It is one of writing’s oldest cliches: Find your voice. Developing this ineffable quality—unique to a given writer, derived largely from reflection and experience—can seem like an elusive goal. Particularly for poets, with their highly personal interaction with language and the challenge of adapting it to form, the quest can seem highly subjective.
We Begin in Gladness, a collection of new and reworked essays by Craig Morgan Teicher, attempts to lend some objective shape to this endeavor by surveying how poets grow in their craft and take on its challenges over the course of their writing lives. In these engaging studies—informed by Teicher’s considerable work as both a poet and a critic, and imbued with a sensibility that is as comfortable in the lyrical mode as it is in the critical—Teicher considers the idea of poetic voice, as well as its complement, form. Some poets in his accounts find stylistic breakthroughs toward the ends of their tragic, abbreviated lives, while others are able to develop their styles over many years of reflection. But his essays show that the ongoing effort to merge voice and form is the great but considerable labor common to them all.
In his compelling introductory essay, “We Begin in Anticipation,” Teicher makes a foray into what poetic voice means and why it’s so important to a poet’s work. “Poetry is a conversation,” he writes, “an extended one, occupying, perhaps, the span of an entire life.” This conversation—a process of refining, questioning, and translating one’s feelings, impressions, life influences, and ideas into language and form—is a sustained personal, as well as aesthetic, matter. Poets focus their attention inward, listening and searching themselves at length, only later to redirect their findings outward, clad in forms evolved to suit the refinements of voice.