Imagine my chagrin: as a new subscriber, reading Peter Campion’s excoriation of “finding one’s voice” (“Grasshoppers: A Notebook,” June 2005), and remembering presenting a workshop with that very title in my innocent little North Carolina town. That chagrin prompted a little soul-searching and other memories: how, younger, I wished to write like Phillip Larkin, then Amy Clampitt, then Wallace Stevens. At mid-life I know that I do not envy the facility of Billy Collins but rather the breathing spirit in Robert Bly’s Morning Poems. I think the concern with voice fades as we grow to understand that poetry must be what Wallace Stevens called “the poem of the mind.” Yet, initially, there has to be a voice for us, and we must find it. It has to be living, and it has to be “the speech of the place” (in every sense of that equally problematic term) where we are.
As one who works with young people every day, I do not wish to encourage any more solipsism, but I do want to help them be heard over the maddening and toxic white noise of the culture in which they are drowning. I take it on faith that they must find their voice in order to lose it.
Those who listen carefully to their own voice and read assiduously to study the skilled voices of others will grow into riper understanding of the craft. Noxious, obnoxious, and precious grow up together at first; the wheat and the tares will be separated at the harvest. Please don’t send the crop dusters.
Gastonia, North Carolina