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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Michael Schmidt on 'Voice'

'Teachers and critics talk about ‘voice’, not as an instrument with which a man might, in Wordsworth’s phrase, speak to men, but as an individuating medium, defined by its inflections and distinguishing mannerisms. The poem performs some kind of self, but being performative it is also ironic and the real self is withheld. Anecdote (dignified as ‘narrative’) displaces complex form, and the poem builds towards that audible point of (Larkin’s term) ‘lift-off’ when the audience, if there is an audience, is conditioned to respond with the ‘ooo’ or ‘aaa’ and the intake of breath. A palpable hit. Such poems are shy of abstractions, of the ‘sensuous cerebration’ that Charles Tomlinson admires in the French, of the demands of traditional form and what can be done with it and experimentally against it. Ezra Pound’s ‘Go in fear of abstractions’ has become a commandment that the obedient – obey. They go in fear, and one thing they fear is the long poem in which ‘voice’ is soon exhausted and other resources are required.'

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