August 2nd, 2013
The Voice is What Matters
Poetry is unique compared to other literary works in that in order to close the gap of emotional distance within the individual reader, the voice needs to be sincere. When a character is not relatable to the reader, it destroys the art of poetry. Berg explains in his essay “The Poetry Does Not Matter”, “I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth another” (Berg, x). Readers want to be able to relate to the work and not simply hear stories and morals. One manner in which poetry is able to connect to the readers is through the voice of the poem. When it is sincere, voice is incredibly powerful and persuasive because it holds great sway and power over the reader. While it can be difficult to fully immerse poems with sincerity, once this is accomplished a “poem can be about anything and still include anyone” (Berg, ix). This is what makes a great and memorable poem. Frank O’Hara published a collection of his works, Meditations in an Emergency, back in 1957. Decades later, readers are still captured and fascinated by his voice. While the specific topic of his poems vary greatly throughout his work, his voice remains iconic. Recently, the work of Frank O’Hara was featured in an episode show of Mad Men, reintroducing the general public to the work of this significant poet. O’Hara is able to utilize his voice in a most sincere and genuine manner, resonating in the minds and souls of his readers. This is established in the poems To the Harbormaster, Meditations in an Emergency and For Grace, After a Party. By examining these poems, it is possible to clarify exactly how and why O’Hara is able to speak “through fewer and fewer masks until the truth and the reader are one” (Berg, x).
Each of these poems is unique and artistic in its own manner. The subject of the poems vary, but the voice is still very clear throughout every piece. Not only is the voice distinct, it is also familiar and welcoming. The everyday voice that is used by O’Hara, specifically in these three poems, allows the speaker to appear ordinary and relatable. Dennis writes in his essay “The Voice of Authority”, poetry is not intended to imply that the most confident of speakers is the most persuasive (Dennis, 15). Readers rarely wish to be talked down to, condescended to or otherwise insulted. They want to be on the same level as the speaker or character in the poetry they read because that connection is what makes poetry effective. In many instances, readers are drawn to poems whose voices are relatable and lack any kind of arrogance. To the Harbormaster is a particularly powerful piece because of its voice. This apology for one’s own slights and imperfections is something to anyone can relate. The metaphor created is between the boat and the body. Likewise, the sea represents life. The harbormaster is an entity which is present and oversees everything, but which has no direct impact on what happens. This could be a god, a goddess, a loved one, one’s intended or anything abstract like that. The reader can decide how to best relate to the poem on their own. The harbormaster is important, but undefined by O’Hara, which allows it to become relevant in the mind of the individual reader. When addressing the harbormaster, the speaker in the poem is apologetic, explaining a delay and change of plans. There was always something coming up and keeping the speaker and the harbormaster apart. Depending on the way the poem is read, it could be religious in nature or it could be written to a loved one. However, there is a primary aspect to the poem to which almost any audience member could relate. The speaker acknowledges their own faults and vanities. The speaker is very aware of the fact that they probably made some mistakes. “Though my ship was on the way it got caught up on some moorings” (O’Hara, 1). This line in particular is effective at being sincere and,...
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