No, not the Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera Voice. Not that one.
I’ve heard some writers say you find your voice. Some say that a writer’s voice is a creation, that it changes over time as the writer changes, that we can always choose. The most important advice I’ve received recently, though, is that it’s important to know it when you hear it.
A few weekends ago I attended a Q&A with Ted Kooser, one of my favorite poets, a poet who feels like a mentor whenever I hear his words. This instance was no exception. A few things he said have stuck with me. He encouraged us to read and read and read and read. One hundred poems read for every one written. He said that the more we read, the more we learn to write like ourselves, instead of writing imitations. He told us to listen to our writing until we find a comfortable, authentic way of speaking to the world, until our poetry sounds like us, like the way we would talk to the world.
I think I’m beginning to find that in my poetry. I think I’m beginning to trust it. It surprises me.
It doesn’t sound like my outside voice, like the voice I use to talk in every ordinary day. It is the voice I speak inside my head, the things I want to say to others but always feel too embarrassed and emotional and earnest to say out loud. It is joyful, full of wonder, excited, sometimes childlike. It says things like: “You come too. Let’s borrow Einstein’s bicycle, make it a tandem, and ride a beam of light.” It is also somber, disappointed, even angry sometimes: “I found a black and white picture of shame.” It tries to play, but always takes itself a bit too seriously.
It’s an interesting thing to read my poems, especially those most intimate and dear to me, especially after it’s been a while. I know I’ve hit on something good when I read my words and it feels like coming home, when I read my words and I feel like I’m standing naked in front of a mirror and smiling because I like myself the way I am.
For those of you who also write, how do you know when you’ve got it right? How do recognize your own voice speaking through your writing?