If you know anything about poetry rooted in Michigan, you know about Jack Ridl. He’s the author of the poetry collections Broken Symmetry; Practicing to Walk Like a Heron; and Losing Season, all of which have won national awards. His new collection, Saint Peter and the Goldfinch, was just published by Wayne State University Press.
Via Skype, Ridl talked about how he and his wife, writer and artist Julie Ridl, started the Visiting Writers Series at Hope College, where he taught for 37 years.
“There’s a charming, in a way, story about that,” he says. “The department had a lot of students wanting a creative writing minor. I kept voting against it, and the reason was that I said we can’t do that until we set up some way for these wonderfully talented students to be discovered.”
Ridl says Hope College took a while to respond, and first response was not positive. But then minds changed, and the Ridls were given an open door to create the highly successful program. More than 85 of his former students are now published authors.
Ridl himself did not always know that his path in life would be a poetic one. During his own college days, he declared four majors. He thought about becoming a professional athlete. Or a clown. These ideas had some Ridl family roots.
“My mom had a cousin who was more like a brother,” Ridl says. “Cousin Albert was a circus aficionado. As a little kid, I hung out with him at the circus, and that completely got into my blood. I’m not interested in being an entertainer; I’m interested in making someone laugh.”
Ridl’s readings are known for laughter, which he can elicit even when reading on more serious subjects. There is healing in laughter, after all. His new collection touches on topics of discovery, curiosity, loss, joy, and the passing of seasons.
Ridl will read along with writer Lisa Lenzo, the author of Unblinking, at Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo on May 16 at 6 p.m.
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