Poem Spark July 24-Aug. 7 – the Vatic Voice

Salutations fellow poets!

I am reading the book “Breakfast Served Any Time All Day-Essays on Poetry New and Selected” by Donald Hall. One of the essays is titled: The Vatic Voice. In this essay, Hall defines the idea of vatic as “the Greek word for the inspired bard. . .” He feels that this voice “speaks only in dream, often in unremembered dream.” He goes on to explain how this idea of a voice has a place in how we think of poetry:

Hall wrote:
It is the vatic voice (which is not necessarily able to write good poetry, or even passable grammer) which rushes forth the words of excited recognition, and which supplies what we call inspiration.

Two characteristics that distinguish the vatic voice from normal discourse are that it is always original, and that we feel passive to it. We are surprised by it, and we may very well, having uttered its words, not know what we mean. We must find ways to let this voice speak.

This is interesting, I thought as I sipped my morning tea, a spicy rooibus. How do we as writers forget technique, disregard grammer and sense, and open ourselves to that original impulse which caused every one of us to become writers? This is the voice that is often squelched in school. This is the voice that is silenced in adulthood because it is silly, it is melodramatic, it is too truthful to be entirely comfortable. This is the spark from which the best poems are created.

Hall mentions several things he does to encourage this voice to speak to him:

Hall wrote:
Sometimes I have tried to keep in touch with this vatic voice by sleeping a lot.

There is also the deliberate farming of daydream.

When you hum a tune, remember the words that go with the tune. . .

. . . one can train the mind to observe the periphery rather than ignore it.

Here are some other ways I think can stimulate the vatic voice:

— Write down snippets of phrases or words as you read the newspaper, a book, a magazine.

— Remember the phrases you heard in songs on the radio or your favorite CD.

— Assign emotion names to inanimate objects: the distraught lamp, the joyful table, for example.

Mostly, however, I think that opening oneself to the vatic voice involves the abandon of sense and propriety. Here are some examples of poems that I think capitalize on this voice:

David Ayers Let Me Say It Anyway

Jane Hirshfield Waking the Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep

Denise Levertov The Secret

This week’s spark: write a poem using one of Hall’s techniques or one you’ve invented. Open yourself to the vatic voice of poetry.

This week’s spark will extend into August because I am going on vacation next week. However, this will give us all more than enough time to use the unexpected, the inspired, the vatic voice when writing a poem. Try daydreaming or humming. Let go of sense and write what you feel. The poem will form in the process of revision. Be creative and have fun!

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