A workshop by Paulette Bates Alden
“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else…
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”
From “I Hear America Singing” by Walt WhitmanOften what we’re attracted to in a piece of writing – a poem, a memoir, a short story — is a distinct, original human voice, singing its own “melodious song.” Or as Patricia Hampl has written, “We want a voice speaking softly, urgently in our ear. Which is to say, to our heart.” We respond to writers who have found a way to put their own individual stamp on their writing. We know, for example, how Jamaica Kincaid or Mark Doty or Mary Oliver sounds. These writers have found their voices or the voice needed to write a particular work.
Voice occurs when a lot of things – personality, content, process, technique, authority, etc. — come together for the writer. This workshop will consist of “voice lessons” designed to help the writer pull together some of the aspects that help develop voice, whether in poetry or prose. We’ll cover such things as trusting the writing process; finding one’s own true subject matter; discovering the right tone; testing the writing with the ear; meeting the needs of the listener/audience; and learning ways to add texture and density to our writing. We’ll examine various poems and prose excerpts to hear and analyze the voice that draws us in and holds us. We’ll imitate some of these models to get the feel for how other writers create a “spoken” voice on the page. We’ll read our work aloud to hear whether our voices resonate and to become more aware of when we’re writing with “real voice” that actually speaks to a reader.
This workshop is appropriate for writers of poetry, fiction or memoir who are interested in exploring the concept of voice in writing and in developing their own writing voices. Exercises will be designed so that participants can work in the genre of their choice or experiment with a new genre.
“The poem, the story, the essay…is already there…before a word is ever put to paper; and the act of writing is the act of finding the magic key that will unlock the floodgates and let the flow begin…. The key, I believe, is literally a key in that it is musical…it is the tone of voice, the only tone of voice, in which this particular piece of writing will permit itself to be written.”
Editor and writer Norman Podhoretz in his book, Making It.
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