Happy in an Ordinary Thing

John Ridland


With a keen sense of observation and humility, and with subtle humor even in the face of tragedy, John Ridland bridges the past, present, and future by acknowledging the human need to reconcile ourselves with our memories.

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This engaging collection of poems is both personal and universal, nostalgic and immediate. With a keen sense of observation and humility, and with subtle humor even in the face of tragedy, John Ridland bridges the past, present, and future by acknowledging the human need to reconcile ourselves with our memories. Infused with a poignant optimism, these poems seamlessly align experience with the evolution of the self. Ridland creates a compelling and demanding mixture of literary allusions and diverse forms that will satisfy and resonate from beginning to end.

John Ridland’s thoughtful and accomplished poems first win our admiration, then our assent and, finally, our gratitude for their vivid, gentle, and yet unflinching vision of what our lives are like.  In other words, he begins in elegance and ends in wisdom.

—David R. Slavitt

This is such a beauty of a book—the poems on aging; the tributes to a beloved wife, and to love itself and the wonderful learned patience of marriage; the elegies and travel poems; the childhood pictures of grown-up children; the tributes to Asian poetry so well westernized; the inspired ekphrastic poems—all of it sings true, resonates, and satisfies through and through.

—Rhina Espaillat

John Ridland writes with distinction in a variety of forms, including [several kinds of] prose poetry, free verse, rhymed couplets, ballads, haikus, epigrams, and sonnets. But far from feeling scattered, Happy in an Ordinary Thing, is unified by its humane and loving respect for its subjects. These chiefly concern family life and its joys and tragedies, though Ridland also ranges impressively over larger historical and social issues in such memorable poems as “Truman at Potsdam, 1945” and “Black Angel.”

—Timothy Steele



I.  Looking Back
Age Looking Back at Its Youth
Moving In: Saturday Morning
Drab Kitchen-Sink Drama
Madrigals for Muriel
Spring, 1940
Night Song for My Wife to Sing at Dawn, with Ducks
November, Late in the Day
Our Grown-up Children’s Grade-School Portraits
After the Holidays
A Ballad of Civic Duty
A Ballad of IHC
Passing through Baltimore on the Train
Truman at Potsdam, 1945
Legend for a Map of Urbino    27
Sapphic Ode in Melbourne Food Court
Dear Absolute,
Dead Friends Society
Devoutly to Be Wished
The Night that He Is Five Tomorrow
El Día del Muerto
Swimming for Jeni
To Helen
Elegy in a New Zealand Country Churchyard
Wedding Moon
What’s Creüsa to Us?
A Very Short History of a Very Short War
The Failing Reader
Launching Louis
Pantoum of the Boy Made Right
Two Small Stones
A Suitable Moment to Leave

II.  Looking Around
Turning Back to Standard Time
Six Miniatures
Two Epitaphs
Under Orion
After Hokusai’s One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each
Inventing Italics
A Woman Holding a Balance
A Commotion of Geese
Dark, Perhaps, Forever, the Universe Unexplained
Gensei at Last
Reading of Gensei (1623–1668)
Postwar Generations
Tribute at a Shrine
Of What Becomes a Buddhist Monk
In Times of Peace and Sleep
Acrostics for a Memorial Tablet
Three Hundred Tang Poems
A Week in a National Forest
Mountain Music: Suite
To My Daughter Back Eas
Bringing Back the Lake
Lunch at Deer Creek
Black Angel
My London Muse
An Old Voice from Olympia
Late Birthday in Brighton
“Cool with Mustard”
Where We May Seek Relief

The Old Man Sees His Heart as a Dog
Old Fool on an Early Walk

About the Author


John Ridland was born in London, England, and grew up in Southern California. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1953, he served in the U.S. Army, then taught literature and writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara for more than forty years.

John the Valiant, his verse translation of Sándor Petöfi’s Hungarian folk-epic poem, János Vitéz, has been published in two editions in Hungary and one edition in London. His Selected Poems were published in Hungarian translation by Europa Press, and this collection was released in the original English from Dowitcher Press. Ridland’s Petöfi translation has been acclaimed by Hungarians: he was awarded an Arpad Academy gold medal for his contributions to Hungarian literature, and the Balassi Sword Award for his contributions to awareness of Hungarian literature abroad.

Ridland translated Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into modern English metrical verse. Parts II and IV appeared in the Hudson Review, and Part IV was included in Poets Translate Poets: A Hudson Review Anthology.

From 1966 to 1972, Ridland edited and published The Little Square Review. For more than twenty-five years, he was faculty adviser to UCSB’s Spectrum, which won Council of College Literary Magazines first prizes. He lives in Santa Barbara with his wife, Muriel Ridland, with whom he wrote and published And Say What He Is: The Life of a Special Child.


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