Some people may call themselves students of the world, but James Ragan truly is one.
He is an internationally recognized poet who has performed at worldwide venues including New York’s Carnegie Hall, the United Nations and the First International Poetry Festival in Moscow with Bob Dylan and Robert Bly. He served as the director of the University of Southern California’s Professional Writing Program for 25 years and is currently teaching as a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Oklahoma.
Presented by the University Writing Program, Ragan will read his work today from 2 to 4 p.m. in 126 Voorhies to discuss his new book Too Long Solitude. He will also appear tonight at 9 at Poetry Night at Bistro 33, located at 226 F St. Both events are free.
Ragan’s past work has covered socially relevant issues dealing with community and the ways of human nature, such as the Columbine killings, in Lusions. Too Long Solitude, which received a request as an “Oprah’s Book Club” consideration, takes a different approach as an introspective exploration of the need for reflection and contemplation.
“[It] explores the universal need for reflection which solitude gives in these troubled times, and the need for a re-education in the simplicities of life through nature and familial love, in order to re-join and celebrate community in the world,” Ragan said in an e-mail interview.
Ragan’s socially conscious work comes from a set of core values he has had about writing since the beginning.
“I felt strongly that it was the poet’s passion to move the minds of kings (world leaders), who in turn would move and shape the minds of society,” Ragan said.
Ragan cited his international travels as a major inspiration for his work.
“I write to break down borders. My sensibility has always been global, to find expression through my poetry, plays and films to bring individuals and worlds, seemingly apart, closer in understanding,” Ragan said. “I write to live out loud, and through the expansive reach of art, hope to achieve community through a common language.”
Ragan first made an impression on University Writing Program lecturer Brad Henderson when Henderson was a poetry student under Ragan at the University of Southern California.
“I had never heard a poet read aloud before who had such a tremendously crafty ability with language – potent words choices, complicated matrices of vertical and horizontal modern rhymes, and subject matter that was bold and big and cultural and political,” Henderson said in an e-mail interview.
Henderson hopes to facilitate the same powerful impression on students at today’s event.
“My hope is that they will stop being afraid of poetry, put off by poetry, unaffected by poetry, and they will be injected with enthusiasm to read poetry, write poetry, and to go to more readings of poetry,” Henderson said.
Ragan inspired UWP lecturer Andy Jones to hold public poetry readings in Davis. Along with Henderson, Jones hosts Poetry Night at Bistro 33, which runs every first and third Wednesday of the month.
“He moves audiences well in ways others don’t. He’s lived a rich life – stories about his heritage, trying out for the Yankees, his stories of Hollywood and interaction with the stars and writers,” Jones said. “He’s kind of a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear these great tales from such a great storyteller and poet to boot.”
With today’s event, Ragan hopes that he will be able to encourage students to think communally and live open to others in the world.
“I hope that through my reading, the students will be inspired to see how we as individuals and as citizens of a nation must not lead insular lives but must ‘take it to the world,‘ and that poetry and art in general contributes to a world culture of understanding,“ Ragan said.
JULIA MCCANDLESS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.