James Ragan visits GLSD

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“The role of the poet is to move the minds of kings.” This statement, so aptly depicting the power of the written word was a quote from James Ragan, acclaimed poet, screenwriter, journalist, and author. Friday October 5, Greater Latrobe Senior High School had the honor to host this extraordinary man, and I was privileged enough to sit down and actually talk to him one on one. Through this I gained some insight into his impactful life.

I asked: what made James Ragan want to start writing poetry? He replied that growing up in a poorer family than most, he felt very aware of the suffering around him and he recognized that he could change society, even the world with what he wrote. He also talked about how, in communist Russia, in the 1960’s when a poet would publish a book, people would line up all around the street corners and within two days that book would be sold out. “People knew where they could go to get the truth.” James Ragan understood that power…so much so, that his writings were banned in Czechoslovakia. When his book of poetry appeared in a library there, a young woman used scissors to cut out three or four of his poems that went against the communist regime. “The censorship was stunning,” Ragan said. She threw them in the trash and only then proclaimed the book fit to remain on the shelf. Understandably, Ragan wanted to battle that attitude.

With so much experience under his belt and so many stories to tell, I then asked him about some of his other writings…after all poetry is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the works of James Ragan! So, what was his favorite thing to write between poetry, books, plays, and movies? Unsurprisingly, his answer was very adamantly, “poetry.” “I live in poetry,” he said. I inquired as to what his favorite type of poetry may be, to which he responded that his favorite kind of poetry is unquestionably freeverse. Ragan took the time to read one such poem entitled, “If For Each,” which he said was a favorite of several  politicians he’d read it to. I asked if events in his life impacted his poetry and he said they did. Poetry is such an integral part of his life that his experiences manifest themselves in his work.

With all the writing he’s done, I asked whether it was something he had always planned on doing. He answered in the affirmative. Very early on in his life, Ragan felt that he “wasn’t local,” and he wanted to be “for the world.” Clearly with such an attitude he was destined to enter the powerful and intense world of words. Any time he was asked what he wanted to do after he graduated high school, he answered without hesitation that his future was in journalism. Journalists he had seen in the Vietnam war, literally running alongside the soldiers, inspired him and filled him with admiration. That was the world of journalism that Ragan wanted to be a part of.  Needless to say he got his wish and has experienced great success with his writing.

To wrap up the interview I asked one final question. What advice would he give to aspiring young writers? He replied, “ Engage the world, take risks, don’t get into the pettiness of the self, cross borders and break those barriers down.” At this I took my leave as James Ragan bestowed upon me one last piece of advice; above all, “when a door opens walk through it.”

Check out the video!