First off, be sure to look at Announcement for Week 10 (if you haven’t already) and answer the questions about setting and context in the comments section of that post–this will help you in your last short story as well as your poetry writing.
And now, let’s talk about style and voice. What are they all about? This website explains it very well:
Students often confuse writing style with some vague sense of personal style, or personality. But style is a technical term for the effect a writer can create through attitude, language, and the mechanics of writing. If the writing reflects a consistent choice of patterns, then it is perceived as coherent and harmonious, the style supporting the content. The writer’s purpose and style clearly have a cause-and-effect relationship.
Style means the mechanical or technical aspects of writing and may be specific to the requirements of the subject or topic.UMUC Online Guide to writing and research
Think about how you communicate through texts to your friends versus an essay for a composition class. You use a different style, right? The vocabulary, grammar, attention to punctuation are probably quite different.
Voice is who the readers hear talking … Voice can be institutional, or academic—that is, objective and formal. Or voice can be personal—in fact, your distinct voice.
Voice means the unique worldview and word choices of the author.UMUC ONLINE GUIDE TO WRITING AND RESEARCH
Again, think of your texts to friends versus an essay for a class. If you’re texting to a close friend, you probably feel more comfortable using expletives and sharing details about your life that you wouldn’t always feel comfortable sharing in an academic essay (unless the teacher is as super awesome as myself).
Style and voice go hand-in-hand, You can’t have one without the other.
Consider Hamlet’s soliloquy (you can read or watch it here):
To be, or not to be–that is the question:William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action.
Now consider the poet Staceyann Chin’s “Tsunami Rising” (below is an excerpt; you can watch the entire poem here):
Dear weeping white women
even as we cannot find space to show you
where or when or how we were torn open
we are only holding our sorrow
we are unable to process our pain with you
because we are exhausted from centuries of holding you and your children
we’ve had a hard time trusting you
because you all have been able to stand by us
we are so tired of explaining ourselves
If you wish to know more about the genesis of our rage
Please Google us/or read Bell Hooks
or Brittany Cooper
or the blogs of the bevy of Black women writers
your white publishers are too afraid to publishStaceyann Chin, “Tsunami Rising”
Both poems are sharing deep emotions–Shakespeare (through the character of Hamlet) is considering death, Chin is discussing the racism of white women towards women of color–both are using a style and voice all their own to share their frustration, pain, and anguish.
Shakespeare and Chin share similar word choice, yet Shakespeare is more formal, constrained. Chin is more conversational, open. Shakespeare (at this point) is voicing his desire for and fear of suicide, and Chin (at this point) is letting loose her rage at white women who’ve used Black women.
Could Shakespeare written Hamlet’s soliloquy in a conversational style and held as much power? Could Chin written her poem in a formal style and held as much power? I’m fairly certain both authors would say “yes” to both questions, but Shakespeare and Chin both had their particular way of communicating to the world that works for them! You, as poets, are going to discover your style and voice!
So, here’s the assignment for this week and next:
Go to this website. It’s a site that has writing prompts for poetry. Each prompt has a poem. There are several, so survey the prompts and then choose at least four you’re attracted to.
- Read the prompt and poem carefully. Read the poems first for enjoyment, then examine how each poet “does it.” What’s their style? Formal, conversational, something in between? What’s their voice? How do they express their unique self?
- Next, I want you to match the poet’s style and voice with your own words (not copy, of course, but try to follow their word choices–if they use slang, use slang, if they have rhythm or rhyme, use rhythm or rhyme). See if it works. If it does, great, but if it doesn’t, don’t stress. Look at other poems and prompts.
- There isn’t a deadline for this assignment–yet–but there will be, so start this week, so you have time to write an experiment!
For more deadlines and details, look at the Assignment page for Week 11!