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Freethought Giveaway on Goodreads

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The Biography

On June 9, 1897. John Emerson Roberts left the Unitarians to join the freethought movement, founding his own Sunday lecture program called “The Church of this World.”  In honor of the 120th anniversary of that event, I am offering two copies of John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher in a Goodreads Giveaway, now until June 9.

Here’s the link:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/238082-john-emerson-roberts-kansas-city-s-up-to-date-freethought-preacher

If you don’t win, you can buy a copy via the Books page here at http://www.freethoughtandmetaphor.com

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Anniversary and More

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The Biography

The Biography

Today, February 8 completes three years on this blog.  It has had its busy and its slack times, but I’ve enjoyed it all.

I began this blog to publicize my biography of John Emerson Roberts. This was one piece of an effort which involved a variety of Linked In Groups and even Linked In Ads, as well as connecting with other bloggers.

I named this blog “Freethought and Metaphor” in part because I hoped that I would in

My new poetry collection

My new poetry collection

future have poetry books to advertise – and now I have one.  I realized as soon as I came up with the title that these are indeed two sides of my mind, as my subhead says.  My left brain thinks about ideas and my right brain creates poetic material.  Sometimes these two sides cooperate, sometimes they wander down different trails.  And there are times when my left brain pretends to cooperate but really wants to run the show.  Those times do no produce successful poems.

Humans are bilateral, but who really had only two sides?  A third place where I put my energy is work on hunger and justice issues.  There are disputes about what constitutes justice, but most people agree on what hunger is, even when it is hidden under fancy names like “food insecurity.”

I was delighted to discover Word Soup, an organization which uses poetry to support hungry people by asking for a small donation to their local food bank to accompany submissions.  I couldn’t pass up the chance to combine these two usually separate parts of my mind.  They accepted two of my poems, which can be found at: http://wordsoup.weebly.com/issue-five-february-2015.html

My father-in-law used to count his age not by years completed, but by the year he was in.  He was well into his 99th year when he died.  Today is not the end of three years for this blog.  It is the beginning of the fourth year.  And I plan to keep going, though I have no plan laid out for it.

Please check back to see what I come up with.  And check out my books on the Books page.

Looking at the Sky

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I caught the almost full moon rising this past Friday.  It is a full moon in Gemini with the sun in Sagittarius.  Gemini is an air sign, Sagittarius is fire.  Air relates to ideas and intellect, Fire is energy, action.  This should be a great time for getting things accomplished like communicating, or – as one of my sources says over and over again – learning new internet skills.moon cropped

I have been following the signs, and especially their elements, for a year and a half now.  It didn’t take long to discover that because of the way the elements are assigned, there are only two full moon/sun combinations.  It’s either air and fire or earth and water.  Earth connects to all things physical, water to matters of feeling.  The moon is never full in a water sign, for instance, when the sun is in an air sign.

I’m beginning to find this structure a problem.  Why can’t we have a powerful water and air combination?  Would that mean storms, wind and rain?  Perhaps, but it would also mean that the intellect and feelings would be strong together – in other words, a combination of head and heart.

And why not air and earth?  This could be an appropriate time to apply our heightened thinking skills to the very down-to-earth problems of homelessness and hunger.  My sources suggest that the compassion of an earth/water combination should lead to this.  It hasn’t happened so far.  I guess we’ll have to solve these critical problems without the aid of the stars.

A Few Thoughts on Poetry and Science

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Galileo is said to have muttered when he was forced to recant the heresy that the earth was not the center of an Aristotelian universe, “E pur si muove.” – “And yet, it moves.”

Muriel Rukeyser, in her essay “The Life of Poetry’ asks the reader, “What is our ‘E pur si muove?’”

This question is in the context of her conviction that poetry and science are similar processes, in which we seek to learn the true relations of things.  And in both cases, she believes that the answers come in the form of questions.

Science is not static; the universe is not static: poetry is not static.  Each moves. And the motion of a poem is motion in time, like music.  Science is not, properly speaking, a study of objects.  The poem is not words or images, which can be separated for study; it is a series of relationships between words and images.

These are a few of the stimulating ideas from Rukeyser’s “The Life of Poetry” first published in 1949 and reprinted in 1996.  By her title she suggests that poetry is living, organic.  Poems do something in the world.

The poet and the scientist are on parallel paths.  I think Rukeyser’s ideas are supported by some of the developments in science since she wrote; the poets may be having trouble keeping up.

Thinking About Line Breaks

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Poets talk a lot about line breaks.  There is even a site called linebreak.org, as if that were a synonym for poem.  We need synonyms for “poem” because there is so much debate about what counts as a poem.

James Longenbach takes a different view.  Lines don’t break, he insists.  They just end.  It is the sentence structure that may or may not be broken by the end of the line.

Some lines are end-stopped, when a sentence ends where the line ends.  Where the line ends with the end of a phrase, Longenbach calls it “parsing.”  Where the meaning goes right past the end of the line and into the next in order to make sense, Longenbach calls it “annotating” – a term from a Milton scholar.  Milton did a lot of this.  Often in these lines the sense appears to end but doesn’t – the meaning is changed by what comes in the next line.

This play with terminology is a good reminder not to get stuck in habitual patterns, whether in writing poems or talking about them.  Labels are a hindrance to thinking new thoughts and seeing things in new ways.

“The music of the poem,” Longenbach reminds us, “”depends on what the syntax is doing when the line ends.”  There is no better or worse in the ways the syntax can be broken – or not.  Variety is what makes the poem effective.

Going to the other extreme, in Made and Remade I included two poems which have no line breaks: where the line as you see it ends is merely a function of where the margin is.  Here is one of them:

Perspectives

Walking in this desert I can picture you at work in your study because I have also walked on cobbled streets by Independence Hall, seen portrayed the men who met there, your contemporaries.  Your manse in a northern town at a river’s mouth calls to mind rocky shores I’ve walked on, their ten foot tides; I can see you there.  Yet, walking on sand I too easily picture your heath as always yellow, forget your concrete details do not become sidewalks, driveways alongside asphalt roads.  You have no need to bind with cement, build on your discrete images; all point in the same direction, while my direction shifts with desert winds.

Check out http://www.linebreak.org.  They publish a poem every week, written by one poet and read by another.

James Longenbach’s book is The Art of the Poetic Line (Graywolf Press, 2008).  It is a very small book rich with examples of good poems.

See the Books page for Made and Remade and use the Contact page if you’d like to get a copy directly from me.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine

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“The world is my country and to do good my religion.”  Those words could get a man in trouble in Thomas Paine’s time.  Born in England in 1737, he arrived in America in 1774 and quickly became a spokesman for the revolutionary cause, writing first “Common Sense” and then “The Crisis” in support of the American revolution.  Returning to England he got in trouble for his writing, “The Rights of Man,” and then got embroiled in the revolution in France, where he got on the wrong side of powerful leaders and spent time in prison.  When he returned to America, his more recent activities and his freethought views on religious matters obscured his contributions to U.S. Independence.

“The world is my country and to do good my religion” was a declaration that could get a man in trouble when Paine died in 1809, and this was still the case one hundred years later.  There was little reward for thinking beyond the level of patriotism and even less for godless “religion.”

Things have improved since then.  A future President is unlikely to describe Paine, or anyone else, as a “dirty little atheist” as Theodore Roosevelt did in a biography of Gouverneur Morris, American ambassador to France when Paine was in prison there.  First published in 1888, the book was reprinted in 1899 without change, an event which caused a furor of protest from the freethought community.

Then again, not speaking unkindly of atheists may be more a matter of politeness than of true understanding and tolerance.  Politics and religion are more closely involved than ever, it seems. Certainly the ability both to think for oneself and to think an issue through to its logical conclusion seems to be in short supply in the political arena.  The media use of sound bites doesn’t help.

Note: some reports on Thomas Paine now give his birthdate as February 9.  This is because the calendar was adjusted in 1752.  The English calendar had become off by eleven days from the Gregorian calendar in use outside of Britain and its colonies..  In 1752, September 3 to 13 simply didn’t happen.  The changing of all dates before that shift seems excessive to me.  In the peak of the freethought era one hundred years ago, January 29 was the day for celebration.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

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People have given thanks for the harvest since long before any major religions were formulated.  This giving of thanks always has something of a religious quality.  The relation of religion to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday has long been tangential at best, however.  Those paper pilgrim hats and feather headdresses from grade school weren’t about religion; they were about making us citizens with a common heritage, a shared history, incomplete though it was.

94933_CoverFrontThe role of religion in the Thanksgiving holiday made it a subject that liberal preacher John Emerson Roberts spoke on almost every year; the hypocrisy of talking about religious services and preferring feasting and games was an obvious target.  Here, from the biography, is a summary of his thoughts on the subject in 1895:

At this time, the day still had to be set by the annual proclamation from the president (The proclamations are still made, even though Congress fixed the day as the fourth Thursday in November in the mid-twentieth century.) These proclamations have religious overtones that go back to the Puritans. Grover Cleveland’s 1895 proclamation called for giving thanks “in our accustomed places of worship,” and for prayer that God would continue to show mercy to and guide the nation. Roberts applauds the people of the country for being ahead of the platitudes of the proclamation: they use the day for feasting, fun, and football games. He notes that even the newspapers, supposedly holding up the pious conventions, give far more space to reporting sports than to church services. The people know what they need and they act accordingly.

When the Kansas City Star published an editorial objecting to what Roberts had said. he used the papers themselves as evidence to support his argument. In the four daily papers published in Kansas City on the day after thanksgiving, he counted 568 lines covering religious events for the day and 6,480 on football alone. “These figures prove nothing,” Roberts admitted, but they showed what the editors judged to be “what the public was interested in on Thanksgiving day.”

What would Dr. Roberts say today about Black Friday and the way it has recently leaked into Thanksgiving Day?  Would he assert that “the people know what they need and they act accordingly?”  Or would he perceive a pressure of corporate capitalism throwing society out of balance, as I do?  My perspective is affected by the fact that I have what I need, and when I make a big purchase it is usually because something has broken and I want to replace it.  When something does break, I’m not likely to wait for sales or the crowds that go with them. I give thanks that I can avoid Black Friday.

An additional note on Thanksgiving:

I recently heard an ad for some worthy cause in which the speaker said, “People remember the thanks but they don’t always remember the giving.”  Another blow to language: giving thanks is not a two-part action.

Comments Roberts made on other Thanksgivings, and his comments on many other subjects are reported in John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher.  See more on the Books page.

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