The Voice

By Thomas Hardy

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,

Saying that now you are not as you were

When you had changed from the one who was all to me,

But as at first, when our day was fair.

(Voice: plaintive, repetitive, sad)

It's perfectly all right to disagree with my adjectives and to substitute your own when analyzing these selections. All you need to hear are distinct sounds. Contemplate those sounds and see how they harmonize with the subject matter. Then consider the various aspects of voice that you will bring out in your poems — before you even begin to write them.

This way you can envision your poem and hear how it will sound on the page. You will have an easier time writing verse and can concentrate on other basic elements — line, stanza, title — discussed in upcoming chapters.

For now, you want to collect words as some people collect coins. Many poets jot down new sounds in their journals when they hear them. The Canadian poet George Whipple, author of two collections, advises, "Keep paper and pencil with you at all times. They are your best friends when the poem starts to whisper in your ear while you are riding the bus or ready to fall asleep at night, or getting up in the morning."

Whipple notes that poems, lest we forget, are made of words. He recommends keeping lists of words in your journal. "New and strange ones you meet on the street (the names of cars — Bronco, Mustang, Protégé) or in advertisements (Velcro, spiffy, munch) or in conversations (sleaze, blooper, skateboard)." He adds that such words "help to ground the music of your poem in the everyday."

To appreciate the power and music of words:

1. Listen to how you relate to your family, friends and strangers in particular settings.

2. Isolate intriguing or unusual words you hear in everyday conversations.

3. Read the quotations of people featured in newspaper stories and popular magazines and circle words or phrases that you find intriguing enough to use one day in a poem.

4. Read back issues of a poetry magazine and jot down adjectives to describe the various tones of each verse. This will give you an idea of the range of voices in a typical publication.

5. Buy a book of poetry. Study the voice of each poem, circle words that interest you, and jot down adjectives to describe the various tones. This will give you an idea of the range of voices used by one author in a typical collection.

6. Read the dictionary. (Every poet ought to do this at least once in his or her career.) If you find this too tedious, skip several pages at a time. Jot down at least five new words for each letter of the alphabet and list them in your journal.

To get you started, let's preview poems in the mini anthology:

• "A Hymn to God the Father" by George Whipple. Whipple's work and voice are distinct because of the words that pepper his poems. In the poem reprinted here, he employs a formal, jazzy and scientific tone —quite a combination!

• "Tell Her" by Judith Kitchen, author of the 1985 award-winning collection Perennials (Anhinga Press, 1986), whose essays and criticism appear regularly in such journals as The Georgia Review. In the poem reprinted here, she employs a direct, descriptive and insistent tone to explain pictures of starvation to a child.

• "Daily Horoscope" by Dana Gioia, whose journal and poetry we sampled in the first section. One day, he explains, he scanned the newspaper and focused on the horoscope column. Says Gioia, "I was interested in the way that horoscopes adopt an intimate, second-person voice when predicting your future."

As you can see, words and tones surround us. Tune into them, and you will have earned your voice.

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