Excerpts 4

From page 162:

The Sound of Your Own Voice

Whenever you read a poem aloud, you too can awaken and change it. This is not a talent reserved for great poets. It is true of absolutely everyone. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes that when we speak a poem aloud, “we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expressing us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being.”7

The sound of your voice is the sound of the life you have led, which brought you to this moment. All your accrued experience—the losses, the joys, the successes, the agonies—are inscribed in your voice. When who you are merges with a poem, a new creation occurs. You don’t need to work to make it happen. You don’t need to practice. It cannot be otherwise.

There is an old saying, “She loves to listen to the sound of her own voice.” Usually it is meant derogatorily. Yet most people never really listen, intimately and meticulously, to the sound of their own voices. You may listen avidly to the words you are saying and the ideas you are trying to convey, but have you really heard the flood of sound you utter? Try reading a poem aloud, as if you were sending your voice directly into your own ears. Imagine that the sound of your voice is like a viscous liquid, a vibrational medicine pouring back into you. Perhaps it is exactly the sound that can best heal and nourish you out of all the sounds of creation. Notice the texture, timbre, tone, and music of your voice. Feel how the sound coming out of and back into you is quenching some thirst you may not have noticed before. Let yourself develop a love of listening to this sound. It is a well you can drink from endlessly.

When you speak a poem, the resonance of your being meets the resonance of the poem. The words resonance and being can seem like disincarnate ideas, but I mean them graphically: Your voice, which emerges out of the interaction of breath with the shapes, tensions, and textures inside your body, has a particular tone and timbre. Your body, as actors often say, is an instrument. Just as a note vibrating within the particular hollow shape of a cello sounds different from the same note emerging from the contours of a violin, so too the voice that emerges from your interior sounds different than the one that emerges from mine. The metal body of a flute sings one song, the olivewood recorder another, and the Aborigine’s termite-bored eucalyptus didgeridoo sings in yet a different voice.

When your voice connects with a poem, an original creation is born, made of the convergence of your particular life story and the poem. This is why a poem that you’ve heard a thousand times before can break open with fresh meaning when you hear it spoken by someone new, as “Against Certainty” did for me, and indeed for its own author, when Stanley Kunitz read it.

Of course, there are ways that your voice may be obscured by habits and defenses that costume your authentic sound, and the rest of this chapter will explore these, as well as the process of “undressing” your voice. But your true sound, however veiled, can never be completely hidden. You can hear it right now, when you really listen.

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