Introducing My Current Obsession


“Obsession,” one of my poems in Ascent (see Books page) begins:

I’m fixed on this book
like a three-year-old on trucks,
a five-year-old on dinosaurs.  You could
make it my motif, were I young
enough for birthday parties.

The book I refer to is William Paley’s <i>Natural Theology</i>, published in 1802.  This book from a long past era presents nature, particularly the human body, as evidence not merely that there is a God but that this God is wise and good.   The eye, the ear, the joints: each is a sufficient example, in design and practicality, of the skill of the Maker.  While I soon recognized that Paley’s world view was one of fixed order, incompatible with my awareness of evolution and change, his delight in all levels of creation was contagious.

The watch with which Paley begins his discussion is a controlling metaphor: as a watch must have had a maker, so the forms of nature must have been designed.  Paley is drawn to and impressed by all manner of mechanics, of which the watch is just one example.  He equally admires mills, telescopes, the new iron bridge he sees over the Wear River, and other human inventions, especially those in which he finds a parallel to some natural form.

Having spent two years in this man’s company (the man is actually hidden behind the book, but I have come to talk as if this is as a personal acquaintance) I am now in the process of sorting and sifting the pieces that came out of this “time together” to create a book―my book in response to his book.

I have decided that obsession is a good thing for a writer.  Perhaps it is even a necessary thing in the development of one’s art.

What’s In Your Suitcase?

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On a recent trip to Albuquerque I visited the Art Museum, which has a current exhibit of New Mexico artists, for which many artists have provided quotations.  This one comes from Melissa Zink (1932-2009):

It’s like you’re walking around with this enormous suitcase full of magic and you are never allowed to open it, because the rules say that the tings in that suitcase are not worthy of artistic consideration.  Worlds, childhood memories, pretend, fantasy, archaeology – all that.

What a great metaphor: a picture I can carry with me like that suitcase.  Zink has clearly found her way to break those “rules”: her piece in the exhibit is three dimensional wall art: clever, whimsical, thought provoking.

I was captured by this statement partly because one of the things in Zink’s suitcase is archaeology.  That is something that peeks out every time I open my suitcase.  Digging into the past, pottery sherds, separating the gem from the dirt: these are images I have used often.  There are also real memories from my time in Egypt and Italy. 

I never worked as an archaeologist, but I am one if you count digging in books, archives and other relics of the past.

Each of us has more past to explore than we can fit in one suitcase.

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