Friday, April 10, 2015

On Voice, Identity, and an AWP panel!

Image from the sketchbook of Phoebe Wahl

I write this to you from chilly but lovely Minneapolis! I’m here for the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference, and it has been wonderful so far.

Yesterday, I attended a panel featuring Brenda Shaughnessy, Camille Rankine, Deborah Landau, and Erin Belieu. These stellar writers read some work, and then discussed a variety of intriguing topics centered mostly around gender and identity.

A couple of inspiring comments/concepts have really stuck with me. An audience member asked the writers about when they first took themselves seriously (or when they felt their voice was significant). I loved their candid responses…a couple of them mentioned how instrumental their families (and mothers) were in providing strong, intelligent, assertive female role models. Brenda Shaughnessy described seeing her mother (for whom English is a second language) constantly treated like an idiot merely for her accent, and how this enraged her and helped to strengthen and form her voice.

I couldn’t help but think of my students. I am constantly trying to tell them that their voice matters, and that what they do with that voice can have real power and consequences.

I also enjoyed the panelists’ discussions about identity and intersectionality. An attendee asked the panelists how conscious they were of their female identity while writing poems. It was a fascinating concept to me. Some of my poems feel firmly rooted in my identity, but more often, I feel I am engaging my consciousness with language. I realize that my consciousness is indeed shaped by my identity—this was just a thought-provoking idea.

So. May I ask you? When did you first take your own voice seriously? And how important is your identity to your writing, in your view?

[Image above by Phoebe Wahl]


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  2. Oh.. this one is a toughie, Hannah. At 23, I'm not entirely sure whether I'm ready for these set of questions, to be honest. hehe.. But let me mull over it..

    Maybe, I started to take my own voice seriously after my very first encounter of death at age 11. It was during a car accident few days before Christmas in 2002, so close I never thought I'd, still, be living up to this day. I survived, yes, but the days after the tragic incident were the real test to my existence. I suffered from traumas having fears in crossing lanes & hearing passing cars, having an almost countless of nightmares flashing back the incident night after night, had to take several breaks from attending school to avoid the crowd looking at me differently.. etc.. etc... Didn't seriously enjoy the Christmas & New Year back then.

    Well, after the incident & by the time I had fully recovered from both physical & mental injuries I felt like something in me had tremendously changed, from the way I see things through & around me to wanting to discover more about the variety of things I can offer to this life. I became more appreciative & observant to various forms of life, & my senses have really improved. My view of death had changed as well in a good way, as I fear no longer of it no matter how much I want to---Death isn't really that dark & painful as it is a complete opposite. It's rather white, or even brighter, and the feel of it is so tender & calm & so clean & still. Then, few years later, at 15 I started to formally embracing the art of creative writing initially introducing myself to various traditional forms such as the sonnets & haikus. I felt the need & the calling to do so because I had experienced something extraordinary... something even I, myself, sometimes didn't know what to do with it... and so I write them... because my head speaks of fragments & verses.. & my heart sings of phrases & metaphors... because I don't want to die, yet again, with all these poems in me... so I write them. Smiles.

    Today, we are living in the world of greats, where the demand for perfection in every crafts is so high. Truly, to create your own identity is quite hard these days. Too hard to find yourself in this world, almost, full of 'yous', but then.. I'm working on it... To create & re-create is what I'm passionate about today, adding the mix of minimalism & abstraction, a bit of commentary & sarcasm, hopefully I may be able to find a fairly decent identity.

    I have enjoyed your post today, Hannah, and sorry for giving you a long read. Thanks, as always!

    1. WOW. What a wonderful, thoughtful reply, Kelvin! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It sounds like that terrifying accident (and your survival) really shaped you.

      I love that art can help to heal or transform us. Your perspective is very valuable--I don't know if you have already written very much about this experience, but I encourage you to keep doing so! Thank you for these thoughts.

  3. A great post and a great comment. Thank you Hannah and Kelvin. Being oneself in any field is truly the only way to be. I don't think in gender terms but when reading books I do notice a difference. Sometimes I like male writers better (when I am in certain moods) and other times the opposite.

    1. I like what you're saying about the importance of being ourselves regardless of field--so very true! Thanks for your thoughts :).

  4. i'm grateful that you shared this, Hannah. it's inspire me vicariously.

    to your question: the most significant moment that i recognized how words can 'move' the soul and the heart was while reading, in 1971, 'Remember, Be Here Now' by BaBa Ram Dass(Dr. Richard Alpert). for me it was my first journey into the true emotional experience words can affect. i've read many profound writings, philosophers, psychologists, novelists, scientific journals, etc., all that have affected and stimulated my mind but this particular work by BaBa Ram Das gave me the reason to write of my own heart and soul. as far as taking myself seriously as a writer, i still vacillate as to the seriousness of my words. this is my reason as to why i do not capitalize much to many's chagrin who might think i'm mimicking e.e. cummings

    gracias for this stimulating piece and question

    1. I'm intrigued that you can remember this specific moment so clearly--how wonderful! It's amazing that reading can prompt such change in us. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  5. A near-death experience and a near-life experience. Hm. I was just re-reading Prufrock and Other Observations yesterday and remembering how what makes those poems great is the lack of identity in the speaker. I think that's also what makes Dickinson, for one example, great: to be a mind, a bee, an alien to oneself and express it in a poem. Identity is such a limited, egoic concept anyway - I'm happy being anyone or anything I think about, and can be that way at work, with my family, everywhere. But there's this thing called poetry that asks that a voice be singular, that an identity be defined. It's the most depressing part of writing poetry to me. Like I've been daydreaming in class and the teacher asks me for an answer.


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