Writers often talk about finding their voice, or trying to find this. My personal experience has been that to find my voice, I need to first find myself – an ongoing and continuously changing endeavour as events, experiences and circumstances change who I am. For me, the same sort of flux applies to my voice as a writer. In fact, as a writer, I think voice also varies from poem to poem when I tackle different subjects or themes, try out new techniques, slants and approaches. Ultimately, the final voice of any of my poems is a merge of many things including my voice, which may have common characteristics that recur across a lot of my work, and the voices of my individual characters and subject matter. The state of the world, my surroundings, atmosphere, my mood etc all soak into my writing. They also continuously change who I am as person, which is again reflected directly or indirectly in my work.
This is the point where I admit that I think the verb ‘find’ may be the wrong one when applied to self-identity or writer’s voice. For me, the process of ‘discovering’ self or voice is a developing organic one that involves being open to what inspiration and experience reveal more than actively setting out to ‘look for’ something. Writer’s voice, much like a poem, is a journey where the travelling experience is as important as any ultimate destination. Alongside this, perhaps also being open to recognising (hopefully) when something that might feel like a significant voice emerges from any individual particular poem.
Over four years of cycling, many changes slowly and subtly build up inside me, including a heightened awareness of climate change and environmental damage. I start to realise not only what these mean scientifically but what they may feel like. Also, that the landscape’s lived tales aren’t only human, they belong to other species too, and that paying attention to these is likely to be one ongoing characteristic of my current writing voice.
Cycling is one thing, as are principle and theory, when it comes to caring for the environment. In practice, I use my car when sometimes I could avoid it; I over-consume and I waste. Modern life is often so full-on that I don’t have the energy needed to do everything as responsibly as I should. I feel this lack. But, just as waste accumulates in a negative way, small individual eco-efforts or changes also add up in a positive way. Over time, becoming part of a mental landscape, they also become less energy-demanding. Ultimately, individuals, society and the physical landscape grow into them.
Similar might be said of words. They can be wasted, added noise pollution or turned into the kind of poetry that may change readers’ perceptions, beliefs and feelings. In changing these, they then have the potential to transform how we live, and the environment around us. Poetry might even be regarded as a specialised form of recycling – reusing everyday language and experience to create something new that may be used for a similar or very different purpose, such as highlighting beauty, charting change, witnessing, raising awareness, even more active protest or campaigning.
In Isabel Galleymore’s poem ‘Choosing’, the narrator is unable to pick between the world’s eight million different hearts but instead loves them all. This includes:
‘the squid’s triptych of pumps,
the snake’s cardinal sac, expanding as it eats.’
Such all-encompassing love may be hard, particularly, for example, loving a wasp or bee after being stung. But an important part of valuing and protecting our world may be to move past the caring that comes from common needs, interests or even wonder to the realisation that we and the world we live in are so interconnected that they can’t be separated.
This is brought home to me personally on noticing that my depressions although not seasonal affective disorder are massively affected by what is going on around me – with the weather, world, society, news and friendships. When I can exercise outdoors in countryside areas, my inner world is healthier and more alive than when I’m stuck indoors or surrounded by bricks, buildings and industry. I then feel the damage even more strongly when I read about global warming, coastal erosion and human pollution poisoning wildlife.
I help to shape the world, but the world also shapes me. Many thoughts here have been thrashed out while cycling through nature and the seasons: my pace set by the terrain, my muscles in ‘conversation’ with its contours, my human beingness a micro-microcosmic part of the wider world. The same wider world in which all living things play their own small role.
Bibliography – Part Six
Galleymore, Isabel, ‘Choosing’, Significant Other (Carcanet, 2019), p. 8.
Some of the photo-poems in these articles were previously published in: ‘photo syn thesis: an eco exploration of future light earth water’ on Molly Bloom (https://mollybloom17.weebly.com/sarah-james.html, Sept 2018).