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Voice in Poetry

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Poetic Licence

Kate Dempsey

The I, we, he, she of the poem.

Ted HughesIf your poem is an “I” poem, the first person singular, is it about you, the poet? Is it true, every last word? Did it happen? Is that the way you felt then, the way you feel now?

Answer? Maybe, maybe not.

You have that flexibility. If you were writing fiction, no one would ask you if the main character was you. Actually that’s not the case. Lots of readers think a writer can only write about versions of him- or her-self. Not true. But there is always an element of truth, a shard of your own persona.

Anyway, having argued myself in a full circle, I’m talking about a fictionalised voice. You can use “I” and not mean yourself. You can write in the voice of your mother, your Geography teacher, the postlady, a martian invader, a cowboy, Amy Winehouse or Elizabeth I. Why not? So long as you have something interesting to say and say it in an interesting way.

One poem to look at is Ted Hughes is Elvis Presley by the wonderful poet Ian McMillan. See it here and you can listen to a podcast. Written in the voice of Elvis, or is it Ted? I’m not sure.

Craig Raine started a minor movement called Martian Poetry where ordinary things are described in unusual ways, often with highly visual metaphors or similes. As if a person, a martian who had just landed was viewing something for the first time.

– What is a kettle?

– What is the rush hour?

– a book?

mechanical birds with many wings
perch on the hand
cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain

I wrote a poem called Verbatim, which you can see on Poethead here swearing and the origins of swearing from the point of view of an elderly lady.

Kates book

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