In Poems and the Psyche: The Threat of Making Art–One Writer’s Journey by Joan Cusack Handler, an essay included in a recent addition of the Tampa Review, Cusack writes: “It is my belief that writers at some point in their lives were forbidden speech, and it is that prohibition coupled with an unsatisfied longing to communicate that impels us to write.”
As a poet, I relate fully to Handler’s thesis. A hopelessly shy individual from the onset of puberty, socializing and relating with the vapidity of teenage life and popular culture has never been my niche; yet poetry proved to be a reliable wellspring. In the rigidly oppressive atmosphere of high school where everyone had to fit into a hierarchy of stereotypical roles, poetry proved to be my voice, the doorway to what was truly me.
However, like anything of merit, discovering the voice takes work; often, the greatest antagonist on the journey of the voice is the self. Handler writes: “Little wonder we poets have our own writing defenses–ways of subverting or otherwise muting the voice. The most obvious of course is the block. The voice refusing to speak. The soul refusing to speak.”
Just as poets sometimes subconsciously censor their poems in the process of writing, so to do college students often deny the voice proper pedestal. Actions are clouded, values dulled by multiple forces wagering for compliance, be they parents or friends or professors or technology or religion.
The voice of the average young person is so congested by these heady forces that individuality and truth are lost in the tumult. Rather than the voice being the sum of an amalgam of personal ideals, a pastiche of noise is given precedence.
The nature and blessing of college is its newness, its vast wilderness. Discovery is inherent in these years, and in this explorative time the voice is often found, if not in the process of creation.
The voice represents our personal truths: our passions, our prejudices, our fears and longings. Without the voice, what are we but automatons brushing through life on a program set by others?
This article is not espousing how you should act; rather it implores that your actions are fully guided by your beliefs. The voice, however, will not appear with a devil-may-care attitude, nor will caution and isolation lend an epiphany.
Development of voice requires exploration and introspection, and there is a lifetime for such internal blossoming. Still, it is best to begin that journey now. Because in those silent and lonely evening hours when there is nothing but you and the echoes of your mind, what would be more frightening than to hear voices that were not your own?