In this Big Brother day of hidden cameras and mics, social networks designed to data-mine and influence, and cautionary tales in a Key of Orwell, it seems quaint to talk about voices around us. You know, the type you hear with with your own ears. When in close proximity. The old-fashioned way.
Those voices are often a song, a precept those who listen more than they talk have appreciated since time immemorial. Sometimes you hear them in a small diner. Sometimes at the movies while waiting for coming attractions to attract. And sometimes at the general store, an institution still found in small New England towns.
If voices be songs then poetry is not far behind. In that sense, the quiet poet, going about his or her business by placing a bunch of bananas and a head of broccoli in a basket, serves as conductor who must later pull these musical strands together. Here’s how Jane Kenyon did it up in New Hampshire:
At the Store
by Jane Kenyon
Clumps of daffodils along the storefront
bend low this morning, late snow
pushing their bright heads down.
The flag snaps and tugs at the pole
beside the door.
The old freezer, full of Maine blueberries
and breaded scallops, mumbles along.
A box of fresh bananas on the floor,
luminous and exotic…
I take what I need from the narrow aisles.
Cousins arrive like themes and variations.
Ansel leans on the counter,
remembering other late spring snows,
the blue snow of ‘32:
Yes, it was, it was blue.
Forrest comes and goes quickly
with a length of stovepipe, telling
about the neighbors’ chimney fire.
The store is a bandstand. All our voices
sound from it, making the same motley
American music Ives heard;
this piece starting quietly,
with the repeated clink of a flagpole
pulley in the doorway of a country store.
Depending on the listener, this poem may sound antiquated or passing familiar. What’s sure is this: It in no way resembles pushing a cart through Target or, God save us, any big-box store with piped-in music (especially cloying in the Christmas season, which starts the day after Halloween).
No, you need the same type “bandstand” as could have been gathered round a generation or three ago. Small-town America. Mom & Pop stores. Small and independent businesses where the mega-stores won’t bother because, the zip-code Gods say, the money isn’t there.
So, if you’re collecting voices and cobbling together poetry, let that be a start. Go where the money isn’t and where the people are. Then listen. And write.