posted February 13, 2006

Poetry Explores Circus Life

The latest volume of poetry by Jack Ridl of the Hope College English faculty explores life with the circus, harkening back to his experiences as a child.

The chapbook, "Outside the Center Ring," published by Pudding House Publishing of Columbus, Ohio, features a series of 19 poems. They are based on the times that Ridl spent behind the scenes, or "back-lot," with an older cousin.

"About a year or so ago I started thinking, 'That's a whole world - let's see if there's anything there,'" he said of his childhood experiences. "While none of it is non-fiction, it certainly comes out of spending summers with this cousin who was a circus man."

The volume opens with an elegy in honor of the cousin, who was like a second father to Ridl while his father served in World War II. The rest focus on characters and moments from the traveling tent show - "Winter Quarters," "Daydreams of the Catcher of the Queen of the Air," "The Children of the Lion Tamer" and "Night on the Circus Lot."

Ridl is the author of several collections of poetry, beginning with "The Same Ghost" in 1985 and continuing with "Between" (1988), the chapbook "After School" (1987), "Poems from the Same Ghost and Between" (1993), and "Against Elegies" (2001), which was chosen by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins as the winner of the 2001 "Letterpress Chapbook Competition" sponsored by the Center for Book Arts of New York City. He has also published more than 300 poems in journals and has work included in numerous anthologies.

"Outside the Center Ring," however, represents his first treatment of the circus - not because of lack of interest on his part, he noted, but rather because it took time for him to sort out his impressions and memories of a world that he recognizes as having been central in developing his own sense of playfulness.

"It's more a matter of me wondering why I waited so long to do this, because I've been fascinated by it for years and years," he said. "It just struck me how wonderful it is that there are X number of adults who still walk on wires."

Even as he was inspired by an older relative, the project has also involved a younger one. His daughter Meridith created the etching featured on the chapbook's cover, a 1997 work titled "Clown."

Ridl has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1971. In addition to his volumes of poetry, his publications include four books with Hope colleague Peter Schakel: "Approaching Literature in the 21st Century: Fiction, Poetry, and Drama" and "Approaching Poetry: Perspectives and Responses," both of which they co-authored; "250 Poems: A Portable Anthology," which they co-edited; and "Literature: A Portable Anthology," which they co-edited with Janet E. Gardner of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and Beverly Lawn of Adelphi University.

Ridl won the Hope Outstanding Professor Educator Award in 1976, and in 1996 was named Michigan Professor of the Year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Copies of "Outside the Center Ring" are available through the college's Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The bookstore is on the ground floor of the DeWitt Center, which is located on Columbia Avenue at 12th Street.