We all have a natural way of speaking and thus a natural way of writing. In her article, Adrian Blevins discusses ‘voice’ as a partner to sentences and sentence structure, as well as spoken words. Something that is unedited will look very different from something that’s been gone through with a fishbone comb. If we remain true to ourselves, don’t experiment, or change anything, or adjust…. Then it’s very easy to grow a ‘voice’ then watch it die.
I’m nobody! Who are you? (260) is so painfully Emily Dickenson that even a novice like myself can see her in the short, punchy poem full of pep with repeating first constant sounds, hyphens, heavy full rhyme and an animal. In this case a frog. But in being all those things, quintessentially Emily Dickenson, I’m nobody! Who are you? (260) illustrates a point for this week about ‘voice,’ the syntax, content, and structure most used by a particular poet. Sometimes voice is strong, especially in well known, super productive, catchy, or much studied poets. Other times, a poet’s voice can seem tentative. But is voice a ‘reflection’ of the poets inner soul? I think not.
I believe that a poet will write poems is such a way as feels best for them, when writing unrestrained, but that it’s not necessarily a perfect reflection of some inner unforeseen and elusive light. Poems are expressions, yes, but not always on a personal level deep enough to show anything new or enlightening about the poet. The ways poet uses syntax, content, and all the other poetry goodies is the way they write. If the poet gets in the habit of writing a certain way, we reader come to recognize the way the poem is written as said poets ‘voice.’ The problem lies in letting the voice be the everything of the poet. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful things you have in your brain, how many perfect images of whatnots and sunshine and puppies, if you can’t describe them in a way that makes sense and/or is interesting, you’ll have only an audience of one.
While that’s cool and works for a lot of people, it’s missing the point of crafting poems (in my opinion.) We need to allow our voice to be part of us, yes, but not worry too much about losing it, or changing it, or mimic another poet for a few lines or what influences this poet has on that poet. Because without those experiences there can be no growth. No growth leads to stagnation, disinterest, and poem death.
A poet’s voice is not a bad thing, not at all. In some ways voice reflects the poet or speaker, but it isn’t a identical image. ‘Voice’ allows the poet the comfortable of something familiar, as well as a marker for readers to know fairly quickly who a poet is, and what to expect from the poem they are about to read. Depending on the focus of the poem, the voice of the poet alters and fluctuate, but still usually remains within their regular domain. If we’re lucky our voice will have lots of room to wander and plenty of facets to explore. This all sounds so analytical. We have to keep in mind that ‘voice’ on a bottom level is just the words put together in a certain way, a way that is recognizable as a poet (or a speaker within the poem, or a dialect, etc. etc. etc) but above everything else: a poem should contain music. The ‘voice’ has to express the images within the poets head and in order to be a poem, ‘voice’ must sing.
Sarah Ockershausen Delp
Blevins, Adrian. “In Praise of the Sentence.” 10 Apr 2006. Poetry Foundation. Web. Nov 2016. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/articles/detail/68520>.
Dickinson, Emily. “I’m Nobody! Who are you? (206).” 1951. Poets.org. Nov 2016. <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/im-nobody-who-are-you-260>.
**Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.