Between Something Worth Saying and a Voice to Say It With

One of the biggest personal challenges I face as a poet is striking a balance between form and function, or between pose and purpose.

What I mean by this is that as an artist progresses in their technical ability, in their experience with the creative process, and in the journey of self-discovery that ultimately results in maturity (or vintage) as an artist, we often say they have found “their voice”. To experience someone who has found their voice is to listen to the sound of a tree, to know that what sound comes from them originates from unseen roots in the soles of their feet and radiates upward and outward. Such voices rumble with a kind of authority that masterfully, yet without effort, blends the personal and the universal into a single stream of consciousness that, even if you don’t agree with the flow, you cannot help but be affected by when you hear it. Some artists never quite achieve that level of sophistication (although sophistication is not exactly the right word here), and you can sense it. They put on a great show, and to most observers they appear to be something quite special. But to other poets, I think, the distinction between a Voice and a Stage Whisper is apparent. A lot of people sham at having a Voice. They speak as if they had one, or as if trying to convince others they are someplace at which they have not yet arrived.

The problem is, of course, that the destination changes. And like any relationship, the voice and the words it finds to speak are often troubled by the little things. The two questions, “where am I going?” and “who am I going with?” always seem to be asked in the wrong order. As a result, the line between message and medium is often blurred, or lost altogether. I don’t think, for example, that Sylvia Plath’s intention was to inspire legions of pale, depressed, overwrought and hyper-sensitive ingenues who dwelt forever in the house of sadness and tragedy. Or that TS Eliot really wished for everyone who followed in his footsteps to mimic his worst traits (overbearing and perhaps a bit poncy and academic) and somehow forget his playful side. But that’s the way it goes, particularly when those who TEACH poetry approach it from an academic standpoint and by necessity must focus on only a small part of an entire persona in order to come up with a punchline for their Doctoral theses.

More to come later.

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