Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Finding My Voice (Cue the Enya)

My friend Lucas observed that the first group of poems I sent to my readers span a range of styles. In his response to me, he suggested that this was either an indication of my great virtuosity or evidence of internal conflict about the kind of work I'd like to produce.

Much as I'd like to believe the former is true, his conjecture about my conflicting thoughts on what and how I want to write is probably more accurate. It's not an unfamiliar conflict for me though -- I've always been torn between various different types of writing and felt a genuine interest in the possibilities offered by them all (or nearly all). One day I'm pulled toward Frost and his focus on plain speech and sentence sounds. The next I read Kay Ryan and want to write twisting, crystalline observations. And a day later the complex grammatical mechanisms of John Donne and Carl Phillips seem the only things worth creating.

As a result, I end up exploring all of these styles and others as well. At this point, I think that's the right thing to be doing, but there is the problem of coherence, and I don't relish the thought of seesawing back and forth between styles forever.

Poetry People always talk about "finding your voice," and I despise the touchy-feelyness that encumbers the phrase. I think when most people say it, they have in mind a kind of beatific blossoming. It seems like something that a lot of scented candles and dreamcatchers would help. (Plus, how do you know when you've found it? Is there a bell of some kind? A glowing light? Enya?) Still, I have to admit that I see the basic idea behind it as a central challenge for me this year. I have a multitude of voices in my head that I need to corral together into a single shouting crowd.

And that's the thing -- I don't feel that I should have to choose between these voices or among the many schools of poetry. For me, "finding my voice" means figuring out the kinds of rhythms, sounds, words and images that blend together best, that express the way I see the world, and that approximate, if always imperfectly, the unachievable, a priori poem that is behind everything I write. The real challenge is focusing, and listening, and working hard. Maybe in the end it's not so much that you find your voice as your voice finds you. No Enya necessary.

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