pinsky on the voice of poetry

Lyric poetry has been defined by the unity and concentration of a solitary voice – such as might be accompanied by the sound of a lyre, a harp small enough to be held in one hand. It is singular, if not solitary. But the vocality of poetry, involving the mind’s energy as it moves toward speech, and toward incantation, also involves the creation of something like – indeed, precisely like – a social presence. The solitude of lyric, almost by the nature of human solitude and the human voice, invokes a social presence.


Poetry, then, has roots in the moment when a voice makes us alert to the presence of another or others. It has affinities with all the ways a solitary voice, actual or virtual, imitates the presence of others. Yet as a form of art it is deeply embedded in the single human voice, in the solitary state that hears the other and sometimes recreates that other. Poetry is a vocal imagining, ultimately social but essentially individual and inward.


The voice of poetry... is intimate, on an individual scale, but far from solipsistic. It penetrates and in a sense originates where the reader’s mind reaches toward something heard or uttered as though vocality were one of the senses. This medium is different from performance: different from the poet’s intonations and personality shining forth at a poetry reading, and different from a skilled actor’s gifts. The voice is inside a reader, but gestures outward. Though in many ways it resembles the performer’s art, it is in other ways the opposite of that art, for the voice of poetry, though it may be social – and of course has been gloriously theatrical – ultimately begins as profoundly interior. The theatrical art of performance, manifestly and immediately social, moves inward from without, penetrating toward the interior from the spectacularly audible, visible presence. Poetry proceeds in the opposite direction.

- Robert Pinsky, in three different excerpts (p. 18, 39, 42-43) from his Democracy, Culture and The Voice of Poetry.

No comments: