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The Difference The Human Voice Makes to Poetry

What difference does the human voice make?

Regular readers will know that I’ve been looking for ways to add my voice to this site: to add value, to add to your experience, to add a different way of learning, to add a different something of my self.

I’m exploring ‘what difference voice makes’ with other authors at Joyful Jubilant Learning this month, sharing some questions, answers and conversation on this VoiceThread.  You’d be very welcome to join in the conversation there but for now, here, my tuppenceworth on the power of the human voice.

The Power Of Voice

Maya Angelou said that:

Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.

Maybe this is what happens when the words are read out loud, not just by the author but by a reader, anyone, anywhere, who’s sharing what they’ve read, breathing their life, their voice into the words.

Or maybe it’s because she’s a poet and poetry really needs to be heard.  To be spoken out loud.

I didn’t really understand this until I heard Canadian poet Shane Koyczan at the Edinburgh Book Festival a few years ago.  I didn’t know what to expect, just booked it up at the last minute and turned up expecting to see a Festival-polished-poet.

It’s not what I got.

I got a privileged view of what a poet can do with the power of words.  What you’d call a true wordsmith.    But more: I got laughter, astonishment, power, anger, heartbreak and tears.  It’s the only show I’ve been to where I’ve seen the audience belly laugh one minute and weep, sorrowfully, the next.  And more: I got the most powerful sense of connection with this man: his words, his poetry, his life, his heart.

It changed my understanding of what it means to be a poet.

And his words, his voice, changed my understanding of what it means to be a human being.

That’s what I call the power of words.

Here’s a clip of Shane reading performing his work: it’s the poem Visiting Hours.

It takes about 30 seconds to get beyond the opening titles but please bear with it because the quality of the recording is fantastic - and will give you a sense of his power to move us to laughter, to tears, and to remembrance of our own right to shine.

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  1. amypalko says:

    Well, goodness, Joanna, that’s an incredibly powerful start to my day. Yours was the first blog I read today, and first I listened to all the lovely voice comments over on the JJL voice thread, and marveled how great it was that such a geographically disparate group has become such a intimate online community. And then I listened to the poetry, and was totally blown away by it! Such power conveyed in something as ethereal as spoken words… And inbetween, I read your words and the Maya Angelou quote, and I feel now that I have a far stronger understanding of the power of words than I did when I first got up this morning. What a wonderful gift! Thank you, Joanna.

  2. Debbie Yost says:

    Wow! I’m speechless. Believe me, that is very hard to do. Thank you for sharing that clip.

  3. Wendi Kelly says:

    I loved that video. Visiting Hours. wow.
    He had an amazing power with words,his ability to jump right through you was brilliant. An artist, painting inside of your head.
    Nice way to start my day. Thank you.

  4. Jasko says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, I truly enjoyed it. Great blog, my first time here, for sure I will be coming back for more.

  5. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi everyone - quick comment from Arran! Will reply properly tomorrow.

    So glad you all enjoyed the clip. Really this guy is something else - changed my perspective on a lot of things.

    Catch you all later :-)


  6. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, I agree with you about the power of the human voice. I love spoken word events and slam poetry precisely because of the power that voice adds to words. Yet I am also reminded that powerful writing even when unspoken has a voice that resonates when read. As you read powerful writing, the words take on a “voice” that speaks to you from the page so clearly that you can “hear” it. Well defined characters, and ideas speak to you when the writing is powerful. Have fun in Arran and we want a full report when you return. :-)

  7. Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Amy, thanks for taking the time to explore the voice thread further and listen to the other contributions. I’m really excited by how it’s taking shape and so glad I highlighted it on Twitter - it’s fantastic to hear some of the voices of people you and I talk to there ‘in the flesh’.

    Shane Koyczan’s work is fantastic. I can lend you the book and CD - though I’d thoroughly recommend you go and see him if he ever performs in Scotland again.

    Debbie, I’m glad you enjoyed it even if you were (momentarily) lost for words :-) I see you’re starting to experiment with video on your own blog - it does add a different dimension to our experience doesn’t it?

    Wendi, yes, you describe his impact very well. I felt like he could get right inside my head, and my heart, under my skin. Like someone I’d never met but knew me inside out. And knew how to work the words to get just the right effect - laughter, tears, love. Powerful stuff indeed.

    Jasko, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment. I hope you’ll be back again soon :-)

    Karen, that’s an interesting point. I hear the words of other people very clearly, so much so I am almost blind to the design of a site (in a blog context), I just hear the blogger talking to me. [I was quite disconcerted when I first realized bloggers in the US had American accents because of course you don't when I read you!]

    There’s another whole thing about words and music (especially piano music) that I want to explore here some time, but it’s too big for just now (and I’m still trying to fathom it)

    Thanks to all of you for your comments, it was lovely to come back to. I’ll provide a report on Arran … somehow… in a few days once it’s settled


  8. zxxxt says:

    Thanks for sharing the clip Joanna, that was quick but powerful presentation.

    zxxxts last blog post..2009 Formula 1 Race Schedule

  9. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Hi zxxxt, glad you enjoyed it - sends shivers down my spine every time.