53: Jack Ridl on the most important word in the world


Jack Ridl was walking with his 7-year-old daughter when she said “with” was the most important word because people always have to be with something, someone, or themselves. When she added that it meant everyone has to makes sure they have a good “with,” Jack’s perception of the world changed. We talk about how a simple and profound concept has since shaped his life, health, and poetry.

Additional Resources

My Brother—A Star

My mother was pregnant through the first
nine games of the season. We were 7- 2.
I waited for a brother. My father
kept to the hard schedule. Waking
the morning of the tenth game, I thought
of skipping school and shooting hoops.
My cornflakes were ready, soggy. There
was a note: “The baby may come today.
Get your haircut.” We were into January,
and the long December snow had turned
to slush. The wind was mean. My father
was gone. I looked in on my mother still
asleep and hoped she’d be OK.
I watched her, dreamed her dream: John
at forward, me at guard. He’d
learn fast. At noon, my father
picked me up at the playground. My team
was ahead by six.
We drove toward the gym.
“Mom’s OK,” he said and tapped his fist
against my leg. The Plymouth ship that rode
the hood pulled us down the street.
“The baby died,” he said. I felt my feet press hard
against the floorboard. I put my elbow on the door handle,
my head on my hand, and watched the town:
Kenner’s Five and Ten, Walker’s Hardware,
Jarret’s Bakery, Shaffer’s Barber Shop, the bank.
Dick Green and Carl Stacey waved. “It was
a boy.”
We drove back to school. “You gonna
coach tonight?” “Yes.” “Mom’s OK?”
“Yes. She’s fine. Sad. But fine. She said
for you to grab a sandwich after school. I’ll see you
at the game. Don’t forget about your hair.” I

got out, walked in late to class.

“We’re doing geography,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Page
ninety-seven. The prairie.”
That night in bed
I watched this kid firing in jump shots
from everywhere on the court. He’d cut left,
I’d feed him a fine pass, he’d hit.
I’d dribble down the side, spot him in the corner, thread
the ball through a crowd to his soft hands, and he’d
loft a star up into the lights where it would pause
then gently drop, fall through the cheers and through the net.
The game never ended. I fell into sleep. My hair
was short. We were 8 and 2.

        for my mother and my father

Jack Ridl

First published in The Journal/Ohio State University
Subsequently published in Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press)

Jack Ridl, Poet Laureate of Douglas, Michigan (Population 1100), in April 2019 released Saint Peter and the Goldfinch (Wayne State University Press, 2019).  Jack’s Practicing to Walk Like a Heron (WSUPress, 2013) was awarded the National Gold Medal for poetry by ForeWord Review./Indie Pub. His collection Broken Symmetry (WSUPress) was co-recipient of The Society of Midland Authors best book of poetry award for 2006. His Losing Season (CavanKerry Press) was named the best sports book of the year for 2009 by The Institute for International Sport, and The Boston Globe named it one of the five best books about sports. In 2017 it was developed into a Readers Theater work. Winner of The Gary Gildner Prize for Poetry, Jack has been featured on public radio (“It’s Only a Game with Bill Littlefield,” “The Story with Dick Gordon,” and Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac.”) Then Poet Laureate Billy Collins selected his Against Elegies for The Center for Book Arts Chapbook Award. He read in NYCity with Billy Collins and Sharon Dolin at Christmas after 9/11. He and Peter Schakel are co-authors of Approaching Poetry and Approaching Literature, and editors of 250 Poems, all from Bedford/St. Martin’s Press. With William Olsen he edited Poetry in Michigan in Poetry (New Issues Press). He has done readings in many venues including being invited to read at the international Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and was one of twelve people in the arts from around the U.S. invited to the Fetzer Institute for their first conference on compassion and forgiveness. In 2014, Jack received the “Talent Award” from the Literacy Society of West Michigan for his “lifetime of work for poetry literacy,” and The Poetry Society of Michigan named him “Honorary Chancellor,” only the second poet so honored. His poem “Remembering the Night I Dreamed Paul Klee Married the Sky” was selected by Naomi Shihab Nye and featured in The New York Times Sunday Magazine for November 3, 2019. Following the presidential election in 2016 he started the “In Time Project,” each Thursday sending out a commentary and poem. Christian Zaschke, the NYC based U.S. correspondent for the leading German Newspaper Sueddeutsche  Zeitung, wrote a feature about his work. Jack and his wife Julie founded the visiting writers series at Hope College where he taught for 37 years. The students named him both their Outstanding Professor and Favorite Professor, and in 1996 The Carnegie (CASE) Foundation named him Michigan Professor of the Year. Nine of his students are included in the anthology Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25 edited by Naomi Shihab Nye. More than 90 of Jack’s students have earned an MFA degree and more than 90 are published authors, several of whom have received First Book Awards, national honors.
In retirement Jack conducts a variety of writing workshops, welcomes readings, holds one on one sessions, etc. For further information about Jack and these activities, check out his website at www.ridl.com.


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