THE VOICE YOU HEAR WHEN YOU READ SILENTLY
by Thomas Lux
is not silent, it is a speaking-
out-loud voice in your head: is it spoken,
a voice is saying it
as you read. It's the writer's words,
of course, in a literary sense
his or her voice, but the sound
of that voice is the sound of your voice.
Not the sound your friends know
or the sound of a tape played back
but your voice
caught in the dark cathedral
of your skull, your voice heard
by an internal ear informed by internal abstracts
and what you know by feeling,
having felt. It is your voice
saying, for example, the word barn
that the writer wrote
but the barn you say
is a barn you know or knew. The voice
in your head, speaking as you read,
never says anything neutrally — some people
hated the barn they knew,
some people love the barn they know
so you hear the word loaded
and a sensory constellation
is lit: horse-gnawed stalls,
hayloft, black heat tape wrapping
a water pipe, a slippery
spilled chirr of oats from a split sack,
the bony, filthy haunches of cows. . . .
And barn is only a noun — no verb
or subject has entered into the sentence yet!
The voice you hear when you read to yourself
is the clearest voice: you speak it
speaking to you.
First, I was taken by the simple title and message: we all bring a whole slew of baggage with us when we do anything, including read a poem. Lux uses the randomly simple example of a barn. When I think of that word, the first thing that comes to mind is my mother-in-law’s shed. She bought it a few years back and painted it bright barn red. We’ve spent a lot of time in that yard; our dogs playing, cookouts, gossiping, etc. It’s a nice association that I have with the word. So if the narrator of a poem only says the word “barn” without any more description, it already has a positive connotation to me.
Then the poem goes a bit further. The voice that you hear when you read to yourself is you “true” voice, the one that really is who you are at your deepest level. That’s an interesting idea, especially when you consider that some people don’t read a whole lot! So when you make those subconscious associations, like with the word barn, the voice that tells you to be positive or negative (without using any words to tell you) is the voice of you. So to find out who you really are inside, you simply must read and see what your inner voice makes you feel.
Thomas Lux is my idol.