A Vibrant Voice

Voice, it is called: that quality of certain poets' accumulated poems which stamps their singular metrics or syntax or vocabulary onto our personal sound system. Voice makes us unconsciously imitate the music of a good poet we've been studying. Voice lets us recognize the author without peeking at the cover.

Now, it's true that every second slim little poetry volume on the “márket" today carries, zipped up snug in its jacket, a blurb by some other famous or infamous poet who claims that this new poet possesses a "tremendous sense of voice." In this usage, voice means . . . well, I'm not sure. I would challenge all such jacket-quoted literati to identify other, unsigned poems by their protégés from a pile of similar—and equally insignificant—others. It should be worth a hefty grant if they can do it.

But the voice in Stevie Smith's poetry is genuine. So, too, is the intelligence, grand and pointed enough to under stand human vulnerability to arrogance, cruelty, doubt, sin. Together, these two gifts should be enough to overcome the sometime disapproval of strict formalists (Smith is shocking and relentlessly playful and quite sacrilegious—one might even say capitalistic, she uses them so—toward the twin gods of meter and rhyme) or strict free-versifiers...

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