Hearing Voices

A poem can be a voice you hear in your head.  You hear syllables, intonations, accents, pauses, and breaths.  The voice is so clear that it conjures faces, expressions, and hand gestures.  You can see eyebrows lift, cheeks dimple, and eyes wrinkle.  You hear the voice, and then you see the speaker.  Suddenly you feel the poem. In your bones.

Feel this one:

To P.J. (2 yrs. old who sed write
a poem for me in Portland, Oregon)

by Sonia Sanchez

if i cud ever write a
poem as beautiful as u
little 2/yr/old/brotha,
I wud laugh, jump, leap
up and touch the stars
cuz u be the poem i try for
each time i pick up a pen and paper.
u. and Morani and Mungu
be our blue/blk/stars that
will shine on our lives and
makes us finally BE.
if i cud ever write a poem as beautiful
as u, little 2/yr/old/brotha,
poetry wud go out of bizness.

Can you hear the voice?  It makes me want to wake my kids in the middle of the night just to read them that poem.

The next time you read something, think about the voice you hear in your head.  Better yet, consider listening to an audiobook.  There is nothing like hearing a writer read his or her own work.  Have you heard Junot Diaz read a story from This is How you Lose Her?  You will howl – and then you may cry or stop in your tracks.  Whatever your reaction, you will never forget his voice.  Try also listening to an actor’s reading of a classic – like Kate Winslet’s reading of Therese Raquin by Emile Zola.  Her voice is haunting and near – as if she whispers the story in your ear.

Does this sound like an advertisement for audible.com?  I can’t help myself.  Lately I’ve spent so much time thinking about Voice.  Perhaps it’s what first drew me to poetry.  Here’s a poem I scribbled in my spiral notebook, during my Nineteenth Century Women’s Literature Class, eighteen years ago:

Clouds gather
Thunder rumbles
Trees shift
Birds scatter
Lightning cracks
I lift my pen
and speak
my first words

Embarrassingly narcissistic?  Yes.  But there I was, sitting in class, looking for my Voice.



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