Jay Edson: I Sing of Polly Pong

Henry Selick – Coraline (2009) – from Coraline Wiki

Jay Edson, who apparently also writes under the name James Hunter, is a heretic essayist and blogger. His site Unthinkable Thoughts collects numerous challenging articles on controversial subjects, a few short stories, and also a bit of poetry, including some of his own.

I chose his poem “I Sing of Polly Pong,” about a little girl who speaks to a door; she is then diagnosed schizophrenic by psychiatrists, who lock her and force her through “therapy” to relinquish her beliefs and her ways. Here psychiatry is likened to the Inquisition. In this Edson follows Thomas Szasz, who defended in his book The Manufacture of Madness the thesis that institutional psychiatry represents the modern form of Inquisition, and that mental illness is a myth playing the same role as witchcraft a few centuries ago.

Interestingly, the psychiatrists accuse Polly of mistakenly identifying a metaphor (such as a sentient being) with a real thing (such as a door), but they themselves mistake their own doctrinal metaphor (about an orderly world of sanity) for rationality. In fact, they don’t understand what metaphors are for, they can’t feel spirituality in the world, and poetry is foreign to them. Thus, they are madder than the so-called mad people.

I Sing of Polly Pong

I sing of Polly Pong
Who, it must be said, was always wrong.
One day when she was speaking to her door
As she had done so many times before
(The blue on her bedroom)
It answered her.
“Guess what,” it said.
Forthwith, Polly,
With breastfed innocence and trust
Ran forth from her house to proclaim this marvel.
“Guess what!” she said.
“What?”
“My door spoke to me.”
“And what,” inquired the first friend she met
“Did it say?”
“Guess what.”
“What?”
“Guess what.”
“What?”
“Guess what.”
“What?”
Sadly Polly had to confess
It was hard to convey the matter
With mere and slippery words.
Being as least in part understood
However,
She was taken in due time
Before the Interdisciplinary Inquisition
And they inquired
In their inquisitional manner
Whether she had violated their cannons of reality
And found, of course,
That she had mistaken a door
For a metaphor
And was therefore
Irrevocably guilty of heresy in the first degree
Which they spelled in the modern manner,
“Schiz-o-phren-i-a,”
And they locked her up you know where
Until she should learn the first rule
By which we order our
Orderly,
Orderly,
Orderly,
Orderly,
Orderly,
Predictable and controllable,
Orderly,
Common,
Common,
Lives,
Namely:
“Thou shalt not live in other worlds.”
“But she is not truly guilty,”
They said, removing her last shred of dignity
Along with her personal underwear,
“For it is beyond her will;
Truly she is ill —
Literally sick,”
They said,
“To take a metaphor for a thing,”
They said
Nodding sadly,
Knowingly,
Sympathetically
At one another as they fondled
The common, comforting metaphor
By which they order their common lives,
And ours as well,
And also by which they
Terminate disquieting dialogue.
“She is sick.”
And they sent her away to be cured.
There in the Kingdom of the Interdisciplinary Team,
They stretched her neurons
On wracks more subtle
Than ever known before
And they infused their will
Into the synapses of her brain
And in time she ceased speaking to doors
And they to her.
So she never did guess what,
But instead was “cured”
Spelled in the modern manner,
As in “ham.”
I sing of Polly Pong
Who, it must be said, was always wrong.
It’s likely she didn’t hear the door too well,
Nor see it clearly,
And likely she was a little mad —
But not so mad as all those poor players
On the Interdisciplinary Inquisitional Team
In their obsessive white coats,
With their billiard ball fantasies
About the Being of beings being stone and very dead,
For they still believe that inanimate objects
Actually exist somewhere literally
In this blazing perfection of
Animate incandescence,
Somewhere
In this shimmering ripple
Of cool and living water.
They do not know what a metaphor is for,
So they cannot see the door
At all.
So should you ever meet a door
That smiles at you and says
“Guess what?”
Guess or not as you see fit,
But don’t let on,
For I sing of Polly Pong
Who, it must be said,
Was always wrong.

Henry Selick – Coraline (2009)

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