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It’s All by Someone Else

It’s All by Someone Else

(p.115) 5 It’s All by Someone Else
The Voice as Something More
Robert Polito
University of Chicago Press

This chapter takes on the trope of the poet’s voice, via James Merrill’s monumental poem The Changing Light at Sandover, which incorporates large swaths of voices from beyond the grave, dictated to him through the Ouija board. The argument is that by channeling composite, occult voices, Merrill’s experiment results in a sustained dismantling of a lyric voice. Sandover makes manifest the language of possession, animism, and ventriloquism shadowing modern theoretical approaches to poetic voice: as something physical, given breath and sound by the poet or reader; as a metaphor for an author’s distinctive style; or as a reductionist cliché equivalent to the self. In so doing, Sandover confounds any normative grasp of the voice in modern poetry while substantiating the uncanny truths on which the chronic enigma of poetic voice depends.

Keywords:   poetic voice, James Merrill, The Changing Light at Sandover, Maya Deren, Ouija board, ventriloquism

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