More on Voice, and Also Why I Hate Rhyme

Everyone-you-meet-is-fighting-a-battle-you-know-no

“Man, sometimes it takes you a long time to sound like yourself.” –Miles Davis

So I was thinking about this line from Miles Davis (because it turns out that epigraphs are a great way to overcome your writer’s block), and I thought about how we constitute the self. And then I had that last stanza from Philip Larkin’s poem “This Be the Verse” go through my head, one of the very few pieces of poetry I have memorized:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

 

Now, I will admit that this is more than a bit cynical and that I have been relatively lucky in my upbringing, but there is also some good sense to it, as when people have pain, they tend to spread it around like manure, but generally without the benefit of nourishing anything. Still the eight-syllable line and abab rhyme scheme together make for a catchy (and therefore more memorizable) poem, even if does get a little sing-songy, which maybe takes away from the seriousness. So I adopted some of this to create my own bit.

 

The Tri-fold Self

 

Three things make up the self, I think:

The mind, the body and the voice.

Such things are passed on down to us

Without our say-so or our choice.

 

First comes the mind, the wandering wit

That tilts at windmills, fights through mazes,

Eats the words served up in books

And dreams the world in smoky hazes.

 

Next comes the body, old workhorse

That carries Mind from place to place.

We exercise to keep it fit

And use makeup to gild its face.

 

Last comes the voice, through which the mind

Speaks from this body to that.

And other minds judge what they hear

And call us either sharp or flat.

 

It takes long practice to learn how

The mind best works itself to learn,

Itself a cosmos hidden deep

Within the body, there to burn.

 

And longer still it takes to see

The beauty in the body aging,

Aching, creaking, fighting, winning,

Singing, all while life engaging.

 

But longest yet it takes the ears

To love the sound the tongue releases

From the moment we, born, wail

Until our last, when all breath ceases.

 

And so it is, all of us struggle

To be ourselves: voice, body, mind.

You know the struggle all too well,

So as you walk the world, be kind.

 

Voice

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak….it was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.” ― Gaston Bachelard

Lately I have been playing with a metaphor for the changes I have been witnessing within myself: that certain people (human and furrier) have rearranged the furniture in my head (or possibly heart). What I had not really considered is that the different things inside me might have more or less import than others. Bachelard’s comment suggests that some of the things themselves are silent and equates that with our being unable to speak, so a silent thing inside leads to silence outside. So is the flipside of this idea that loud things lead us to speak loudly?

This makes a lot of sense, especially if you look at internalized oppression. In one person, that kind of institutional wrong could be held tightly silent on the inside and lead to a keeping-your-head-down kind of silence or a shame-filled silence; in another person, it could lead instead to rebellion, activism, or some other form of proud rejection of the wrong being done and the ideas behind it.

I think, though, that other “things” are a bit more like cats: sometimes purring, sometimes snoring, sometimes quietly patting us on the face to wake us out of a dead sleep or a crazy dream, pointing us in the direction of the cat food, the pragmatic necessities and the sweet varieties that life offers on a daily basis. These are generally not things that require yelling or even singing; they certainly do not demand our silence.

So then, if I return to my idea for this blog, that poetry can be sublime, ridiculous and useful, I also return to what sort of speaking poetry can do on a given day: give voice to the things that do not dare speak, tune the angry things to a frequency people will be able to hear, and hum simple tunes to keep our voices warm and ready to say the words that are still slowly making their way toward articulation.