760: Song

760: Song

760: Song


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

Have you ever heard poets talk about “voice,” or use the phrase, “I just need to find my voice,” or something like that? It’s a concept that’s talked a lot about in graduate programs and in craft seminars. Although I’ve heard about it throughout my life as a poet, I still sometimes wonder what it means. For me, the “voice” of a poem is the voice underneath whatever the speaker is saying, the place that is both the writer and not the writer. That’s the only way I can describe it because that’s how it happens to me.

When I am really writing, really working on poems, which is often as alive as I ever feel, as present as I ever feel, I am not just speaking to the world... I am listening to it. Listening to my body, my blood, my ever changing pulse that slows and quickens depending on the emotionality of the subject.

Once, I was working so intensely on a poem that I forgot to eat. I got up and made myself something to eat, quickly, something like a piece of toast with peanut butter on it, something for sustenance and not necessarily pleasure, and when I returned to my office, I couldn’t remember what I was listening to. I looked for my phone and tried to figure out if I had been listening to the radio, or a podcast. I checked my computer to see what windows were open and where the sound had been coming from before I broke for lunch.

It was then that I realized the voice I had been hearing, the thing that I could swear was so loud that it was being played on my mid size speaker in my office, the voice I could hear as loudly as if it belonged to someone else, was my own. It was a shocking revelation. I didn’t think I’d had the experience before, yet it also felt familiar, that maybe this was the first time I had fully recognized the way I write all the time. It is a listening. It is a listening for what we might call, “a voice.”

Today’s poem is an exploration of the self, or maybe what we’d call the soul, and what it is to recognize our own presence on the page and in the world.

by Charif Shanahan

I wait each night for a self.
I say the mist, I say the strange
tumble of leaves, I say a motor
in the distance, but I mean
a self and a self and a self.
A small cold wind
coils and uncoils in the corner
of every room. A vagrant.
In the dream
I gather my life in bundles
and stand at the edge of a field
of snow. It is a field I know 
but have never seen. It is
nowhere and always new:
What about the lives
I might have lived?
As who? And who
will be accountable 
for this regret I see
no way to avoid? A core,
or a husk, I need to learn
not how to speak, but from where.
Do you understand? I say
name, but I mean a conduit
from me to me, I mean a net,
I mean an awning of stars.

"Song'" by Charif Shanahan. Used by permission of the poet.