Monday, October 24, 2016

voice & our identities as writers

Both Peter Elbow's "Voice in Writing Again" and Nancy Sommers's "Responding to Student Writing" pair together in a way I don't think I was initially expecting. At first, I thought it would be a more generic concept of how the voice is just an important aspect of writing, and that teachers should empathize with the fact that the student is exercising that voice. I thought it would be similar to what we heard a few weeks ago, with the idea of writing comments on students' papers.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised, mostly with Elbow's article, in that the concept of voice becomes a multifaceted tool in the process of writing. Ultimately, you can either include or exclude it in a variety of ways to understand the significance of its presence and its influence in your writing. To add, voice as a physical construction can help communicate ideas of writing better, or even help to understand texts more. Overall, Elbow went through a variety of ways to think about voice in relationship to our identities as writers.

More specifically, I found the one passage about "attention to voice can help with reading" very intriguing, and I agree with Elbow wholeheartedly (178). By reading texts aloud, I feel like it forces you to understand it more and be actively involved in what it is saying, as opposed to playing a more passive role by listening to it. When reading, your brain tries to process and comprehend it more, because I believe that once it leaves your lips, those words temporarily "belong to you" - as such, you want to make sure they are true, authentic, and not vague or nonsensical to you. Consequently, it will help you "own" those words and convey the text, with your voice, to your audience, in such a way that you want them to understand exactly what it is you are trying to say. That active participation, then, creates this responsibility of "your words," as you now have to "take ownership" of them for the class, especially if asked to explain later.

I also agreed with Elbow's argument of ignoring voice being essential in teaching writing (181). While voice adds individualism to your paper and helps shape the argument and tone, it should not takeover your writing completely. If that happens, the paper then becomes overwhelmed with subjectivity, as opposed to a level of objectiveness needed for a student to write a "good" academic paper. Research, of course, needs to be done before you can even make a claim; then, once you logically reason your argument, you can let your voice through to highlight your paper, which can make it more powerful and authentic. 

Elbow's ideas, then, can be paired with an understanding of Sommers's article. Sommers essentially talks about the teacher's voice when commenting on student papers, which can be described as harsh, vague, and overall confusing for the student. Additionally, Sommers also reflects on the fact that teachers do not, or maybe cannot, take the time to write insightful comments that work to develop the conversation of the students' work even further. Instead, most comments are just written for the use of the student to use of a "final draft," as opposed to an ongoing development and collaboration of their writing and ideas. We can see that voice, especially the tone, is not communicated in the responses to students' writing. To add, the teacher's vagueness becomes an issue as well, which is possibly related to the Aristotelian quote Elbow mentioned of, "It helps to be trustworthy; but if you're skilled, fake it" (qtd. in 169). Teachers might use that leverage of authority to indirectly "help" their students, instead of being direct and explicit in how their writing could be improved. While they might not want to tell their students exactly "what to do" to produce a good paper, they use abstract language in hopes of "intellectually guiding" them to the best form of their paper - this mostly ends in frustration for the students, and could be seen as aloofness, even laziness, on the teacher's part.

Additionally, I feel like Elbow's ideas about voice can also translate into my own passion project for our Genius Hour. In particular, the idea of voice, especially in poetry, has always fascinated me. As Allen Ginsberg inquired, what do you tell your muse, and what do you tell your friends? Raw and authentic language straddles those lines, and that is what I personally find poetic (barring completely confessional poetry - that stuff is awful). I'm thinking of exploring those concepts further, as I think being personal and vulnerable with your audience is a significant part of my own poetics - that honesty is the connection I want to build with people who want to read my poetry. In my #whyIwrite contribution, it conveys that same sentiment:

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