl said. “We started to work together, and there were some interesting things that came out of that.”

Ridl said it took him almost as long to earn his mentor’s approval as it would to earn a master’s degree, and that he endured a rigorous apprenticeship, filled with constant revisions and reflections about his work. Since working with Zimmer, Ridl has found success as a published poet and educator.

He’s written several books, starting in 1984 with “The Same Ghost” and including “Practicing to Walk Like a Heron” in 2013, “Losing Season” in 2009 and “Broken Symmetry” in 2006, among others.

Ride has written textbooks about poetry and literature, as well, and has been the recipient of several literary awards, including best poetry collection accolades from The Indie Press and the Society of Midland Authors. He’s been named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation and has received two Outstanding Professor awards from students at Hope College. Like many of his recent works, “Saint Peter and the Goldfinch” was published by Wayne State University Press, and Ridl said the publishing company has been accommodating, allowing him to be involved in the design and layout of the book.

The cover features a painting by Ridl’s daughter, Meridith, depicting a goldfinch resting on a tree branch.

“I really like the cover a lot, because it’s different from what most book covers look like,” he said. “I love the script and I really like the design of it. And the main thing is I’m just grateful to (Wayne Sate University Press).”

The book discussion will start at 2 p.m. and conclude between 3:30 and 4, followed by the memorial tribute to Dila.

Lightle said most people who attend will have read the book, but noted that it’s not a requirement.

The reading is open to the public, though space is limited to about 20 people.

For more information about Ridl, visit www.ridl.wordpress.com.

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