The Blog of John Hewitt

Meditate and then write a poem

Poetic Voice

As you can see from the previous topics, there are many poetic styles to choose from. We have already covered poetry of place, personal poetry, issues oriented poetry and persona poetry. These are all unique approaches to poetry. They have nothing to do with meter, diction, rhythm or form. Once you combine all of those poetic concepts, you can see that there are many diverse approaches to the writing of poetry. Some people write well using very specific styles while others jump from style to style easily.

Poetic voice is something that exists outside of all of these concepts. Poetic voice is, quite literally and broadly the way that you write. It is your choice of words, the order of your words, the length of your sentences, the length of your poems, your use of description, your choice of subjects, your attitude and everything else that goes into the writing of a poem. While any of these aspects of your writing can change from one poem to the next, general patters will emerge over time. It is sort of like the difference between climate and weather. Weather can change daily or even hourly, but the climate rarely changes. It is the guiding force behind the weather.

Developing your poetic voice is a process that continues as long as you write poetry, but in general your voice will become more specific and pronounced over time. When people first start to write poetry, they tend to mimic the poets (or even musicians) they have heard in the past. They have an idea of what poetry should sound like, and they try to force their natural voice into the styles they imagine. As writers grow more comfortable with their writing, their own unique voice comes to the forefront. This doesn’t mean that they put all of their past influences aside, it merely means that those influences serve less as a conscious guide and more as a subconscious inspiration.

It is only natural, even for an experienced poet, to adapt aspects of a new poet or style that they find interesting or inspiring, just as they may react against a style or poet that they find distasteful. As a poet grows more confident in their voice, those influences will have less and less impact.

So, how do you develop your poetic voice? You write. You write and write and write. You also read other poets, not to copy their style but to learn from them. As you continue to write and to read, you will keep the influences you like and discard the ones you don’t, all as a natural part of your development. You will also find that your voice will begin to win out.

Other things to remember:

  • Listen to the way you speak.
  • Don’t try to write in a style that is dramatically different from the way you speak.
  • Don’t use words in your poetry that you wouldn’t use in conversation.
  • Incorporate influences from other media such as television, movies, news, talk radio, fiction, non-fiction, music and the people around you.
  • The greater the number of influences you have, the less dominant any one influence will be.
  • Accept that you don’t have to sound like other writers to be successful. Your own voice and experience will be better than anything you try to simulate.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Take at least five minutes to meditate in a quite room free of outside influences before you write today’s poem. Try to clear your head of stray thoughts. Once you feel like you are clear and calm, write your poem. Let the topic be about whatever comes to mind after your meditation. If you have never meditated before, simply sit in a chair with your eyes closed and try to relax.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Leslie Adrienne Miller deftly combines three of the writing styles we have been discussing. She writes poems from a deeply personal place, but uses that to address wider issues, and she incorporates her travels into her writing, giving her poems a distinct sense of place. She also incorporates today’s concept, the persona poem, as she stretches to capture other women’s lives (and deaths). I highly recommend The Resurrection Trade. It is one of the most accomplished books of poetry I have read in recent years.

Books by Leslie Adrienne Miller

The Resurrection Trade 2007

Eat Quite Everything You See 2002

Ungodliness 1994