After I started writing poetry, I felt more strongly that voice and tone were so similar that it was more useful to consider them essentially the same concept. And now I notice that the two terms seem to have become conflated. Sound and Sense, in its more recent editions, no longer has separate chapters for each concept. Now there's just a chapter on Tone. Voice doesn't even have an entry in the Glossary. In Real Sofistikashun Tony Hoagland, in his essay, "Sad Anthropologists: The Dialectical Use of Tone," uses the term tone but not the term voice, yet he seems to be talking about what I would call voice. I'm happy to pare down to just the one term, but I find the term voice more appealing, suggesting as it does a human speaker. Of course, what really matters is not what you call it but how it functions in a poem. Hoagland uses "Purple Bathing Suit," an excellent choice for illustrating the role that tone or voice plays in a poem:
I like watching you garden
with your back to me in your purple bathing suit:
your back is my favorite part of you,
the part furthest away from your mouth.
You might give some thought to that mouth.
Also to the way you weed, breaking
the grass off ground level
when you should pull it up by the roots.
How many times do I have to tell you
how the grass spreads, your little
pile notwithstanding, in a dark mass which
by smoothing over the surface you have finally
fully obscured? Watching you
stare into space in the tidy
rows of the vegetable garden, ostensibly
working hard while actually
doing the worst job possible, I think
you are a small irritating purple thing
and I would like to see you walk off the face of the earth
because you are all that's wrong with my life
and I need you and I claim you.
I'm deliberately withholding the name of the poet and am hoping you don't know. I want to perform a little experiment, that is, to see if you can guess the gender of the poet by analyzing the tone or voice of the poem. On a first reading, this poem didn't knock me out, but after I read it several times and really zeroed in on the voice of the speaker, line by line, it did knock me out. In fact, it just about knocked me over.
In my next post I'll reveal the identity of the poet and have a few more things to say about gender and voice. And I'll have a prompt for you based on this poem.