Sorting Through the Shards with Sadi: The Confessional Essay

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti, poet, essayist and frequent contributor to blogcritics, has been taking the world by storm over the last six months.

Sadi has been alternating between France and New England, and her personal weblog, Tant Mieux has a certain refined European flavor and lots of Paris photos. Sadi has two, well, three separate web identities: Sadi as poet, Sadi as personal essayist and Sadi as photographer. though frequently these identities overlap (as with her commentaries on Ted Hughes’ recent poetry on Plath and her plath/hughes project ). She has written a startling series of essays about adultery (“having been both a cheater and a loyal wife, I can see both sides and have been down both roads”). In Part One, she talks explicitly about the warning signs:

These signs combined with “just a feeling”, assuming you are not a paranoid person, then you may wish to pursue your feeling further. I won’t say the word suspicion because it’s a word cheaters use all the time. You are made to feel as if you are crazy or nuts for thinking that they are cheating on you. Your spouse may even tell you you are crazy. That you are a nag, that you are boring because this is all you talk about etc. etc. This is a diversion tactic and don’t fall for it. The best thing you can do is NOT approach your partner at this time but go about finding out the truth of the situation so that you can decide what you want to do: whether you stay or go, the choice is yours and either option is valid. The goal is to live honestly — and both options are there because different people bear different things.

In Part 2 she publishes an interview with a private detective, and in another surprising book review essay, she discusses the thesis about whether literary depictions of adultery actually make people more susceptible to adultery. She writes:

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our subjects, in books we read, or if we are writers or editors or publishers, books we will print and publish, that we can not just leave them at work. The atmosphere of the book stays with us. This has happened to everyone, I think. It may not have led us all to an affair, but some books are so affecting that we are sorry when they end. We want more. Sometimes the atmosphere clings to us, follows us home and we don’t want to break the spell. So far, I don’t see that translating such books or reading them has affected either of us in such a way that we’ve gone off and had an affair, but knowing what I do know, it will always be in the back of my mind. Expose yourself to such stories long enough, and they become appealing. By contrast, your life seems dull and boring. Why should fictitious characters get to do all the fucking and feel that blood running fast and quick and rich.

Sadi has started what I like to call the “confessional essay.” Her essays basically collapse the distinction between critical voice and personal voice. The private voice becomes the public voice. This first person voice probably isn’t the real Sadi. On the other hand, her essays freely reveal personal details that might make even the most open of writers uncomfortable. In her essay about her brother’s suicide, an event which must have caused a great deal of pain, she reminisces not about the terrible event, but youthful moments they shared:

But those gray days, aimless, letting the boardwalk take us, not wondering where or why, those were the best days and the ones I remember most. We sat proud, wearing our new t-shirts, letting our feet dangle over the edge of the boards as we stared at the fierce, gray ocean. Old men with metal detectors combed the beach, waving their dishlike apparatus back and forth across the sand. They all wore the same khaki-colored, crushable hat with grosgrain ribbon. The lucky among them found lost treasures, gold watches, a single hoop-earring. Sometimes, one of the giant sand-combs would go by – large yellow tractors with rakes on the front and back, trailing the beach, smoothing out the footprints and picking up the refuse of Coke cans and paper cups. These machines were all hypnotic – the way they moved back and forth, slow-combing motions, the sea churning behind them. They brought us peace. You could smell the rain on wet cement of the streets that led to the beach and french fries cooking in hot oil. I was awkward, fifteen, unsure of myself, my brother twelve or thirteen. I remember a day like the one I describe; Richard looked at my funny, freckled face and said, “You’re lookin’ real pretty, Sa…”

These confessions have an explicitly therapeutic purpose. But it’s more than simply airing dirty laundry as a form of catharsis. Sadi is revealing in order to reconstruct or recombine. This essay is more than a mourning of her loss; it’s a celebration of what she used to have, a reimagining of memories. As I read it, the essay confronts us with a question: if X were no longer alive, what memories would we cling to for significance and solace? If Sadi can find solace and even epiphanies from a brother who came to a tragic end, certainly we should be capable of doing so when a loss is not so tragic.

Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with the extent of her disclosures. What, for example, would her husband (a well known writer and translator) think of this sort of public airing? Before the Internet age, poets and writers were ignored and occasionally published, but remained unknown until they won an award, committed suicide, went to jail for obscenity or had an affair with another artist, whichever came first. Nowadays, instantaneous blogging provides amazing access to the inner lives of strangers (especially writers). Poets dream of becoming famous, but most remain known only to a few and write without fear or inhibition (See my essay Would Kafka Have Kept a Web Journal?)

I once read a teenage girl’s description of her father’s death in a diaryland journal. He had won tickets to expensive concert tickets and then went to the concert, calling his daughter to tell her how terrific it was. Half an hour later, after a heart attack, he was dead. I read her diary entries for two months and then–wham! — she drops an entry about the concert , the hospital, the death. I was devastated. I had to write this girl to offer consolation, and this girl, while appreciative of the interest, was also astonished that another living person had actually read her entries. Sometimes attention is not the reason for writing. (For this girl, who was not a writer, it was a memory she had blocked out of her mind even if it persisted in digital form). In another case, I remember reading a year or two worth of Raspil Iverson‘s fiction (which is amazing–here’s my blogentry) . I actually wrote to her and confessed that I’d read her entire website (which has since been taken down). Praise is always good, I suppose, but Raspil was not writing for readers; she was writing for herself. Once you adopt a blogging persona and start getting personal, as long as people at work don’t find out, you can be relatively confident that your thoughts –however personal or profound–will for the most part be ignored (though available through google). But as a writer matures, he gains visibility. One develops fans and yes, even enemies. Can bloggers handle this sort of attention from a small fanatical group of readers? It raises questions of why people reveal and conjure up things for people one barely knows. The public, even in its silence, offers affirmation and also the possibility of sympathy. At the same time it offers enough flagellation to delight a masochist. As Gary Rivlin once wrote, a “culture of disclosure” tends to create a “hot-or-not” viciousness towards easy obvious targets.

Even Flaubert has offdays. Instant publishing ensures that even the blogger with Flaubertian talents will post essays riddled with misspellings, solecisms and flab. In the modern world of creative blogging, the focus may no longer be on the end product (i.e., a novel) but the self’s relationship to creative output over time. One could simply say that standards for publication have fallen. But it is more than that. Blogging lets us view the evolution of a person’s imagination and critical sense. Ephemeral? Unpolished? Perhaps. But we are also treated to a real-time glimpse of the creative process.

Perhaps the ephemera of poetry is better suited to blogging (see for example, awake at dawn). Poetry is less about creating a massive masterpiece than in cultivating a distinctive voice throughout a poem cycle. Poems are calisthenics for the soul; short stories are 100 yard dashes; novels are city marathons. For novelists, the only thing that matters is reaching the finish line; for poets, the process is more important (and delightful) than the destination.

In another astonishing nostalgia piece about childhood, Sadi writes about her uncle’s contract job to decorate the inside of a house wall to wall with mirrors. The idea, which seemed silly at first, produced a startling effect:

Standing there, the world shimmered, the walls came alive. Trees blowing outside reflected around the room and bounced off of other reflections. A bird flying by was flying inside and everywhere in all directions all at once. The walls were fluid and alive. The wet silver-green leaves of the trees as they swayed in the rain and the wind looked like sheets of moving silk as they were broken up into sections and bounced from mirror to mirror. The effect was not dizzying, as one might expect, not like a fun house that makes you feel nauseous. It really was like walking into a temple, and the mirrored columns were nothing short of a stroke of genius, for they were there and not there at the same time.

Switching from the essayist to the poet, she can’t help but grasp the metaphor and hold on for dear life:

There are shards all around me, and I see things there, not all of them good, not all of them bad. And I have seen things, discovered things, I never knew existed, or if I did, I never really saw them. I didn?t question our life ? who has the time. We just accept that if the surface is smooth, then things must be fine. I could not have been more wrong. Yes, everything is shattered, and there is danger here and there, and sorting through these splinters is dangerous, painful work. But like Denny, I am lining them up one by one. I have the patience of a saint as I work, and I tell you, I am building nothing less than something sacred, something holy. A thing that one day I will marvel at and wonder how I could ever have lived differently.







One response to “Sorting Through the Shards with Sadi: The Confessional Essay”

  1. […] It doesn’t bother me that much that I don’t qualify (although I have to wonder what I will have to do to qualify). I just have to wonder why wikipedia wouldn’t want to be a catalog of all the minor artists/intellectuals/athletes/actors out there. A biographical catalog would be helpful (although it would be also fraught with danger). I was seriously thinking of doing a wiki page about my poet friend Sadi-Ranson Polizzotti because if I didn’t do it, who would? (Here’s an essay I wrote about her ). Note that even though I’ve known her for two years we still haven’t met. […]

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