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Literary critics and regular readers often have things to say about a writer’s voice. Many think that the most-read writers are those whose voice is so clear that it can be singled out from all the other authorial voices. Hemingway, with his hard-edged nouns and verbs, is often said to have a powerful voice. Katherine Anne Porter’s authorial voice might be described as precise, incisive, and aware. Joy Williams’s voice is somewhat quirky, but — as we say — in a serious way. Peter Balakian’s voice is strong and exhilarating. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s voice carries a certain wistfulness and a sense of regret. Thomas Hardy’s novels project compassion and sorrow; yes, a sorrowful voice. Jane Austen’s voice is crisp and witty. The voice of George Eliot, née Mary Anne Evans, the author of Middlemarch, often said to be the most intelligent book ever written, is psychologically acute and hard-nosed and definitive. More… “Voice Is Vision”

Kelly Cherry's new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is now available.
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I am a Ph.D. student in a political science program, and I’ve been getting more and more annoyed. Most of the major voices in the field want to pin human behavior down to a series of standardized, quantifiable measures. Not only is this approach terribly boring to read, but it totally ignores the complexity of the individual or society. Is there any way I can use poetry in my work in order to fight these trends? — P.N., Madison, Wisconsin

There is definitely a way to fight those trends with poetry, P.N., and when you publish your compelling dissertation, I want to read it. The first thing you need to do is discover a poet from the area or areas of the world you research, particularly one who is not endorsed by the state, and do… More…

 

Currently there is a lot of space debris — generated by programs like NASA — circling the globe. It’s becoming an increasing problem for satellites and new missions. How can we reduce this debris to ensure that future and current missions will be safe? — Linwood, Boston, Massachusettes

Your mission, Linwood, if you choose to accept it, is to write an apocalyptic poem about the space debris problem that is so powerful it begins a change. It has to be so good that it inundates the mainstream, warrants translation into all the world languages, and terrifies the globe. All international leaders need to be compelled to work together, with a team of scientists, and solve this problem, and it’s your job to make this problem a priority.

After your poem’s publication (your poem should be so good that… More…

 

“China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world.” — Orville Schell, Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society

Travel vs. Tourism

Paul Fussell, in his nostalgic travel book Abroad, described the difference between travel and tourism: Travel is authentic and surprising; tourism, packaged and predictable. Fussell claimed that the former, in our market-driven, homogenized society, has been more or less superseded by the latter: not just cities but countries, too, have been turned into “pseudo-places or tourist commonwealths, whose function is simply to entice tourists and sell them things.”

My sentiments exactly. And why I tend to balk at the idea of going anywhere, especially to faraway, inconvenient places — like China. I was sure that a two-week, organized trip to China, which my husband had arranged when I was… More…