Sound has always played a role in my performance poetry. Sound is personal to me. Poetic therapy. Choosing where and how to begin and end a line, to me, is what makes a poem acoustic. That is why I came up with the title of ‘Acoustic Poetry’ and, years ago, assembled the network.
Probably it was W.S. Merwin’s title that initially attracted me to consider “After the Voices” one of my favorite poems. But, when I read it, I noticed there was no punctuation. This was fun to me. I could place my own emphasis into the poem. As the reader, the ‘acoustic poet’, I could ‘punch’ my words and choose where the beginning and ending was placed. I love it!
As in life, much of the sound we hear is background noise. Cars, trains etc. Just now I heard a cicada, the sound of summer ending. These sounds can be missed in the milieu of daily living and it can evaporate in a second, into a lost memory. Merwin, recognized that sound vanishes into silence, and the sad fact that one eventually loses the memory of it as well.
Sound, particularly as it related to my mother who had Alzheimer’s, was a challenge. As she slipped in and out from silence into storytelling, her language was lost. She found unique ways to string words together. It could be a word that rhymed or a flip of a letter or a sing song cadence. She, like Merwin, knew at times she was missing something, but did not know what. Either way, she taught me how sound, silence, melody and music can stimulate memory. They are all intertwined in the brain and they all formed a new way for her to communicate.
I use to carry a photo of this poem in my wallet. I’d read it to myself to help comfort me, considering it a kinder description of what was happening to her. It is an aide-mémoire on the cycles of life. This poem is a reminder to myself that there may be a day I too loose my memory, my language and the beauty of sound and “their absence will be (were) no more noticed than those of the unreturning birds”.
After the Voices W.S. Merwin
Youth is gone from the place where I was young
even the language that I heard here once
its cadences that went on echoing
a youth forgotten and the great singing
of the beginning have fallen silent
with the voices that were the spirit of them
and their absences were no more noticed
than were those of the unreturning birds
each spring until there were no words at all
for what was gone but it was always so
I have no way of telling what I miss
I am only the one who misses it