The shock is almost universal, I am told.
It's like the way the tongue recoils,
exploring in the mouth where teeth have been extracted.
This isn't me, I'm not like that! The cry is silent, but it's there
and there again on hearing your own voice the way that others do.
I'd written a few poems - one or two across the years,
but kept them under wraps. That was before
I'd made that tape of me for the school play, would not believe
that I could sound like that. The tape machine was faulty! Must have been.
Some time soon after that a friend had read the poems
and had said: They're fine - or will be when you find your voice!
And did that mean the voice I'd heard was not the true one after all?
I'd no desire to find it if it might be one like that!
It's like your face, I thought: God in his mercy stationed you behind it.
Just be sorry for the folk who have to see it all the time,
and thankful that you don't - until some gadget (mirror, tape recorder)
forces them upon you. But whoever went in search of his own face?
Why should I seek my voice? Where would I look? What did he mean?
Style, someone said, but surely more than that. I've learned since then
that it's whatever in the verse is part of you, what makes the poem yours
and guarantees no other could have written it. You cannot search for that.
It comes with practice and maturity. We mimic others first, and who we are
eludes us on the page - until one day it's there and stares us in the face.
Or so I'm told. The trick must lie in how to recognise yourself
when you meet you. Discover who you are. I thought a while it meant
to have a single theme, a piece of ground you've made your own.
I wanted none of that. But no, that's not the voice. It's not a limitation,
it's a freedom to be you. But there are other voices who will say,
Your early works were better. Go back to them. Be warned to stay.
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