09 December 2005

Fact or fiction: the "true voice" in writing

I had an interesting conversation the other day at my poetry group regarding the "true voice" and whether or not there's such a thing. What do I mean by true voice? Here's a sentence:

Throughout her undergraduate years, Mabel labored at trying to find her true voice as a poet. Ultimately disappointed, she decided to refocus her artistic leanings in the direction of macrame and candlewicking.

Call me a cynic, but I really don't think there's a true voice out there that's waiting to be found, and that all of our previous poems/stories are just vehicles for shoveling our way to a truer voice. Does Ariel demonstrate a truer voice than The Colossus? Was there a purgatory between the two? Is there a barometer to show you how close you are? Should I ply my students with the fantasy that one day their true voice will gallop up to them on a white horse? What are you supposed to do with it once you find it?

I'd like to believe that a true voice is out there, but to me it's like the illusion of true love. Ultimately, we stick with the one that makes the best grilled cheese.

Any thoughts on the idea of finding your true voice? Have you found yours? Lost yours? If you're less skeptical, please enlighten me already.

12 comments:

Justin Evans said...

My friend Dave Lee told me this story about William Stafford:

Supposedly William Stafford was invited to present as a faculty member at a writer's conference and he was slated as the last presenter. Everyone before him had spoken about voice and 'finding' one's voice. When Stafford got up to speak, he told the participants that everyone who came before hi was absolutely wrong and no one should listen to a word they said. Stafford went on to say that trying to find your voice was a pointless exercise because everyone (meaning everyone) already wrote in their own voice. Essentially everyone already has their voice and will never really lose it.

Of course, I don't tell the story as dramatically as my friend did, but I was always amazed at Stafford's courage to go completely against the grain. I sometimes think and wonder how much he really believed that, or if he said it because it needed to be said. Probably both.

Personally, I write the poems as they come. I see myself writing in two very distinct 'voices' in that I whave my rural poems and everything else. But then, the poem that was in the Briar Cliff Review was heavily influenced by Frank Stanford, so I may be not the one to really preach.

Suzanne said...

'Ultimately, we stick with the one that makes the best grilled cheese.'

LOLOLOLOL!

ps I'm with Stafford. :-)

wayne said...

How can you have a true voice if you have nothing to say? Case in point: Mitch Albom (whiney radio show host, sports writer, Oprah book club mainstay). "Tuesdays with Morey" was a good book. Why? Because he had a good story that most of us could relate to and it was moderately well written. "5 people you meet in heaven" sucked. He had nothing to say. His fiction was totally unbelievable.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Your voice is whatever you write. There's no such thing as "finding your voice."

Nick said...

"We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are."
-- Anais Nin

A poet cannot help but write a poem in their image and/or using their voice. A particular poet uses a particular mindset, i.e. : gender-specific, sociocultural, economic, political, geographic, ethnic etc... They could not IMHO write in another poet's voice even if their life depended on it. The best they might attempt to achieve is to simulate that which they perceive through their cognitive mindset to be the voice they wish to emulate. Of course this also implies that searching for a voice is pointless. Furthermore, as the person changes and evolves so to does the voice. In my opinion the two are positively correlated.

Penultimatina said...

Wow...thanks for all of your thoughts!

Nick, I really like this:

Furthermore, as the person changes and evolves so to does the voice. In my opinion the two are positively correlated.

P. J. said...

Every poem I write says something about me, even if I try to write about something absolutely un-me.

I read this book--it was awful--in 1992 called The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment, all about the myth of "finding yourself." The guy's advice (even as a writer he sounded stoned) was something akin to, "Man, just like, you know where you are now? That's you, man! You're where you are. See? All you need to do to find yourself is just realize that you're right there." It was something like that, but that's pretty close. Since then, I scoff at people trying to find a reason for existence or "meaning" in life; at the end of Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor writes that you've already got everything you ever needed, which would have been what you wanted in the first place had you know (see, that's probably a direct quote but I'm not using quotation marks, sheesh).

Andrew Field said...

Maybe there isn't a "true voice," but there can be voices in writing that grow truer and truer with growth?

Generally I also think that a "true voice" in writing is one of those wicked ideas we tend to worry too much about (or at least i worry too much about). It actually is a pretty harmful and deceptive idea, if you think about it. Believing that i have one true voice tends to narrow my potential for discovering my multiplicity of voices and also push me towards killing or suppressing the thoughts and ideas that don't cohere to whatever "true voice" i've unconsciously or rigidly gambled all my money on.

I've realized that my truer voices are voices less concerned with impressing people by my writing and more concerned with what i'm trying to get across. They are voices that are considerate of the reader without compromising my own needs as a writer to express myself and experiment responsibly. In that sense, my voices are more true when and because they're more honest, real, and considerate.

Julie said...

I've realized that my truer voices are voices less concerned with impressing people by my writing and more concerned with what i'm trying to get across. They are voices that are considerate of the reader without compromising my own needs as a writer to express myself and experiment responsibly. In that sense, my voices are more true when and because they're more honest, real, and considerate.

Mordechai, I couldn't have said it any better myself!

Frank said...

I think the idea of a true voice is a lazy teacher's way of telling students to stick with it. Y'know, rather than giving them concrete issues to address, they give them some kind of nebulous goal that is a matter of patience rather than practice. Not that honing one's writing doesn't take patience, but to suggest that patience is enough is silly.

I wonder if those who refer to a "true voice" mean the more assured voice a practiced writer can find.

puremood said...

Hey there, Mary. I just wanted to drop in with a hello and wish ya'll a Merry Christmas! :)

poetzie said...

I'll never forget when poet Joe Amato, who I had never met before, came up to me at a poetry reading and started screaming to me about how there is no such thing as "voice." He made his point quite clear that "voice" was something that poets of lesser acclaim than himself had been using for years to mask the reality of the harshness of language and its relationship to identity as well as the relationship of the poet's relationship to language. A Masters student at the time, I completely wrote him off as an over-the-top post modernist who just wants to get rid of all definitions, period. At this point in my poetic "career," though, I'm coming around the bend to agree with good ol' Joe. Voice itself is an indication of a persona, I think, that may fail to shift in degree or demeanor to fit the situation of the poem. It seems to be a false reality, a word applied to something that is, as you say, Mary, supposed to be "authentic," but really is a way to avoid where the real poem is located. Most poets who are identified by their "voice" have seen the best days of their career come and go. Maybe now it's time to focus on the poet's relationship with language instead of some ethereal idea of "truth in voice". Or maybe, ultimately, the poet's relationship with language, when completely recognized and rejected and/or compromised and/or satirized and/or embraced IS the poet's "true voice," as much as that would please Joe Amato.