Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Sunday Mini-Prompt with Brendan: Voices

"Joan of Arc With Her Voices" by Eugene Thirion (1876)

DO YOU hear voices?  Carry on conversations with loved ones, mentors, animal friends, the dead?  Is your head an oratory, committee, a Twitter feed of tongues?

Is your writing sometimes more like transcription, a channeling of voices? That’s how Rilke wrote his Sonnets to Orpheus in 1922, taking on the ghostly voice of a girl who had died young.  As with Rilke, are prompts more like shouts, “commanding and impelling” you to write?

Neuroscientists say there’s a constant hubbub of voices inside our skull. One study suggested that fully a quarter of our waking day is spent in self-speech. Even so, as there are those who don’t dream, there are those who don’t hear voices at all. (Maybe these un/fortunates are the most skilled—whether through habit, ability or pathology—at filtering the voices out.)

Do you trust your inner voice? Who’s talking? Julian Jaynes once theorized that our God sense developed as a loud voice in our inner ear; conscious acts were directed by deities lobed on the right side of the brain, so that we compassed our behavior by the will of Heaven.  (is that why we call certainty being right?) And in the same way the moon's gravitational effect on the earth has receded as it slowly drifted away—a billion years ago, tides raced hundreds of miles inland and back every day—so those righteous heavenly voices are slowly fading, replaced by the loud assertions of self-consciousness. By the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, the direct voice of God has disappeared.

For most of us, voices play at the edge of hearing, in the subconscious slipstream, in dreams and poems (ahem) and the realm of the dead. Waking consciousness mutes those voices, the way that shadows fade at noon. (Tinnitus—a neurological condition where the ears seem ring like old telephones—has nothing to do with the ears and is controlled by learning to hear around the noise.)

Sufferers of schizophrenia have no filter for those voices, they are commanded by them. One of my cousins has the disease; for decades she has been gripped by a continuous barrage of voices, sometimes overwhelming, other times receded (when faithfully though begrudgingly taking the drugs which leech color from sound).  But the voices are never out of reach, never not tempting.

Creatively, voices can take us to extremely dark places. The voice in Sylvia Plath’s final poems in the dead of winter 1963 is a terrifyingly artful loud voice; you can hear it too in Shakespeare’s blackest moments. They can beckon to steer toward the maelstrom and peer into the abyss.

Thankfully, for most of us voices are simply part of the everyday, a collegial faintly discordant hubbub, ever questioning, rehearsing, pontificating, composing or otherwise carrying on.

Human learning seems intimately woven into that conversation.  From the earliest experience of hearing the voices of mother and father from inside the womb, or first years of hearing a mother’s voice cajoling and praising, we’re paying attention. Years too of instruction, whether it be a teacher at the blackboard or a bard repeating the oral literature of the tribe inside a darkened singing-hut. Healing voices carry from chairs in the therapist’s office and the white plastic chairs of an AA meeting. Grief and yearning deepen the last things we heard a loved one say into a sea we spend our lives writing down.

Voices are part of our pathology and healing—black bird on the shoulder as we err into the maelstrom, the singing dolphin who leads us back to shore. (Rilke famously rejected psychotherapy with Freud, saying, “I know he would tame my demons, but I fear he might tamper with my angels.”) Maybe the voices are crazy, but they are our voices, part of identity. Silence may be for the transcendent, but the dead sing loudest after midnight.

If we don't heed the voices, they ramp up their demands. What was once a faint music (think Ariel) becomes a calling out into the world. Did voices lead you to writing poetry? Joan of Arc began hearing voices around the age of 12;  at first they were simple, telling her to attend church and live piously.  But those voices evolved into a commands to deliver France from the invading English. Voices warm us then set us on fire.

OK, 'nuff said. Write a short poem about the voices you hear or the ones you used to; the voices which call or enthrall; the voices which yearn and those which burn. Your assigned poem is a seashell; hold it to your ear; tell us what you heard the sea sing ...


20 comments:

Kerry O'Connor said...

Such an awesome challenge, Brendan.
Just as I am struggling with my poetic voice... in that it is somewhat mute at present. I shall do my best.

brudberg said...

My voice might come in the form of a librarian

Magaly Guerrero said...

I have never been able to resists your prompts, Brendan. After reading your explanation, it's just hard to keep the voices from saying a word or 13...

thequarrelwithmyself said...

Thank you for this. I needed to write this today...

Sanaa Rizvi said...

Loved the prompt Brendan ❤️ sharing my bit, happy Sunday y'all!

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

I have different kinds of voices going on, but have chosen to 'out' one particular variety of mysterious indwellers.

Jim said...

Nice prompt, bedtime said to me, "Try. Something now may be better than tomorrow afternoon." I may try both, I did the something now before turning out the light.
Also, my first link is messed up. The second, bottom one, works fine. But I didn't label it. Sorry.
..

Gillena Cox said...

My internal voice, my muse is most times sweet gentle quietly spoken. Other times quietly compelling. Ah but those outside Other voices, ha!!! loud, and busy busy. These I ignore. Let them have there time. My inner voices, Yes these are my muses

What's my muse saying about this prompt, well i'll have to tune in and listen, before I write

much love...

hedgewitch said...

I heard a voice telling me to write. ;_) Thanks for the nudge, B. I enjoyed your essay above as well; it was fascinating.

Fireblossom said...

So not fair, Brendan, bringing in my girl, Saint Joan, so that I have to put aside what i was about to do on this Sunday morning and take up my journal instead. As a Toad, I say "well done! Hoorah!" As a lazy slug i say "Hmmf." ;-)

We seem to be on a Rilke kick here at the Pond of late. A worthy poet to have a kick for.

Let me go consult with my voices.

blueoran said...

Thanks y'all for the murmurs and yowls! The pond is alive with singing skulls. We're readying for a massive front hammering down the Florida peninsula right now -- we'll see if Rilke was right that the "gust inside the god" truly is "a wind." I'm listening to the sky and to you!

angieinspired said...

awk, nothing-but-nothing, grasping for grains of thought here

Sherry Blue Sky said...

After yesterday, there definitely were Voices in my head, and they TOTALLY ROCKED! Good one, Brendan, and I loved your poem too.

Bekkie Sanchez said...

Interesting prompt! I'm so happy to make it this Sunday and Link. I'll be around to read this week. I hope everyone has a good week.

Big hug!

Margaret said...

"I know he would tame my demons, but I fear he might tamper with my angels what delicious words! I am arriving late here on Sunday night... will mull it over and deliver later tomorrow I hope. Thanks for this awesome effort!

Other Mary said...

This is a great prompt, thank you. I've been thinking about, and listening to, and having issues with my voices recently.

Anita said...

Yes, I hear voices calling me :)

Lorraine said...

The voices found me this morning as they always do.

Bekkie Sanchez said...

The color that the links turn after reading them is hard for me to see for some reason this time so if I miss your poem I'm sorry!

Outlawyer said...

Hey Brendan--I took the liberty of posting a second, hope okay. Thanks for great prompt. k.