The Weight of the Human Soul

In 1907, Dr. Duncan Macdougall published the results of some curious findings. He claimed to have found the weight of the human soul. In his experiments, Macdougall weighed the bodies of a handful of people as they lay dying. Then, when the person had passed, he observed that his measurements changed: the weight of the respective bodies got lighter after a few minutes. The good Doctor concluded that this difference in the post-mortem measurement must certainly be the weight of the soul. The first soul he weighed was ¾ of an ounce, or 21 grams.


After this weekend, I know that Macdougall was on to something. He just got his figure wrong. The precise figure is not 21 grams. It’s 12 pounds. That’s the total amount of weight I lost on Saturday while suffering from a monster flu virus. 7% of my total weight.

I can’t remember the precise moment when I felt my soul depart my corporeal existence, but I’m sure it happened. No soul could withstand that much hell.

In the past couple days during the moments when I’m not drinking pint glass after pint glass of tap water in order to re-inflate my organs (should my kidneys be aching?), I’ve recontextualized what happened to me as, not an illness, but a detox. I don’t know if what I went through can be considered a  true detox, but it feels like it. I feel “cleaned out,” as they say and I’ve been thinking carefully about what’s going to go back in to replace what came out.

I’m a fairly healthy guy. I run when I can. I eat well and don’t drink booze most weekdays. I don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. I get a regular amount of sleep. The whole nine. And yet what do I do when I finally come around and feel like eating again? For the first time in roughly four days?

via mygofer
Bam. Red Baron. I know: classy. It’s a guilty pleasure and it’s what truly sounded good.

Big mistake. Felt like crap all night. Felt like I was sick again.

Tonight, though, I made amends. Knoxville recently got a Trader Joe’s and it’s right near our house so I ran over there after teaching this afternoon and bought a frozen paneer tikka masala and spinach rice meal. Put good in, get good out.

This is all a roundabout way of getting to the poetry detox I’ve been on for several months, detoxing from politics. No politics, no talking heads, no nothing until the first Presidential Debate. Expel and eliminate the political waste and focus on the poems.

The detox has been successful in at least one respect: it’s helped me to renew my love of soccer. Replace one obsession with another. But in terms of poetry, it’s helped me focus, mostly on my reading. I’m getting a lot more reading done. And it’s all paying off in the new work. At least I hope it is. Although I don’t really have too many new poems, I think I’m doing a good job of replenishing the well. The poems are right there waiting for me to write them. Putting good in and getting good out.

Another new aspect of the detox I’ve been thinking about is the detox from poetry. Trying to get away from all of the depressing, mindless, nattering that occupies so much of the poetry discourse space. Trying to worry less about it, how I should participate more, about changing it. I like what Rodney Jones said in the Spring 2012 issue of Third Coast:
via poems.com
I'm not into movements or schools. Those are for fish. American poetry is not a factory or an argument. I prefer poets who fail the standards of other poets of my previous affections. I look for aesthetic freshness, narrative brilliance, imagination, bold language, dramatic intensity. I don't care if a poem is tragic or comic or a mixture. Anything that doesn't embody individual character bores me.
I’m also interested in detoxing from my normal bag of tricks and moves. Interested in detoxing from the first manuscript, pushing myself (and this is obvious but I’m pigheaded and slow) to write poems that are “new,” new for me. (I’ve been harping “Make it new!” at my students the last two weeks.) Again, Rodney Jones:
What I was getting at was the most important thing: originality, which might also be construed as character. We can't judge Rilke by the standards of Neruda. The greatest poets write from a necessity that forms style and carries from book to book, but their new poems fail to be the old poems. 
That’s what I’m after: poems with a consistency of style and a newness. And this means, I think, detoxing from the old, stale, used-up claptrap I’ve got clattering around in my toolbox (not to mix metaphors too much) and really pushing toward the places that make me uncomfortable, that challenge my poetry norms.

Tomorrow’s a writing day. Finally. Looking forward to a morning and afternoon of putting my pen down on the page.

Whitman sings the body electric. I’m detox-sing my body poetic.