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I’ve had the good fortune to be included in two online journals recently.  The most recent was in Rose Red Review, a quarterly with a charming, but sideways, picture of a woman wearing a rose.  I like to think that the name comes from the Rose Red who was the sister of Snow White (not she of the seven dwarfs, the other one).  My poem published there is titled “Reflection on a Line by James Wright.”

http://roseredreview.org/2012-winter-ellen-roberts-young/

In late fall, Untitled Country published my poem “Atomic Power”.  Unfortunately this ezine is going out of business, just as I’ve discovered it.

http://untitledcountry.blogspot.com/2012/11/final-issue.html

I find myself in good company in both places.  I recommend both as worthy of your time to explore.

“Atomic Power” is a poem which is not about what the title first suggests, on purpose.  It is a part of my collection of poems, Made and Remade, based on William Paley’s Natural Theology, a text from two centuries ago which had a long influence on thought and education in England and America.

Parley of Instruments: A Tale

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“I’m feeling off, and achy,” complains the watch as his band stretches around the boy’s hand.  “I’ve been reset so often my knob’s worn down.”

“My time is right,” the clock on the stove calls out.

“So is mine,” the clock on the radio mutters.

“B-bong, b-bong,” the windup clock on the wall begins to chime the hour.

“You’re two minutes early,” stove clock declares.

“Close enough.  I don’t run on current like you.”

“At least we agree,” stove clock assures radio clock.

“Of course!  We run on the same power!”

“You’re grumpy this morning, radio clock,” wall clock says.

“Stove clock’s acting like she’s in charge – again.”

The boy looks at his watch, which is running five minutes slow.  “I’ve still got five minutes,” he says to himself.

“You’re reading the wrong timepiece!” the others cry together, but to the boy they are as silent as the lights flashing at the school crossing, where five minutes is enough to mark him tardy.

“He didn’t look at any of us,” stove clock sighs as the door closes.

 

This little story was a side trip in my journey with William Paley’s Natural Theology.  The image of the watch which opens Paley’s argument is so strong that it took me a while to realize that Paley is not really interested in what watches do, that is, tell time.  He is interested in the watch as a mechanism which must have had a designer.  It is a parallel to the eye, ear, and all the other parts of the body which, it is his project to demonstrate, must have been designed.  Paley’s world view is a topic for another time,. as is our contemporary bondage to clocks and the minutes they represent.

Reflections and Poem: Habit

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Habits: We need them to survive.  There’s no way we could get anything done if we had to make a decision about every step and action of getting up, getting dressed, preparing breakfast, or preparing for sleep.  It was a dental hygienist, instructing me in flossing my teeth, who told me, ‘It takes four months to make something a habit.”  That’s not very long in the grand scheme of things, but it requires constant attention until the habit takes hold.

There are habits of action and habits of thought.  Prophets, I would say, disrupt our habits of thought.  Prophets are not soothsayers, tellers of the future.  They tell us things we might have seen or understood if we had been looking from their perspective.  They asked us to “think outside the box” back when that was not yet a cliché.

There are habits also of attention: stopping to look or listen as we carry on our habitual activities.  I wrote about my interest in William Paley in a blog back in May (May 9).  In his Natural Theology, published in 1802, Paley, an Anglican clergyman and theologian, asked his readers to pay attention to detail, from the smallest features of the eye and ear to the way plants and insects interact on a summer day.  For Paley this was all evidence of God’s good creation.  But such attention to nature is not bound to any particular theology; many religions suggest this approach to the world, as a way of really seeing, of paying attention to what is.  I tried to capture Paley’s approach, which suits my world as well as it does his very different world view, in this poem:

Habit

Alert to the ordinary, caught
by wonder at small creatures,
hidden muscles, as thumb or
toe is wondrous to an
infant, he has no
mantra, no method
to teach this habit of
attention, wonders at
the lack of wonder
in those who cannot stop
to look, who only admire
the new, the bold, sharply
chiseled lines, contrasting
colors that shout most
loudly in the constant press
of seen and sensed that
batters them until
like overbeaten dough
they lose their power
to rise to admiration, to
wonder at the marvels of
the bodies they inhabit.

“Habit” is included in Ascent: Five Southwestern Women Poets (2011).  See more on Books page.

Social Justice Then and Now: A Poem

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“Social Justice” is a poem in my Paley series, drawing on William Paley’s Natural Theology, published in 1802.  First, a quote from Paley:

Again, there are strong intelligible reasons, why there should exist in human society great disparity of wealth and station.  Not only as these things are acquired in different degrees, but at the first setting out of life.

Now, my response:

Social Justice

Paley never said society
should run like a watch, nor
that it operates as God intended,
efficient as a well-oiled mill, yet
he wanted even revolution to
be rational, restrained: no mobs
dragging out Tory sympathizers,
no armies beating back
impoverished protestors.

I stand at the Federal Building,
restrained by fear, as rational
friends, frustrated by the tick,
tick, tick of same old, same
old injustices, lie across doorways.
Their calculated choice includes
awareness that effects are often
not proportionate to causes,
anything can happen.

This poem is included in Ascent: Five Southwestern Woman Poets.  See Books page.

If Society Were Child’s Play

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William Paley (see entry on “My Current Obsession”) and William Blake were contemporaries who never met.  They represent opposite views of society, religion and much else.  Picture them as two six inch pieces of wood, a square pillar (Paley, Anglican clergyman) and a round column (Blake, nonconformist and visionary).  I see them lying on a green wall to wall carpet near a wooden box with holes.  The child who plays there has wandered off.

The pillar has been in and out of the box several times.  The column is too wide to fit.

“Square up, man,” the pillar says to the column.  “Then you can join the party.”

The column protests, “I cannot be four-faced, confined to opposites.”

“But see, the holes are square.  This is our proper shape.”

“If all are square, society is too boxed in for me.”

“You’ll end up all alone.”

“I can live with that.  My dreams are different, my desire’s to roll.”

“Don’t be stubborn,” the pillar pleads.  “You’ll find it’s not so bad.”

“The same as not so good,” the column counters.  “I’ve wider visions.”

“It’s just a slice or two . .”

“Or four, I gather.”

“You’re fat!”

“I’m a well-proportioned cylinder, you fence post!  Why blame me if I don’t fit in?  I say the holes are wrong.”

“Your core remains.  You’ll be the same inside.”

“I’d lose my voice, my round cadences.  Better to sing out here than narrow to a sigh.”

“It’s what we’re made for.  You’ll be a part . . .”

“With a splintered heart!  For wholeness, I must keep apart.”

 

 

Introducing My Current Obsession

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“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.

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