26 April 2006

Susan Stewart

[from Susan Stewart's Poetry and the Fate of the Senses]

because poetic voice is informed by, often indeed formed by, the imperatives of rhythm and repetition, its volition is problematic — more problematic than, say, the production of discursive sentences in prose such as these. We will see that this doubled movement in poetic production, toward mastery on the one hand and toward being mastered on the other, has made poetry suspect as a force against reason and valued as a means of ecstasis. . . . Tactility, manipulation, and externalization remain the “touchstones” or reality . . . and the wind as a force of possession the vehicle of transport and self-transformation. . . .

What do we mean when we speak of “voice” in poetry? To indulge in such creative writing workshop clichĂ©s as that of “the poet finding his or her own voice” is to substitute a reifying and mystifying version of subjectivity for what is in fact most profound and engaging about poetic voice — that is, the plays of transformation it evokes beyond the irreducibility of its own grain, its own potential for silence. The “object” of my love for your voice emerges in the relation between my history and the uniqueness of your existence, the particular timbre, tone, hesitations, and features of articulation by which all the voices subject to your own history have shaped your voice’s instrument. In listening, I am listening to the material history of your connection to all the dead and the living who have been impressed upon you. The voice, with the eyes, holds within itself the life of the self — it cannot be another’s.

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