Born in England in 1933, John Ridland immigrated with his family to Southern California in 1936. He grew up in Flintridge, and graduated from Flintridge Prep School in 1949. He began writing poems as the Huntington Library’s Manuscript Stacks boy that summer. After college at Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, he served two years in the U.S. Army. He took an M.A. at UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate School. Ridland taught literature and creative writing at UC Santa Barbara (1961–2004).

He has published a number of  books including, Fires of Home (Scribner’s Poets of Today VIII); Ode on Violence & Other Poems; And Say What He Is: The Life of a Special Child (prose and verse); In the Shadowless Light; Happy in an Ordinary Thing; A. Lincolniad.  Some of his translations include: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from Middle English (Limited edition, Taller Martín Pescador, Mexico; affordable edition forthcoming from Able Muse Press, 2016,) a translation from Hungarian of Sándor Petöfi’s John the Valiant, which won the Balassi Sword Award; with Peter V. Czipott Sándor Márai’s, The Withering World and Miklós Radnóti’s, All That Still Matters at All.


For Little John Approaching Three

   What bird pursues its shadow
Down the rolled valleys of your brain
No specialist presumes to explain.

   Those fields which lie all fallow
No plough’s sharp tongue can ever turn,
Whatever seeds fall there must burn

   In gay intensities of joy
Or chafe to the dark scrapings of sorrow.
No crop is looked for there tomorrow:

   That yellow hill, soft banked
Waves with bright weeds, not fat combed wheat.
A silver rattle grinds your teeth.

   All is one day, the same,
As if God bid the world to exist
But for the opening of his fist

   Which then closed tight and slammed,
Total and drastic as a clot.
A wild colt crops the wild weed plot.

   How clearly the doctors have explained,
Although the first birds poised, they met
Their shadows, and did falter, yet

   Recover briefly, before descending:
How early the gay bats come out
To wheel and flicker and cavort.

From A Brahms Card Ballad


Dead Friends Society

How comfortably, after a few years, our dead
friends live in our heads.
There’s room for any number.
They pack in and sit side by side,
not speaking, but friendly. Some are family.
Bill never met Emily,
Hermione didn’t know Don,
but here they meet––well, they almost do––
and it’s really quite cozy
as we sit thinking of them.

At first, their presence spooked us
and we drove them away.
Now, drawing closer to them, we see
how we too will sit waiting to be thought up
like a patient to be called in to the doctor’s office
from the waiting room, hastily dropping
the out-of-date magazine––
and yet, if we’re not, none the worse.

                        From  Happy in an Ordinary Thing


Black Angel

                          An old photograph of Los Angeles

By Gallows Hill—a treeless, dry incline
Grazed on by six or seven lean black kine––

A man in black, in broad black hat, head bowed,
Is praying above the raised heads of a crowd

Deep as his hips—but wait: peer in again
Through what’s been printed with a steel-nibbed pen

In neat white lettering without a smudge:
A Chinaman takes part (the caption’s nudge)

in an impromptu hanging. Ah!—the cord
Threaded up to the crossbeam heavenward,

As if God, for a single local screening,
Lowered an angel down to speak His meaning.


                             From  A Brahms Card Ballad



John Ridland



2016 John Ridland


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