Saturday, October 31, 2009

About poetry: I don't believe in free will

A poem of mine was recently accepted by a review. These things happen. These things are what poets who are foolish as I am think life is made of. (It's not. Life is made of 360 degrees plus a galaxy with swirling planets and burning patient stars. Life is made of Steamboat Willie plus infancy. Life is made of palms on skin plus revolution of every sort.)

The poetry co-editor suggested I send an additional batch of poems -- as many as possible -- so editors could select an additional poem. Feverish me sent off twenty or thirty more poems. I hadn't even figured out page breaks on

The review accepted one more poem. Fine. I have a poem accepted therefore I exist. Fine.

But when I later took another look at the "additional" poems I excitedly sent off - my resubmission was shortly after my book was published, so everything I sent was relatively new - I realized I'd sent incomplete and sometimes awkward work. I knew, not for the first time, that given my battles with focus and clear thinking, the incredible effort it takes to whittle away enough of the stuff around me, to gently befriend my "self" with all its confusion, resentments and fantasies, the "self" that's taken so many years to produce Sarah Sarai's first book, that, practically speaking, I can only be sure of five or six poems at a time.

Why am I writing this? To learn something about myself. To possibly learn to contradict what I believe about myself. To get it out. See, as far as I'm concerned, my book is a miracle. I now know there'll be other books - one novel is ready, the two novellas are almost ready, the next poetry collection is being formed. They are standing on the shoulders of giants of literature, but also on my confused inner linebacker.)

I don't believe in free will. All these years of giving free its due, of being fair, of being judicious about my role in things, I realize I no longer believe in it, in free will, the ability to utter a saucy "no!' to distraction and get the job done.

Why? Because exercising my will is too difficult to be considered a routine choice or path. I try. It's easy to be willful. That's a knee jerk, a promise of danger, a reflex, a chance to say or do something that will bring me shame, a chance to repeat stupid patterns which I learned or which I created. Why don't I believe in free will? Because I have this sense my every action is predestined by my physiology, my body's chemistry, my brain's receptors and neurons. To exercise free will, I have to yoke a double team of reluctant oxen to my chest, and pull.

That isn't free, that's punishment. Granted, the reward for that punishing motion in a sane direction is serenity and sanity, but if that is free will, then free will as debated by philosophers is far more difficult than suggested. (Granted my knowledge of philosophy after Hobbes is a bit light.)
I know I am a complainer; maybe the above is a complant and I'm too close or arrogant or (oh please no please no please no) self-pitying to accept that the slew of thirty-something poets with good work out there are like Helios able to work with their team of oxen and horses every day, able to make the sun shine every day. I feel better if I allow the sun, Helios-led or simply inevitable, shine on my life. Am I a self-absorbed poet? Sometimes, sure. But sometimes I'm absorbed with the $100,000,000 Bloomberg has spent on his 2009 mayoral run. Or with putting Cheney and Bush aren't in stocks for commiting heinous acts of savegery. Or with why racism is stronger than ever in the face of its inevitable demise.

I believe in free and I believe in will. That's a start. Without writing poetry I wouldn't be able to celebrate either.


  1. I don't believe in free=will. I believe in the circle=eyed-monster dog of my unconscious that does its damdest (how do you spell that?) to knock me off my pins by bad choices, bad dreams, bad girl like I tried so hard not to be and, by dog, I was really bad cause I just couldn't say not to whatever anyone else wanted and didn't know what I was allowed to want..
    so, no, I don't think there's free will except for the very lucky few who live under that delusion..
    and look at it this way, the journal picked through your not-terribly-finished offerings, didn't write a scolding letter, and published a second poem...not half bad for a self-sabotager...
    good for you...
    (I hope I understood your blog and that this is a proper response to what it might be asking...)

  2. That monster-eyed dog is exactly what I was thinking of. I really enjoy your responses. Thanks in many ways.