Sound vs. voice


So a piece of mine (“A History”) is being published this month by Chagrin River Review.  They’re letting authors include an audio version of their work, if one is available.  A nice idea, and I think a lot of people might be curious about an author’s voice, how the author would read a particular piece.  Maybe it’s a morbid kind of curiosity — how weird will this person sound? — but it’s something different.

I’m hesitant for a few reasons.  First, the poem itself is structured as one long list of “questions” (like search queries in Google), each question separated by a slash.  It’s supposed to be a window into an evolving life (through adolescence, to adulthood, to the beginning of old age) seen obliquely through the questions a person asks at each stage of his life.  So it depends on the reader understanding that the voice in the poem is changing — that what starts as a child’s voice ends as the voice of an old (or aging) man.

I can’t do that voice.

It also depends a lot, I think, on the visual aspect of seeing it all jumbled together.  It’s a condensed impression of someone’s life, messy and vulnerable and transparent, and I’m not sure how that act of condensing can be represented with speech.  I’m not saying it can’t be, just that I don’t know how to do it.

I might try, just to see what comes of it.  I like the idea, as I said.  Adds something different, even if I have a feeling most people can’t do their work justice.  There’s a reason why professionals read audio books more often than the authors.  It’s a tough thing to do well.  Maybe poets are supposed to be able to read their work well, but 1) I’m not really a poet, and 2) most poets I’ve heard have disappointed me a little.  It’s just not what I hear in my head.  Not their fault, obviously.  My head is the problem.

I remember John Crowley writing that he’d heard Nabokov’s voice once, and how much it surprised him.  He had his own impression of Nabokov, as probably everyone does, so the experience (if I remember right) was at least a little unsettling for him.  So which voice is the “real” voice for any work of literature?  Is it the one we hear in our heads?  If we knew the author in person, wouldn’t we hear the author’s voice in our heads as we read the words?  How much would that change our impression of the work?

No answer here.  But I do think that when we hear something read aloud, it’s changed forever.  For good or for bad.

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

Add Comment

Leave a Reply

By Tom Howard


Get in touch

Feel free to follow me to get a follow back, and to say hello.

Follow me on Twitter