The Voice

This summer I decided to take a poetry writing class with Professor Jenny Sadre-Orafai. You may recall a few posts about “Bird by Bird” (this is for that class). The professor, who is a published poet herself, challenges us to think and to become better writers. Her class has been anything but dull; it’s actually been really challenging for me. Not in a “wow, she’s a hard grader” type challenge; but, in an intellectually challenging way. I didn’t take the class because I think I’m a good writer, or because I feel I’m an amazing poet, because frankly, I’m not. I took the class because I wanted to know how people wrote such beautiful pieces of art. But, this post isn’t about how I’ve fallen absolutely in love with a contemporary poet, Zachary Schomburg (who I didn’t know about until I was introduced to him this semester and now own both his books and am reading them avidly) or about how I’m really loving poetry more and more everyday. This post is about a boy in my class.

Ooh, you’re thinking. A boy? Sam. Really?

No. Not like that.

This boy in my class is rather soft spoken, but always has something interesting to say during our workshops. Not to mention that his own poetry is absolutely beautiful (and impressive). The problem is that he is constantly cut off by other people, myself included, when he’s trying to give his insight on someones work. He’s not forceful enough when he speaks and he’s also not that loud of a person. Now, for anyone who knows me, you know that I’m a loud individual. I’m strong. I’m like a bold cup of coffee on an early, chilly morning. I’m loud in both tone and expression, and the only time I fall by the wayside of a group is when I let myself. This man is just quiet and someone easily “Sam Smashed.”

I noticed last night that he was becoming increasingly irritated at being cut off or, in most cases, never given the chance to speak. I’d watch as he would open his mouth to begin and words wouldn’t form quick enough before someone began rambling on in his place. So, I started paying attention. I started noticing when he wanted to say something and would make sure not to talk. Can you believe it? I actually stopped to let someone else talk. . . yea, go ahead, make some smart ass comment about me not talking; the floor is open for you.

I started to realize that my impressions of the poetry conflicted with his. There were times when I agreed with that he had to say, but others, not at all. Sometimes he was in Boston and I was in San Francisco. Although, there was something that still intrigued me. Never mind the agreeing or disagreeing on punctuation, word choices, omissions and additions. It was something else. I started to pay attention. I started to make a gateway for when he wanted to talk. It frustrated me, a bit, when he wouldn’t be assertive enough to make his point and allowed for others to cut him off, but I had patience. I wanted to hear what he had to say.

It was then that I realized that sometimes giving someone else the voice is better than using your own. When you actually shut up and stop listening to yourself talk and listen to those around you, you will benefit. You may not agree with what they are saying, but you’re learning something. That’s what life is, right? A learning experience. You can’t learn if you’ve got your fingers in your ears and you’re puffing your cheeks out while stomping your feet and you definitely can’t learn if you never listen. I’ve said this on multiple occasions (not in my posts, but in life) that it’s the quiet ones who intrigue me the most. They are like complex bags of joy – the brown paper bags with a question mark on the front that once you actually reach inside you find a wealth of knowledge, beauty, love, loss – – life! They have stories, they have insight, they have thoughts (and usually they are pretty damn amazing), but just sometimes they need to be given a voice to be heard by. Sometimes they just need to be opened up.

So. Shut up and listen.

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