Tag Archives: voice

voices – napowrimo day 24

when your voice doesn’t come out
and you hear someone else sing
and more voices run around in your mind
when you see lights left right center
when the rattling comes at you and the heat and the radiation
when you keep beating up your head
how can it work
how are you supposed to engineer a thought
or let one rise up from creation?

digging for a voice

what follows are excerpts from an essay i wrote in 1995 on women in philosophy, and how women’s voices often speak more to the particular (i.e. real life examples and experiences) rather than the general. it is interesting to look back on it, to see what’s still the case, and what has changed. in the next post, i will discuss that a little. here’s the excerpt:

“i” write these words. it is i, sitting here in my body, using my hands to transfer unto a black screen what i think. what i do and think is really all i can know. or is it? when i look into the mirror, i see myself, when i speak, i can hear myself, and there are other beings around me who look and sound quite similar. do they think, feel, move like i do? can i assume that they are more like me than unlike? can i speak for them? and if i do, should i extrapolate from me to them or from them to me?

“… woman was not fit for the governing of society or the workings of the state. in fact, she was seen as a threat because her thoughts and desires were tied to the realm of the particular … any attempt by her to enter into the public realm would only pervert the aims of the state from the universal to the particular.” (tuana 166).

why does the particular pervert the universal? couldn’t it be the other way round – that the universal at least sometimes blurs and inhibits the particular and with it reality? this is exactly what happened for philosopher claudia card. while tenured at a large university, she developed a writing block. at this time she was teaching a course on “crime and punishment” from a purely theoretical point of view: “i had never been inside a prison … never witnessed an execution … [or] attended a criminal trial. i was not aware of people who had done such things.”

gradually, through exposure to students who, in the 60s and 70s were doing “such things” (i.e. they were exposed to the criminal justice system through war resistance or marijuana), card began to wake up to the reality of the particular. she saw that real people were “liable to being accused of crimes or victimized by them”. these people were particularly

“the very young, the homeless, the poor, … people of color, women attempting to protect themselves or children against battery and sexual abuse, women (rebels) who refused the ‘protection’ of men.”

this insight helped her realize that she, too, a closeted lesbian living in an abusive relationship, really did know about crime or at least the possibility of it: “i knew firsthand the fear of murder.” with time, the more she fleshed out philosophy with tangible reality, the more her writing block disappeared and she regained her voice:

“i presented my … ‘feminist ethical theory: a lesbian perspective’ … at the university of minnesota … to my surprise, i began speaking from deep inside, without effort, in a large voice that i had not known was there. people later said they heard me in the hallways … there was anger fuelling that voice. there was also confidence …”

claudia card has turned from the universal to the particular:

“i no longer linger over ‘eternal’ or universal truths. i seek wisdom … in relation to lives fleshed out as gendered as well as members of species, as having ethnic, economic and religious backgrounds, even sexual orientations – things not universal … i still teach from books … but i also teach from my life, and my writing flows from that life …”

in the second part of the essay, i added my own voice, my own lived experience:
what i am digging for is my voice. to some degree, i mean this quite literally, which is why i felt such affinity with claudia card. i often feel weak, powerless and confused when i speak, especially in small groups. my voice is not my accomplice but my betrayer; so often it has let me down by scrambling my words and stammering, by being sarcastic when it should have yelled, by taking on a childlike whisper when it should be loud and articulate, and by being mute when it should spit out the truth. and it is as if my speaking voice, when not articulated, just like unexpressed anger “backs up” and constipates my thinking. i believe this voice is not only undeveloped for private reasons but also because i feel my reality, like that of so many other women, has been negated in the context of a society that does not wish to give weight to women’s experiences.

so this is my motivation for writing these words: i am trying to unconstipate, to untangle my thinking, and to reconnect it with my both my speaking and my metaphorical voice. as well, i would like to connect further out, with other people who are also trying to find their voice. while i earnestly do not want to minimize the voicelessness of many men, i do identify better with women who want to speak up and be heard. this is why i was so intrigued when i saw the announcement of petra von morstein’s lecture, especially because she was described as a poet, philosophical counsellor and researcher into feminist philosophy. what would her voice be like, i wondered, how does she sing the song of philosophy?

after many attempts, i finally managed to speak to her on the telephone. von morstein threw an interesting and much-needed light on my quest for understanding women’s experience and women’s connection with philosophy. she criticized my (and others’) dichotomous approach to this question, saying that when reading the works of such male philosophers as augustine, descartes, hume, kant, hegel, heidegger or husserl, one does find a coming-together of the universal and the particular.

granted, these men did not inform their thinking with the particulars of female reality (it is unlikely kant came up with his categorial imperative while doing the dishes); nevertheless, they also did not insist on separating the personal from the universal. augustine’s confessions, an autobiography and arguably one of the most important philosophical writings, are a case in point, as are descartes meditations. it is debatable whether, as solanas says, these men are really “unable to relate to anybody or anything”.

von morstein also pointed out that, by making such harsh judgments as solanas, many women cut themselves off from the history of thought, thereby impoverishing themselves. “i want to have it all!” ms. von morstein exclaimed a few times, meaning that she thinks that women can and should draw on all perspectives, the feminist one and that of the “dead white males”.

searching for my voice, investigating other women’s voices, has been, in part, a very private enterprise. in other ways, however, i also hope that my words can be companions to those of other women, such as claudia card’s. taking yet another angle, i want to come back to what i said at the beginning of this essay: “what i do and think is really all i can know.” even though it seems that there are similarities between me and other people – other women -, i cannot presume to speak for them. i can only speak for myself, speak to them and sometimes maybe even with them. i can only say: this is my experience; and if yours is similar, let’s have them stand side by side and reinforce each other.

the lyric self

this is another guest post by sarah luczaj, a british therapist and writer, living in poland. she runs an online therapy practice¬† at mytherapist.com and has a poetry chapbook, “an urgent request” coming soon from fortunate daughter press, an imprint of tebot bach.¬† sarah is a freequent commenter on this blog, and a propos poetry month, she contributes these interesting thoughts:

who is the “i” in a contemporary lyric poem? since the romantic poets brought the self onto centre stage, whether self as discovered through opium or as expressed in nature, the sense of poets as those who speak in some whole, organic way, for themselves and maybe also for the rest of us, has remained, despite the best attempts of modernist and post-modernist writers, or language poets, to break up that narrative of “i am – i feel – i write”. sometimes the self who speaks, as is often the case with “confessional poets”, is a damaged one, sharing dark secrets, despair, its own fragmentation and brokenness, sometimes it is inconsequential, entertaining… maybe we no longer expect the truth from our poets, but maybe most of us expect some kind of individuality and authenticity?

having my poetry published has put me on the sharp end of this dry literary discussion more than once. sometimes the problem has been simple – i have written about real situations, and real people, who were not able to ‘get’ the context in which i was writing, and who would probably not have liked it even if they had (mea culpa for writing about village life in the actual village in which i still live!) and quite rightly took it as an insult. i know i am far from alone among poets in worrying about revealing self and others in poems, but maybe an even more prevalent issue for writers for whom the “i” of the poems is not always even connected to the “i” who does the laundry, is that readers take the poems to be the literal truth.

but while the “i” of the poems, the lyric “i”, cannot be identical with the “i” who makes toast, can the two ever be totally disconnected? what is the difference between writing a diary and a poem, and is it really the case that a diary is necessarily more authentic?

in my own work, i sometimes recount events from my own life, sometimes recount episodes from other people’s lives, in the first person, and sometimes i use personas to express a kind of composite story made up of the distilled essence of many stories. sometimes, i know from feedback, the personas seem to have more resonance with readers (more “authenticity”?) than when i speak personally from the heart. in fact readers probably automatically assume that i have experienced what is recounted in the poem first hand.

maybe i have? can i notice something which i don’t already know about? do the things which i hear, see, touch not fuse inside me in a kind of chemistry by which they become inseparable from myself? what is this self thing anyway – and is the act of taking experiences inside and then writing ‘as if’ they were yours not a pretty good way of intuitively understanding it?

this seems to be what we are doing all the time, taking people’s stories inside and being changed by them. it seems to me that there is nothing very pure in ourselves that can be extricated and stand alone, and that maybe this is exactly who we are, the individuality which comes out in the act of writing the ‘poem’ or of speaking as “i”, it is what we choose to use, and what cannot be left out, and what must be left out, and the range of tones which we can enter. the act of distilling the essence, and how we do it. the tones when i am writing as a young girl with an eating disorder and as a middle aged mother, for example, are utterly different. some might recognise that these two poems are by the same writer, probably not knowing how, but picking up something about sentence structure, or use of grammatical forms, or vocabulary, which is consistent and recognisable. others might not. but it is the poem that matters, and the poem is always “true”. the rest is speculation.

as a poet, am i happy when i am always recognisable, with my own distinctive voice, or am i happy when i can carry off another voice so successfully that people feel the realness and mistake it for biographical experience? am i putting on these voices artificially, in some way channelling them, or are they really a “part” of “me”? as i have never written a poem “on purpose” – with the clear intention to convey something in particular which i knew in advance, or fulfil any kind of function with my poem (“need one by an old lady about mortality for p 39”), i can say that for me, the use of personas is not an intentional act of putting on a character. i write poems to find out what can be said about something, and sometimes i find ‘voices’ other than my own, yet also mine. i do not wish to appropriate anyone else’s experiences as mine, or even hold on to the finished product as mine, but the writing of the poem is.

so to go back to the first of this series of questions – who is the “i” in the poem, when i am writing the poem?! the answer is, very often not who you think it is.

“my computer is my horse” – isabella’s artist statement

an image of murnay by kandinskyyesterday, sarah luczaj talked about her experience of the connection between therapy and creativity. today it’s my turn. i dug up an artists’ statement i wrote three years ago, and which still holds true.

i write and perform poems, and as a counsellor, i accompany people on their journey as they perform the art of living their lives.

what materials do you use?
the materials i use are my body and soul and mind, my voice, my eyes, my ears, my hands; i use a computer and pens and paper.

how do you use these materials?
i use my soul to sense the numinous and the intangible; my intuition is a tool of soul. i use my mind and soul to understand, to make connections. i use my mind to analyze and to articulate. i use my voice to talk in many ways – quiet, loud, asserting, questioning. i use my voice to laugh. i use my eyes to read (faces, situations, letters) and to see beauty, and simply to appreciate. i use my ears to hear and listen. i use my hands to touch, to write, and to gesticulate. and my computer is my horse, just like my forebears needed horses to do anything important in their lives. i love the feel of pen on paper.

what is your work about?
the centre of my work is the word. i play with word to listen, understand, talk and write. word is the way in which i mostly interact with others. i see word as a medium, not just as a vehicle to shuttle bits of information back and forth. word is a sensuous medium, it has visual and auditory shape, it carries vibration. every word, as it is pronounced, has a certain feel in the mouth, in the chest, in all of the body. word has connotations, and they shimmer and scintillate, always right there, always out of reach. i love the paradox of word. oh, and the things that happen when we string words together into songs and sentences!

who are important influences on your work?
important influences are dostoevsky, dr. seuss, and e.e. cummings, and the german novelist/playwright franz xaver kroetz; psychotherapists virginia satir, andrew feldmar and scott miller; musicians/composers bach, bob marley, glenn gould, and miles davis; and among visual artists, kandinsky, picasso, and my father, the german painter, juergen von huendeberg.

what they have in common is a fierce and focused passion that drives their work, and the ability and desire to speak to their audience without compromising the quality of their art. however, these are only the ones that come to mind easily, right here, right now – i am deeply grateful to the continuous flow of inspiration that comes to me from artists of any discipline, in any form and shape.

where does the spark come from?
one of the most important things in my life is to be open to that voice and feeling that is deep inside me – to be open to it, to hear it, really hear it, and to respond to it. that voice is the spark of life, the voice of original creativity, and it forms my core. it is the numinous, the divine, the mystical.

when i interact with the more formal manifestations of the divine, it is easiest for me to go to buddhism, to my lutheran roots, to pagan ritual, and to remember the philosophy of 12-step programs.

the image of kandinsky’s painting of a street in murnau, a little town in bavaria, is courtesy of dalbera