I'm delighted to welcome Jack Ridl to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Jack, please tell us a little about yourself.
Jack: I am the son of a famous basketball coach. Grew up in a small town in western Pennsylvania where my father first coached at Westminster College. Then in Pittsburgh where my father was the coach at PITT. I was a point guard and a shortstop growing up. My mother's side of the family had profound interest in the American circus. As a little kid I came to know Emmett Kelly, The Great Walendas, Clyde Beatty, etc. I thought people who walked on wires were normal. After college, I asked the poet Paul Zimmer to teach me poetry. He said he would if I would have my father allow him access to practice and the locker room! He also said that he would tell me when he thought I had written a poem. Six weeks passed and he had not said anything that I showed him was a poem. Six months, still nothing. I asked him, "Should I quit?" He said, "If you want to." I stayed with it and four years later, Paul said, "That is a poem." Taught at Hope College for 35 years and had absolutely amazing students. In fact more than 75 of my students from my last 15 years are now published authors. My new collection is coming out at the same time from the same press as a collection, Earth Again, by one of my former students, Chris Dombrowski. My wife and I founded the college's Visiting Writers Series. I was named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. And the students presented me with the Hope College Outstanding Professor Award. I have had a wonderful time because of poetry, it taking me to readings, workshops, conferences, festivals. And I have friends, deep and abiding friends, who would never have come my way were it not for poems. And to this day, sports wander in my blood. My father was a mentor to John Calipari now the coach at Kentucky. After my father died, John took us all in to his world knowing how much we would miss the wild world of big time basketball. We are always John's guests at any game, even if he and his team make it to the Final Four.
Personal: Married to the writer/artist/amazing knitter Julie Ridl whose blog about living with Lyme disease is called LymeJello. Two years ago, Julie created what she calls "Open Studio." She opens our doors from 9am til 1pm each Sunday and people come and paint, sit, read, draw, write, chat, knit, sew, meditate, create homemade books, etc. It has become a very important stability in the lives of the wonderful many who attend. And anyone can attend and come anytime and one can stay as long or as briefly as one wants. Julie grew up a Navy brat. Her father was the Captain of the lead destroyer heading to Cuba during the missle crisis, the man President Kennedy called to order the ships to turn back. Until Lyme disease took over her life, she was a prominent figure in the design world in west Michigan.
Daughter Meridith is an artist/art teacher. Her work is shown in the La Fontsee Galleries in Grand Rapids and Douglas, MI. At a Thanksgiving assembly, students offered a list of what they were thankful for. On that list was "the kindness of Ms. Ridl."
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Jack: I've published five full collections and three chapbooks. I've also co-authored with Peter Schakel Approaching Literature (Bedford/St. Martin's) and Approaching Poetry (Bedford/St. Martin's). Also with Peter Schakel, I am co-editor of 250 Poems (Bedford/St. Martin's). The first two collections, The Same Ghost and be tween were published by Dawn Valley Press, no longer in existence. The third collection, Broken Symmetry, was from Wayne State University Press and was co-recipient of the Best Book of Poetry Published in 2006 from The Society of Midland Authors. The next collection, Losing Season (CavanKerry Press) was named best sports book of the year by the Institute for International Sport. The book was also featured on public radio's "The Story with Dick Gordon" and "It's Only a Game," was named by Bill Littlefield of the Boston Globe as one of the five best sports books of that year, and it was the subject of an essay by Sports Illustrated's Alexander Wolff. The latest book, out this month, is Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (Wayne State University Press). The chapbook Against Elegies was selected by Poet Laureate Billy Collins for the Letterpress Award from the Center for Book Arts in NYC. The other two chapbooks are titled After School and Outside the Center Ring, a collection of circus poems that is also included in the new book.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Jack: I'll be 69 this year. I give hope to those who say they are too old to do any art!!! : ) Also I am a one-poem-at-a-time guy, so if enough poems arrive in the next few years, yes another collection will show up.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Jack: Readings on the way:
Poem on Poetry Daily on Friday, March 1
March 16, reading with Chris Dombrowski, Horizon Books, Traverse City, Michigan, 4 PM
April 1, 7:30 PM, reading at The Book Nook and Java Shop, Montague, MI. This shop, owned by Bryan Uecker in Montague, Mi has selected Practicing to Walk like a Heron for their book of the month for April. The book club members will be reading the book, and it will be discussed on their local TV station.
April 3, reading in Grand Rapids at 7:30 PM at the former Literary Life Bookstore building on Wealthy Street
April 10, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Mi. Time TBA
April 13, 10am, reading at Lansing Writer’s Conference, A Rally of Writers
May 17, Launch celebration for Practicing to Walk Like a Heron, Detroit (details TBD)
May 18, Launch celebration Bus Tour – Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids (details TBD)
Others are in the works.
I'll be teaching a course at the Ox-Bow School of the Arts in June. June 10-13. The title of the course is "You Call THAT a Poem???!!???" Come take it!!! Ox-Bow is in Saugatuck. It's the 100 year old art school/colony under the direction of The Art Institute of Chicago. There is not a twitch of anything that would feel intimidating in the course, or for that matter at Ox-Bow.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Jack: Tell ya a story: When Meridith, our daughter, was four she one day requested, "Can we as a family never use the word favorite?" 33 years later I am still complying. Any store or library that supports the art of literature is in a tie for favorite with all the others that do.
Debbie: How about a favorite -- I mean, tied-for-favorite -- place in Michigan?
Jack: We live in Douglas. We love it here in Douglas. The town feels as if it was founded on unqualified acceptance. It's a gentle town where you hear about your fellow townpersons' illnesses from Kathy and Joe at the Post Office. It has an old school feel with a progressive sensibility. One little main street holds terrific shops, galleries, restaurants, the library, and that magical post office.
My wife grew up on Burt Lake. That is another favorite place. We were married at the top of Boyne Mountain. Growing up in the hills of Pennsylvania, I have missed those hills and curving roads for more than 40 years. When we are "up north" some of that spirit returns. And duh, of course Lake Michigan. My absolute favorite place is within the pines that surround our home where we can watch our little waterfall tumbling into our little koi pond.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Jack: The Christmas Parade in Saugatuck: Anyone and everyone shows up either to march in some zany manner or to cheer on the marchers. After that, I'm all over the map with what I/we love to attend: art openings/concerts/history lectures/theater both film and live/antique shops/studios/fiber festivals/knitting festivals with Julie. And of course, Open Studio! : )
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Jack: I don't dare single out any of my writer/artist friends for fear of overlooking someone. But I'll tell ya one of the most fascinating people is Brent Birkholz. This guy, a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, captains huge ships, and yet loves his town of Saugatuck so much that 14 years ago he found a WWII land/water vehicle, fixed it up, and since then has been taking people on a comedic tour of Saugatuck, Douglas, and into the Kalamazoo waterways. Its name is "The Harbor Duck," or "The Duck." Everyone knows "The Duck" and "The Duckman." Along the way he creates characters of the people he passes by. He pulls in everyone on board, talks with everyone. Kids love the guy. We love the guy. As he passes by, and he takes about six tours daily, people laugh, wave, even shopkeepers out their windows. And he's the kindest, gentlest guy you can imagine. Friends who live in NYC and "do" Broadway all year long, came, rode "The Duck" and told us, "That's by far the funniest guy we've come across in years." And on top of that, he saved Christmas for our two little towns this year. The 50 year old star atop Mt Baldy was vandalized. Brent went to work, charged not a penny, designed, led a team of engineers and electricians and anyone else he could round up and built a new, huge, LED lit star. One of the most thoughtful things he did was have the kids in the industrial arts class at the local high school do the welding. Hearts melted when the kids said, "One day I can tell my kids that I built that star."
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Jack: It is many states in one. It is many cultures in one state. In the arts it is well deserving of its title as "The Third Coast." Turn a corner and there's a painter, turn another and there's a potter, another and there's a writer, a dancer, a musician, a theater member.
Debbie: Last question - Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders; others Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?
Jack: I'm a "Pennsylvanian." Those hills, those farms, those rust belt towns, my home city of Pittsburgh, nope those are in me through and through. But if I had to choose, I'd choose "Michigander." Why? I like taking a gander at most anything. Har. Har.
Debbie: We'll add you to the Pennsylvanian column! Jack, it's been an absolute pleasure to have you here today for Michigander Monday. Thank you!