Voice is hard to describe, but a poem can rise or fall because of it. Flying without a net here, but let me try to expand on the topic. Voice is not synonymous with the poet; it is more the mask she or he assumes to speak the poem. The Latin word is persona for mask, and the persona of a poem needs to work always in service of and in tandem with other elements of the poem.
How about a cooking analogy? What can I liken to voice? Salt? Without it, the poem and comparable dish might be insipid. Too much salt, and what else you might taste or hear in the dish/poem is lost, destroyed, overwhelmed. You need just the right amount for any given recipe to achieve a pleasing result. So it is with poetry.
Of course, not all poems are as voice-driven as others. You might even need a series of poems for the voice to become obvious and effective. Or, an entire oeuvre, if you’re actually a successful poet, with a consistent body of work. And reading tastes vary, as an individual’s tolerance for salt does. I personally like salty, voice-heavy poems. And memoirs and first-person novels.
Probably because I’ve kept journals and diaries most of my life, I’m comfortable with first person riffs. The voice that I adopt in these blog entries is some hybrid amalgam of the way I talk and think, neither one nor the other. It is a private persona, not my public one.
Poetry is obviously more difficult, but I’ve had one delightful experience— a voice that worked, one I understood, but didn’t identify with, a voice that demanded to be locked down into a particular form (prose poem) and to build with clichés, euphemisms, hyperbole, contrast, irony. She knew her themes equally well. She knew that the only response to life’s vicissitudes is, as she does, to “put the egg on the mantle and dance.”
That voice is gone, but I remember her fondly. When she first arrived, I was embarrassed to share her without telling my writing friends, “she’s not me.” I think I’ve become more her, as time has gone on, but she has said all she wanted to. I have tried to honor her two-year sojourn with me by publishing the poems that resulted. With the recent publication of five of them in Vine Leaves Literary Journal: a collection of vignettes from across the globe, edited by Jessica Bell (Melbourne, Australia, 2017), most of them have seen the light of day. I’ve mentioned them in this blog, as they were published, but those days are officially over. I have one more that I’m especially fond of, and a couple more that I don’t fully identify with, or endorse. And then, the big question—should I try (or try harder) to publish them as a collection?