• Route 7 Review

"The Art of Voice" by Tony Hoagland, Reviewed by Dr. Armstrong

Dr. Armstrong’s second review centers on Tony Hoagland’s The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice. With 4.6 stars on Amazon and 4.4 stars on Goodreads, anyone interested in poetry will find this book is a necessity.

In this accessible and distilled craft guide, acclaimed poet Tony Hoagland approaches poetry through the frame of poetic voice, that mysterious connective element that binds the speaker and reader together. A poem strong in the dimension of voice is an animate thing of shifting balances, tones, and temperatures, by turns confiding, vulgar, bossy, or cunning―but above all, alive.

The twelve short chapters of The Art of Voice explore ways to create a distinctive poetic voice, including vernacular, authoritative statement, material imagination, speech register, tone-shifting, and using secondary voices as an enriching source of texture in the poem. A comprehensive appendix contains thirty stimulating models and exercises that will help poets cultivate their craft. Mining his personal experience as a poet and analyzing a wide range of examples from Catullus to Marie Howe, Hoagland provides a lively introduction to contemporary poetry and an invaluable guide for any practicing writer.

Dr. Armstrong elaborates on the piece:

Poet Tony Hoagland left the world too early in 2018, but his ideas about craft remain with us thanks to The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice (with Kay Cosgrove, Norton, 2020, 168 pages, $15.95). Hoagland implores his readers to consider the elusive but essential contributions voice, which he defines as “the distinctive linguistic presentation of an individual speaker,” can play in the construction and delivery of verse. Of course we should never confuse a poem’s speaker with a poem’s creator: voice is as much a functional element of verse as rhyme and meter, produced by deliberate, calculated effort. When the poet manages to invest their work with voice effectively, Hoagland contends, a connection forged between speaker and audience results, yielding tremendous aesthetic and thematic dividends: “A successful poem is voiced into a living and compelling presence. This convincing representation of a speaker may be created by force, or intellectual subtlety, or companionability, or even by eccentricity, but it must initiate a bond of trust that incites further listening.” Hoagland supplements his claims and theories with numerous poems, some ancient (Catullus’s “This One Boy II), some contemporary (Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to my 1977 Toyota), and numerous invention prompts, making this an ideal text for creative writing courses.


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