The Herd of Independent Minds

"The bookful blockhead . . . [w]ith his own tongue
still edifies his ears, / And always listening to himself appears."

—Alexander Pope

Behind Stephen Berg's Singular Voices, a new anthology of contemporary native poets writing about their own work, is the voice-theory of poetry, which holds that a poet is valuable not for his perception, his language, his formal skill or inventive intelligence, but the uniqueness of whatever "voice" is heard on the page. From this assumption follows Berg's claim that, since his book includes "living American poets whose work exemplifies strong new styles," their voices must therefore be indubitably singular.

To test this claim, I compiled the following sequence of opening sentences from the prose essays, using just less than two-thirds of the book's 30 "Singular Voices":

Up in my eyrie-room atop the Chapel of the Madonna of Monserrato, perched on a cliff higher than the hawks above Lake Como, listening to the sweet bells of Bellagio's San Giacomo, I begin to cast into air and mind for an explanation of "Awakening," a poem written years ago in homage to the great Japanese Rinzai Zen master Hakuin. Sometimes I think communication is all we have—a voice like a silver wire extending through the dark or one chunk of flesh pressing...

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