An Interview with Jack Ridl

1. Where do you find inspiration for poems?

It may sound strange, but I don’t look for “big” inspiration or wait for it. I like “little” inspirations. By that I mean I welcome anything, trusting that it will connect me to something that will lead to an exploration in language. Sometimes an effective poem results. But every time, I discover or realize something of value.

2. How often do you write poetry?

That’s a tricky one because my sensibility is lyrical. So in one sense I’m always writing poems on the inside! I also believe that writing is full time, meaning that when one is not physically putting words down on paper, one is gathering up all that one can experience, and as much as possible, being attentive to each moment one is in. As far as physically sitting down and writing, that has changed over the years. When I started out, I wrote every day. It was the same for me as practicing baseball or basketball. The practicing day after day was important. And I loved it, too. Now, I sit down to write less often. But at the same time, all that practice paid off because when I do sit down, more often than not something appears that can turn into a poem.

3. Do you still write basketball poetry?

Yes and no. After composing more than a hundred of the basketball poems, it seemed I had pretty well drained the ole well. At the same time, the little town in which those poems take place is always there and filled with possible poems.

4. On average how long does it take to write one poem?

All your life up to and through the writing. That may sound glib, but it likely has truth to it. On the more down to earth level, it usually takes me about twenty minutes to a half hour to get some stuff down and then weeks of re-visioning, tinkering. I love the tinkering and the re-visioning. What I’ve written often leads to more discoveries and possibilities. The draft in a way becomes another kind of trigger, inspiration.

5. When did you start writing poems and why?

I’m not sure, but I know I wrote them in elementary school. Big long epic things! Then, like many, I was misled into thinking writing them wasn’t cool. It wasn’t until my junior or senior year in college that I tried writing them again. Then I started writing songs for Ming Lee who is the sister of the poet Li-Young Lee. After two years of doing that, she decided to write opera on her own, and I didn’t want to go through all that it takes to make a song happen. So I went to poems because all you need is a pen or pencil and some paper. However, I soon learned that you need a whole lot more than that!!!

6. Who are several of your favorite poets and why?

This is something I can’t say. I try to be a friend to all poets. I think that’s important. I read all kinds of poetry. There are certain poets who sustain me. But “favorite” is a word I seldom if ever use. My daughter when she was a little girl taught me that “favorite” leads to exclusion and possible hurt. I’m grateful to her for teaching me that.

7. Of all the poems you have written, which is your favorite?

Uh oh. There’s that word again! : ) I tend to be grateful for any authentic poem because of all that the poem brings to awareness.

8. What’s your favorite poem by someone else?

Oh dear, that word again! : ) I have no idea why my sensibility never moves in terms of favorites. I have no favorite color, food, TV show, ball club, student, song, etc. My head just doesn’t work that way. Sorry.

9. How many of your poets that you have taught have gone on to publish poetry later in life?

More than 50. But sooooo many, maybe most, have kept poetry in their lives, which would be what I would hope for most of all.

10. Are there a lot of people who write sports poems? If so, how popular are they?

Great question! There sure are a lot of people who write poems. How many write sports poems? I’d say a lot more than one might think. There are several anthologies out there of sports poems and the number of fine poets in them is stunning. There’s even a Sports Literature Association. And there are sports literary magazines such as Spitball! Almost every poet I know has either written a sports poem or has referred to a sport within in poem at one time or another. Of course, one of the finest books of sports poems is The Ripening of Pinstripes by your wonderful teacher, Mr. Torreson. You ask about the popularity of these poems. Well, poetry itself is not all that popular, and maybe that’s good. Popularity is tricky. It’s not always based on the most soulful and nourishing and substantial of things. There are a lot more people reading poetry today than one might think. But I do wish poetry were more integrated into the daily lives of most people.

11. What advice do you have for young writers who want to write poetry professionally?

Another good and complex question. “Professionally” is also one of those tricky words. There really is no “profession” of poetry as we usually use the word. At the same time, one can become sincere in “professing” this art, in taking part in this art. Advice? Well, learn your stuff. Just as in learning the skills and techniques necessary to play an instrument, build a house, play a sport, etc it’s important to learn and then take artful advantage of all the artistic stuff about writing a poem. Every single artistic element in a poem is meaningful. Also, learn to love the writing itself. Not every time you sit down to write will an effective poem be the result. However, each time you sit down to write, you can have a meaningful experience with language. For those who learn to love playing basketball, winning and losing are not goals, but simply the result of playing the game. Love the playing.

By Matt Rozelle, Ben Talen, Donald Sund, Eric Van Swol, and Drew Dygert, 8th graders at Immanuel-James Lutheran School during the 2007-2008 school year


Works by Ben Talen


Works by Don Sund


Works by Eric VanSwol


Works by Jack Ridl


Works by Matt Rozelle

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.