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Poet Speaks Out on the radio!

Listen to Judih on Spiritplants Radio

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Spirit World Restless #2, my second show, is a conversation with Raymond Soulard, Jr, host of SpiritPlants radio.

We talk a little about how I got to a kibbutz in Israel, how art influences my writing and associations linked to all that.  

This is a conversation from back in 2011, but still relevant. 

Click in – have a listen and feel free to respond on this blog.

On Air: 

Saturday Aug 24 7:30 pm ET

Sunday Aug 25 7:30 a.m. ET

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Thanks for listening!

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Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out! Part 3

Part 3 in which Ray discusses Poetry as therapy, in education, its popularity and his future plans

Ray Soulard, Jr


J: Talking a more personal sphere, let’s talk about therapy. Is poetry a tool for therapy in your own life?

R: It’s one of the primary ones.

J: Could you offer a poem that you felt cleansed an especially raw node?

R: Yes. This longer poem may seem like it comes out of left field, but I don’t think so. I think it tells a story that I wanted to tell and it tells it in poetic form which is sometimes, in fact often, a form I’ved used toward seeking understanding of myself and the world or the relation of some kind. This poem has stuck with me as something I’m glad I wrote. Something I feel proud of. Something I feel good I wrote. Proud in the sense of I pulled all of my faculties together, sat down with pen and paper and something good came out. It’s called “Memory and Prelude” something I wrote last summer, soon after Kassie and I moved from the West Coast.

Memory & Prelude

I woke this morning, early, writhing,

a dream’s lingering claws, stroked,

squeezed, & no more sleep, not even close

what was it? Not a woman, known or stranger,

nor a man, animal, god. A memory, old one,

released last night when I found a high school

essay. In a pile, a glance, a nod, none else.

But enough. A teacher I don’t remember but

he liked me. Those years weren’t pretty. He graded

me high, smiled, taught me with a worn man’s

hope that someone listened. All I wanted to do

was fuck a cheerleader. Or the poet girl

I adored. Or quite a few others. No why

in it. The rest of my grades made nobody

proud, nobody smile, hope. I skipped school

for the library, to write a paper on my

favorite books, the ones with no money &

a laughing kindess for all. I wrote & I wrote,

then typed & typed. He smiled, hoped, gave me

the best grade he could but knew it wasn’t

good enough. I wanted to fuck her, & fuck her,

& fuck her. Skipped school, hid, read,

wrote. Then one day came & suddenly I

remembered. This morning, no more sleep.

I had a friend, his name was John,

he was a rough piece of work. He liked me

too, & it mattered more. Here’s why. One day

he saw me getting pushed around &

stepped in. I didn’t have many friends,

none like him. His act, his word, protected

me. I didn’t know how to fight any more

than  I knew how to fuck. Nobody had

taught me. I knew how to hide, elude, get

through the day, keep my thoughts my

own, close. I don’t know why he liked me,

or stepped in. I had nothing to offer me.

He could have taught me how to fight & fuck,

maybe, I would return & ask: “How do

you do it? Use your body’s power, its want,

its will? Show me.” Maybe he would have.

What did I have for him? It was another day’s

answer & maybe this is what wouldn’t

let me sleep this morning, what drove me

from bedroom to living room couch.

Is this a lesson, something like that?

I don’t think so. Or a lesson thus spoke:

shit happens. All the time. Maybe something

else. You see, he asked me a question,

this friend, John. And I answered because

I had no friends like him & no cheerleader pussy

& no skills to fight, make way in the world.

He was in the hallway, taking a make-up

test in the class where I’d given the teacher

hope. I came out to go to the bathroom

& he asked me to help him. The teacher

called it cheating later, when he caught me.

I suppose so. The teacher’s heart broke

& he crushed my grade down low. Probably

my friend outright failed. I went to college

& he probably didn’t. We were different kinds

of failures. I could contrive a sentence &

write it out. He could beat up a fellow &

then lay his cheerleader girlfriend

out smooth, give it to her twice hard, make

her moan, writhe, cheer, forget awhile.

And what was all this for? Maybe all these

years later I simply look back & wonder

how little connection any of us made then,

& how this not-much truth is so often true.

That hour, helping, cheating, hoping, breaking,

it passed, passed long, long ago. Nobody

left from it. Just an old sheaf of typed pages

I found yesterday, what was called onion

skin back then. A grade scrawled over it,

the dead bones of a gone pride. A breakable

certainty in me about the world years back

replaced by a working doubt. The universal

flow collects it all, whatever its seeming worth



Now let me answer the question in more detail. There have been times when my life was not very good. At least some of the time by my own doing and I would turn to the writing of poetry to focus myself on what it is that was going on. I would not be so much interested necessarily in the external details but more the inner strife – in other words -not the smoke, but the fire. What was driving me to harm myself, what was driving me to harm others, what was driving me to not do well, or what was being done to me externally that was causing me to suffer.

I don’t always write poetry for that reason, but in terms of therapy I would want to understand and I would want to find precise and potent language to express what was going on with me.

J: I like the way you say that: “potent language.” Okay, do you have something you’d like to add to that?

R: When I was younger, before I was married and I was moving from one failed love romance to the next, poetry was one way I measured how I was doing – well or poorly.

There was a time when I was living in the city on my own and I wasn’t doing very well in a lot of ways and I wrote more poems during that time than I can hardly believe now. I kept returning to the poetic form over and over again trying to distill from what wasn’t a very pretty life, something meaningful. I was trying to squeeze the value out of the suffering and the darkness. I wanted the poems to be valuable not simply as expressions of the moment. I wanted them to have resonance beyond the moment.  I wanted them to live beyond the times in which they were composed. That was my entire goal – I wanted something good to come from that period – and the area of control that I most held, at least in my own mind, was writing. Nobody could tell me how to do that. It gave me focus, it gave me meaning, and it made me feel like at least in one corner of my life I was not a complete failure.

Therapy is about helping you to realize that you’re not a powerless person – and if you can start to regain that sense of yourself, of control and power, then you can expand it to more places of your life where you feel powerless. So poetry was a place that I started. Other people start elsewhere.

Poetry in Education

J: In general, are you in favor of teaching poetry in schools?  If so, are there any poets you’d personally select for young teenagers?

R: Yes I’m in favor of teaching poetry in schools. The challenge is who’s teaching it and what they’re teaching. There are teachers who end up teaching poetry who don’t have a poetic bone in their bodies – and they may simply be teaching the wrong subject. They may have some other subject they’d be much better at.  If you don’t have a poetic bone in your body and you’re teaching poetry, then it’s probably not going to come across very well to your students – they’re going to resist it because they’re resisting you.

What I would do in terms of the poets would be to try to show a range – I think that’s what some teachers do. They will teach a little Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and then they’ll throw in some Bob Dylan – and maybe, since he’s kind of old school now, they may throw in a rapper guy who’s particularly good with words. They’ll say, okay, there’s the formal Elizabethan way of writing poetry, but then if you range on down, you’ve got this guy you’ve heard on the radio and you could call his lyrics poetry.

That’s probably about the best you can do to show that there’s  a range of poets. I’d want to make sure that some of the poems are funny. Because you’d want to emphasize that poems can be serious dark and cosmic and they can be silly And there’s validity to all of that. And I would encourage all students as an assignment to try writing a poem.

Beyond that –it’s just a matter of who takes to the idea and who doesn’t. But me, I wouldn’t want to do that. I wouldn’t want to be the person doing all that.

J: So my next question about the idea of running a poetry workshop in schools, would that interest you? Let’s say we’re talking about a two-week workshop. Would you consider it?

R: I’d only consider it if the students in the classroom had signed up for it voluntarily. If you’ve got a bunch of kids who got there because it was an assignment, or just required to do it, no.  There are teachers who would take that on and happily. I’m just saying that I’m not one of them.  I don’t have the frame of mind to try to convince people that poetry is valuable.

But if it were a group of students who had signed up, they were interested, had some kind of positive or curious idea about the whole thing to begin with, then sure that would be fun. It might be fun. You know how I’d start it? If I had 10 students  who’d signed up, I’d communicate with all of them beforehand, that on the first day of the class, I’d want them to show up with a poem that they admire that they’ve read which shows why they’re sitting in that classroom, because that poem is an example of why poetry interests them. That would be kind of neat.

J: Yes, very interesting.

R: Yeah. That’s all I have on that one. 

Popularity of Poetry

J: Okay, about the popularity of poetry. Do you think that poetry has become more popular over the years?

R: I don’t know. Do you mean commercially?

J: I mean if people are more widely read – more fluent, more exposed to poetry.

R: I would say it’s hard to measure that except by things like: is it taught in schools, bookstore sales, can you glean if there are more poets giving readings out in the world and are the audiences getting bigger or smaller. It probably waxes and wanes like a fad. There are probably periods of time when poetry is more popular because of a movie or because some well-liked famous guy comes out and it turns out that he not only puts out great records but that he is also a really good poet – or maybe some kind of internet thing happens – where everybody’s getting inspired to write poetry.

I think it’s always present and at any time there’s a little more present and a little less but in terms of a waxing popularity over the course of time, all we have to do is think how about a century and a half ago, there was no such thing as recorded music – there were no records, there was no television, no films. All people had were books and libraries, so poetry was probably more widely read then, by a smaller populace that was actually literate.

So it’s all numbers. I’m not giving you a good answer because it’s all numbers. If 90% of the population’s literate, it doesn’t mean they’re all reading poetry. If 40% of the population is literate but they don’t have all those other kinds of options, then they’re probably reading more poetry but in terms of the exact number of people, who knows.

I’m just saying the optimistic answer is ‘Yes’ because everything has become much more popular because it’s more widely available. But in terms of if it’s more socially important then I don’t know.

You know there was a movie some years ago called ‘The Postmanand it prominently featured poems by Pablo Neruda. It was a very popular movie, so popular that Pablo Neruda, who’s always been kind of a well-known poet, had a brief period of time when his books were selling crazily because people went to the movie, heard his poetry and rushed to the bookstore to get a book of his poems for themselves. So I think that’s an example of a momentary spike in popularity.

But one thing disturbing me about American schools is that Bush instituted this thing called “No child left behind”. The idea was that more children would get through to High School and hopefully to college. So they set up standardized tests to get people from grade to grade, but the problem was they didn’t fund it. So you ended up with schools that had to show that they were getting more students graduating by these standardized tests but they weren’t being given adequate funding to really give the students an education that would result in passing the tests. So instead of that all happening, students were simply driven to take the tests, practice them over and over again. Pass the test, the school gets the funding.

What you ended up with was a lot of students getting High School diplomas who really didn’t have a good education.

J: Okay, and you’re tying this into the popularity of poetry…

R: Well because the tests, I’m fairly certain, are standardized tests that were much more geared toward science and linguistics and mechanical things that you can test more easily than poetry. So, poetry and art and music and things were de-funded. So then Obama comes in and Obama is very much an education President. He’s probably the most pro-education President this country has had in many years and he’s always talking about that. I mean he’s ‘walking that walk ‘ whatever people think of him otherwise. He’s always pushing for more money and that we have to get more people to graduate with a good education, we’ve got to give more students money to go to college. I mean he’s no bullshit about that and so I have no doubt that with the additional money he’s giving to the schools, the schools are then going to parse out to English teachers and to music teachers and art teachers. So, more people will be exposed to art and literature and music.

It’s not poetry in itself; it’s just funding and attention.

The Future

J: Okay, let’s move on to the last question. This is about the future.

I find you a very inspiring energetic force in the world of poetry and self-expression. You’ve created a radio station, a magazine, ScriptorPress, and the Jellicle Literary Guild.  Do you have any more plans for the future you can share?

R: Well, the first thing that I’ll say is that keeping all that stuff going is very a fulltime effort – so I don’t plan starting any new projects any time soon – I think I finally have a full plate of projects  where nothing’s missing. The only thing I don’t have a hand in is video or television – and I don’t have any interest in that.

But I’ll give you something more solid.

I moved back to Boston after not living here for 8 years – I lived out west, in Portland and Seattle for those years. And when I moved back to this place where I’d lived for many years prior to moving out west,  I vowed that I was going to have a much more meaningful relationship with the Boston area – I was going to invest in it more. I was going to both make people more aware of my projects and also learn of other people’s projects and perhaps foster collaboration.

So the answer is in terms of additional plans, I want to take all the things I’ve learned about connecting with people on the internet and apply some of them to connecting with people in real life. Because I think developing a balance between the two is a really good idea.

At this point, since I haven’t been here very long it’s still the beginning of a work in progress.

But I will say on a note of hope that The Cenacle has published already several Boston area writers, some of whom I’ve met only in the past few months.

J: And they’re marvelous, also.

R: I think you have to start somewhere. And I’ll elaborate on this to one more level. I had this notion that I’d love to be part of something similar to what was going on in the sixties, here and elsewhere – a kind of an underground media existed at that time– it was a pre-internet time, so the underground media was print journals, it wasn’t electronic form. But I’ve always thought it would be neat if I could distribute my publications in other places and then as a return, help people in other places distribute in Boston.

That’s been a long standing wish of mine.

J: Okay. Is there anything else you wanna add?

R: Anyone can do what I’m doing or rather they can find their own equivalent. The door to making art and to disseminating it far and wide is open to everybody – whoever has a desire to do so and the willingness to put in the time and effort.

J: Okay, it’s a great final comment. Offering the gesture opening and asking people to listen to you and then start their own movement.

R: I’d rather that someone after having listened for all that time, ended up by listening to themselves at the end. To think wow, listen to this guy doing all this stuff and I can, too. That’s always the deal. The more people we have doing this kind of stuff, Jude, the less people we have planning wars and making bombs.

J: Even though that sounds like so much fun the way you say it. ..(laughter) So thanks, Ray.

R: Okay, thanks, Jude. This was lots of fun. We breach the geography between us by these collaborations.

J: Even with technical glitches.

R: Even with technical glitches. Speak to you soon.

Ray Soulard, at our first meeting 2004

Ray Soulard, Jr can be read at Scriptor Press

and heard at “Within’s Within: Scenes from the Psychedelic Revolution with DJ Soulard”

For those in the Boston area, stay tuned for future developments.

Click here for Part 1  and Part 2 of Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out!

Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out! part 2

Raymond & pirate friend

Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out! Part 2

About Spoken Word

J: Ray, what are your experiences in Spoken Word? Do you enjoy being on stage? Do you record yourself for online shows?

R: Currently there’s an open mic that I go to in the Boston area – run by two of  The Cenacle contributors, which is why I go.  It’s called Out Loud Open Mic and it’s in Melrose, Massachusetts.  It’s a very friendly event, it’s held at a mansion, so it’s a nice venue. People who attend are, for the most part, friendly and talented and I always sign up to read because I feel in a participatory event you should participate. It encourages everybody else to.

J: Would you like to elaborate about your experience?

R: I don’t know if I really enjoy being on stage per se.

J: Why’s that?

R: I don’t know. What I enjoy is if the context is one of congeniality and learning then I like it better– if it’s one where people are sharing their works and their works are pretty good.  If the person up there on stage has some wisdom to share and you’re there to learn it, that’s fine. If it’s turns into a judgement, a talent contest, or trying to tell people how to do what they do but do it how you like it more, then no, not really. When I’m at a spoken word event, and someone goes up on stage, I’m assuming they have something valuable to offer – something they value that they want to share. Not simply share, period, but something valuable, something that is worked on, something that they care about and something that adds to your understanding of who they are and how they see the world. If that’s the general condition of an event, then I’m all about it. If it’s a contest, then I’m not interested.

I’m not giving you a very good answer to this, Jude.

J: No, you are giving a good answer.  Because you’re sharing your experience which is very valuable. It’s your experience. You’ve seen both sides of the coin: whether it’s a contest or something more legitimate that you’ve enjoyed. That’s why I’m asking. I want to know your personal experience. So this is excellent.

R: Well let me tell you a story that will tell you the far opposite of what I like. There’s an event that’s been running in the Boston area for many years now, it’s called a poetry slam. Have you heard of poetry slams, Jude?

J: I certainly have and I hate them.

R: I went once with a friend of mine and essentially people get up on stage and they get rated like a talent contest. Some of them really get out of hand. If someone gets up and reads something that people don’t like, they start booing and honestly all I can say in defense of that kind of thing is if that’s what you enjoy- then do it, but you won’t find me there. There’s nothing wrong with it, I just don’t enjoy it.

J: Do you record yourself for sharing online?

R: Yes, in two primary ways. One – when I do my radio show every week, I read from my fiction and poetry during it and those shows are archived online and two- I record the Jellicle Literary Guild meetings – those are essentially my two venues for reading my work. And I go to the open mic because my friend runs it – it’s an excuse to see him

J: Is the Open Mic recorded?

R: You know, they don’t record it and they don’t take pictures. They’re not techno-wizzes. So I don’t think it occurs to them that everything has to be recorded and filmed and put on youtube. They just don’t do it.  And you know the funny thing about that, Jude, is on the one hand it means that only the people there are experiencing it, but on the other hand there’s no machinery present. There’s no camera, no recorder. It’s live and when it’s over it’s done. All you have is  your memory of it.

J: Yes, that’s beautiful

R: So there’s a good and bad to that. I think that this event is so good at times that I wish that it was on youtube on a regular basis so that other people could enjoy it, but on the other hand it’s kinda old-fashioned. So there’s good and bad to everything, I suppose.


J: How has the internet affected your own growth as a poet, publisher, radio host?

R: Well the internet means that whoever you are and wherever you are if you have access to a computer and a connection, the whole world is potentially at your feet. The internet allows for anyone in any locale to reach out to people they might never meet in person and connect meaningfully, bust the boundaries of physical geography and makes it so we’re not beholden to major centers of media.

I think it’s a great thing. Personally, I’ve been able to promote my projects much farther and wider than I ever would’ve been able to. And because of that, I’ve developed my skills with desktop publishing and audio tools to a far greater extent than I would have. Because if your projects are going to be seen all over the world, you’re going to want them to be the best you could possibly make them. That’s why the Cenacle is like it is because  I can look at the statistics for people viewing it and I see they’re from all over the world download it and  I want to make sure that these people that I’m never going to meet in person are getting something that’s worth their time.

The Cenacle, No 72, April 2010

Speaking out

J: For many years, you’ve published your open letters to various members of the government, like Obama, for instance.  Have you in fact felt that your letters have been read?

R: Well they’ve been read by the people who read The Cenacle. I don’t think they were ever read by the people they were written toward. I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

Obama gets hundreds of letters every day. And I wouldn’t expect to him to sit there reading them, I wouldn’t want him to. The purpose of those letters is for me to express my opinions coherently to myself and others and to inspire others to do the same. And frankly my letters to Obama have sparked more conversations than I would’ve had otherwise about his policies and about him as President.

What’s happened over the course of the past several years, in brief, is that he went from being kind of a phenomenon who came out of nowhere to being the guy that people love to hate. So the fact that I write to him and give respect to his office and him occupying it is something that’s caused me a lot of criticism, but I kind of like it. Because, you know, it’s not so much that I want people to agree with me as it is that I want people to think their own thoughts and not just mouth what they’re hearing on the TV and the radio and a lot of people do that a lot of the time. So if someone sees me writing a letter to Obama and putting down all these specific points that are important to me, they know that if they want to talk to me about it, they’re going to have to have their own specific points, they can’t just say: Oh, he’s a Kenyan Muslim from Hawaii, or something.  They’re going to have to talk to me on the level I’m talking and that causes them to think their thoughts a little more clearly.

J: So you’re in a good head about writing these letters and I imagine you will not be stopping in the near future.

R: No, I’ve decided that I’m going to write to Obama at least once a year through the rest of his time in office – a kind of yearly assessment from a concerned citizen as it were. It’s fun. I think of him as the powerful friend I’ll never meet – to whom I’m giving a yearly feedback.

Letter to Obama, Oct 2010

J: Which subjects in your life stir you – which social issues do you feel are most urgent to deal with?

R: Well I think of human society as being built upon two valid points – the fact that humans are mortal and that we don’t understand and agree upon our purpose. Somehow over the course of time, this has led to the many inequities that we see around us. We see people with too much, we see people with too little. We see people brainwashed into holding prejudices against others based upon skin colours, sexual identity, social choices, political choices, religious choices, and this being encouraged by those in power. Because what I think it comes down to in many ways is that those in power have an interest in keeping their power, and some of the way you do that is by making sure that those below you never consolidate, agree upon something and turn and look at you with dissatisfaction.

As long as the little guys are fighting each other they’ll never be able to accomplish anything more than barely getting by. The worst is that when a certain number of the little guys get to be big guys there’s no agreed upon set of rules about how to be a big guy, how to run things. Wielding power one person over another is something that I don’t think people do very well.

And all of us are put into the position of doing this all the time, at our jobs, in our relationships. We value one thing over another. We’re constantly having to make decisions that form a hierarchy, whether it be a hierarchy of our own thoughts and values or a hierarchy of people, social institutions.  Humans are basically constantly guessing and hoping for the best.

J: Okay. I see. Are you going to carry on?

R: No, no.

J: No?

R: No, I can’t talk any more about it.

J: What do you mean no?

R: That sums it up. It sums it up.

J: No, it doesn’t

R: Okay, social issues. Too many people are sick, needlessly. Too many people are alone, needlessly. Too many people die, isolated and in despair. Too many young people walk around with no clue as to the nature and potency of their bodies, what to do with them, how to develop their minds for both function in society and to think some original thoughts as well.

Too many people enter into situations where they becomes leaders of companies, leaders of governments and various institutions and their good intentions fly out the door very quickly because they realize that there’s a wide  vested interest not in making things right but in keeping things going..

And I think this is why we don’t treat the earth well because we don’t treat each other well.

The worst of it is..

J: Now we’re getting down to the heart of it

R: The worst of it is that there are no easy answers. There are bookstores and libraries filled with proposals for how to fix the world and if you laid out all these books end to end and try to figure out if they had any common thread – you’d probably find they didn’t.

J: I always think that if you go back far enough, you’ll find that there is a common thread. You have to go to the first book from each of the various sects, not the things written afterwards, but the very first books. I think the thread is fairly simple, but it’s not very popular.

R: No. Well, you know fixing things is always hard. It’s hard and it takes a long time. And it’s often imperfect and you don’t know if you’re going to succeed.

J: Yes.

Do you think poets have the ability to shake up people’s minds?

R: Uh – well yes, I think they do and they have. Although it’s said that poetry is one of a million different kind of things that shake up people’s minds all the time, so the effects are not always going to be very observable.

J: I see

R: If a person devotes some of their time and thinking to reading poetry, then its going to affect them, and poetry certainly occupies a valued place among other societies, in all societies.

J: Can you think of an example?  either anecdotal or a poem that you know has shaken up an audience.

R: Well, let’s see- the easy one to think about is Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl. It’s a good case study because you can talk about how it was written about a man coming to terms with his own sexuality at a time when that was a very dangerous thing to do. And his book was banned as being pornographic and it had to stand trial in court because booksellers were arrested. The court case brought many well known writers and scholars into public to speak their minds regarding freedom of expression and when in the end the book was allowed to be published – it set a precedent for other books.

The important thing about it was that literature was brought into the realm of the courts and so the question the courts were answering was could the type of lit that howl represents be argued validly to be protected by the U.S. constitution – that was the question: did it constitute valid freedom of expression or was simply freedom of expression itself something that made Howl justified to be published and when the ruling came out in howl’s favour – it meant those that would shape freedom of expression to their own particular ends were defeated.

This opened up the doors to a lot of other kinds of works that followed. A lot of other cases were decided. So it was a landmark court case, a landmark social case, a case for what a person can speak and write and publish in this country and be allowed to do. I would even say that Howl, as one instance, led to things very unlike Howl in nature – the fact that people can say a lot of the hateful things they do, angry hateful things they do can be traced back to a decision that this gay poet could write about his gay desires. So what you end up with is the gay folks can speak out on what they care about and the ku Klux Klansmen can speak out about what they care about, and so on and so forth.

In other words it’s not monolithic – it was an acknowledgement that there are all different kinds of people and they all have a right to speak their minds in public either aloud or in the form of writing.

J: Okay. I think that’s an excellent example.

R: It’s a solid one, I think

 Back to Part 1 or Continue to Part 3

April 2010 - 15th Anniversary Issue