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Thoughts on Poetic Voice
In this my last message as IPA President, I'd like to share some thoughts on finding your poetic voice, something I've been striving to do, and have been told that I was well on the way, but I'm not always sure how that journey is going. It seems that poetic voice is difficult to define, but deals with specific characteristics of a poet's work. We all immediately recognize passages of certain famous poets just by their distinctive style, sound, words; we recognize their voice.
Laurie Zupan, in Writer's Digest, narrows the definition: "Poetic voice is rooted in the use and repetition of specific elements--[...] grammar and syntax, form, music, subject matter and, last, magic--the elusive connection between a reader and a poet that transcends the work." Here are some questions for you to ponder as you consider your own poetic voice.
Grammar and syntax: How do you use grammar? is it consistent? with good reason? do you punctuate? or not? or over-punctuate? (thinking of ee cummings yet?) And syntax is word order, arranged to read smoothly, or not, to create distance, closeness, feeling. What about word choices? who's your intended audience? Try substituting different types of words to change it up, for example, exchanging Latinate words like perspiration with short ones like sweat.
Form: What forms do you use most? why? Try a new form. A couple of good guides to try: "The Teachers and Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms" by Ron Padgett and "The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms" by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland.
Music: Don't forget about sounds--alliteration, rhyme, assonance, prosody, soft sounds, hard sounds. All contribute to the emotions, music and meaning of the poem. Always read your poems aloud. Even better, have someone read it aloud to you.
Subject matter: What preoccupies you? is that what you're writing about? try approaching other ideas, topics, themes. You might learn something new about your voice.
Magic: You'll know when you find your voice; "you'll know because when a poem works, when its voice is right, some new truth is shared between reader and writer. The voice of the poem will transcend its parts. When that happens, you know you've succeeded as a poet."
Onwards. Happy writing! And I'll be listening...
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