Breathtaking Voice: Yours!
I’ve long thought Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself was a game changer for American literature. Journalist, nurse, government clerk, surveyor of landscapes physical and spiritual — Walt Whitman stood tall even as he slumped and shuffled. His poems were startling in their day; even the priggish Mr. Emerson recognized the force and originality of Walt’s poetry. What was new and startling about it? Walt’s unbridled first-person voice, for one thing. His poems completely cut loose from the voices English poets — classicists and romantics-– had plied. Those voices had been self-distancing, evocative of ancient muses and garden sprites. But for the practical, God-fearing Americans of the nineteenth century, braving a frontier, digging in and laying tracks, such poetry had nothing to do with their everyday lives. They didn’t expect it to. Then, a new voice exalted the lives they lived. Walt evoked a tender intimacy with everyone in this great land with his unabashed first-person voice — and through his song of himself all selves were celebrated. American poetry became personal.
Two centuries later, most Americans expect and enjoy writing that’s personal. We like sharing our first-hand experiences and impressions in a direct way. I suppose that’s why so many of us blog. We want to connect meaningfully with others through our own voice. And we tend to admire writers whose voices speak most directly and naturally to us.
Why are some bloggers’ first-person voices more engaging than others’? I don’t think it’s simply that some people are better writers. I want to give this question more thought before answering.
Care to share your thoughts?
— Jeanne Hammond