Dear Friends,
Voice is at the heart of our work and relationships. I have created two unique learning opportunities of spoken word for you: Write Your Way to Forgiveness and Peace
An online seminar of poems, stories, and writing exercises exploring anger and forgiveness. Click here for more info:
Also please take the time to view the free youtube video  Power of the Spoken Word
at the very end of this blog.  This 11 minute video includes the oral interpretation of “If” by Rudyard Kipling, “Invictus” by William Henley, Sonnet XLIII  by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and more. Please share with all lovers of the spoken word.
Sherry Reiter
The ancient Masaai tribes of Africa create a signature song for every child that is born. It is an identity song, with the unique details of the child’s birth, his/her family, and the season and celestial state at birth. Should this baby ever stray from its path through ill health or crime, the tribe gathers around the person to sing their unique song and help them re-claim identity. The song is part of a heart-felt celebration, embodied in the music of language and voice.
Words that emanate from the heart enter directly into the heart of another. This principle was taught by King Solomon in Proverbs: “As water (reflecting) the face is to the face, so a man’s heart is to (his fellow) man.” The human heart intuits the emotions of others and if one speaks with an open heart, the heart of the listener will open as well. Whether we believe this is due to “mirror neurons” or simple empathy, heart-felt words enable others hear us at a deeper level; we are magnetically drawn to those who are authentic and when you speak from the heart, who can resist listening?
Your voice is your personal signature in sound. In other words, your voice has unique vibrations and configurations in pattern that sound out your identity in the world.
In “The Alchemy of Voice”,  Stewart Pearce says,
“The voice can move us to tears,  shatter a glass or hear a broken heart. It can mesmerize, seduce, infuriate or command; inspire fear and dread, trust and love. The sound of a voice can evoke memories, sensations, thoughts and feelings. It has an awesome force to make or break strong bonds, to torture or uplift, create or destroy. The voice therefore lies at the core of our personal power and resonates the essence of our truth.”
Pearce writes about the four points of the body that voice emanates from: 1) the head informs, 2) the throat soothes or discomforts, 3) the heart empowers and empathically connects us to others, and 4) the pelvis is a place of deep emotion. Persons in deep sorrow will often speak from this place, and the practice of speaking from the pelvis may help thaw frozen feelings that are stored in the gut. The effective speaker uses all of these body parts, and empathically we respond to vibration, volume, pacing, intonation, and the melody within the voice.
According to Hazrat Inayat Kahn, the great Indian Sufi master and musician, voice is not only indicative of man’s character, but it is the expression of spirit.
The voice makes impressions on the ethereal spheres, impressions which can be called audible; at the same time they are visible. Those scientists who have made experiments with sound and who have taken impressions of the sound on certain plates – which impressions appear like forms – will find one day that the impression of the voice is more living, more deep, and has a greater effect. Sound can be louder than the voice, but sound cannot be more living than that the voice.
                        “The Voice,” The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word, Volume 2, 1923
Kahn was considered a great singer, but later turned his talents to using the spoken word.His mission was to “tune souls instead of instruments.” His goal –one of the goals in poetry therapy – to harmonize people.
If there is anything in my philosophy, it is the law of harmony: that one must put oneself in harmony with oneself and with others. I have found in every word a certain musical value, a melody in every thought, harmony in every feeling; and I have tried to interpret the same thing, with clear and simple words, to those who used to listen to my music. I played the vina until my heart turned into this very instrument; then I offered this instrument to the divine Musician, the only musician existing, Kahn’s discourses on poetry are woven throughout his work. (
All too often, the voice and oral interpretation in this century is neglected. Now, at a time when texting and e-mail is so popular, when the phone is used less and less, personally, I hunger for the sound of the human voice. It remains the signature of identity, as strong as the expression when you look into someone’s eyes, inimitable and personal.
What is the relationship between poetry and voice? The relationship is intimate and essential, in my opinion. Poetry originated in oral transmission when early man is believed to have chanted around the tribal fire. Poetry still is a form of sacred ceremony for some of us, a ritual in which we combine our hopes, prayers, and search for meaning.
The truth is that oral transmission of poetry is a natural art form, most accessible to all through the spoken word. Poetry Jams and competitions flourish in America and in Europe there are still cafes and meeting rooms where people crowd in to hear the music of poetry and look into the eyes of the speaker.
As poet May Sarton so eloquently wrote, “Poetry exists to break through to below the level of reason where the angels and monsters that the amenities keep in the cellar may come out to dance, to rove and roar, growling and singing, to bring back to the enclosed rooms where too often we are only ‘living and partly living’”.
When we read to others, we foster a sense of connection and community; we anchor our humanity through voice and language. Stanley Kunitz wrote about the paradoxical role of the poet in society: “Language is no barrier to people who love the word. I think of poets as solitaries with a heightened sense of community.”
From a writing viewpoint, when we read writing out loud, then we can be even surer if our pacing is true, we can discern when our words are superfluous, and our thoughts clear or muddy. The content of your thoughts are clarified, and then these thoughts are blanketed in the personal, intimate qualities of your voice. Nothing speaks louder than the individual qualities of your voice; it is the consummate embodiment of your individuality.
And when heart speaks, heart listens.

*  *  *

Speak, your lips are free.

Speak, it is your own tongue.

Speak, it is your own body.

Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith’s shop

The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;

The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough

Before the death of body and

Speak, ’cause the truth is not dead yet,

Speak, speak, whatever you
must speak.

                      Faiz Ahmad Faiz

*  *  *

The Poets Speak about Voice, Breath,  and the Music of Words
 “Sound was my doorway into poems, and one of my faults is that I may deceive myself into writing a phrase down that sounds beautiful but doesn’t mean a damned thing. When I was twelve, it was Edgar Allan Poe who started me writing poetry, his spookiness, but also his sound… I say you read poems with your mouth, not with your ears, and they taste good.”
Donald Hall  
* * *
haiku (for you)
love between us is
speech and breath, loving you is
a  long river running.
Sonia Sanchez  
Homegirls and Handgrenades, 1984
* * *

“As long as the voice is genuine, as long as it comes from a genuine part of the culture, that’s sufficient for poetry. But poetry requires many, many years of struggling to understand what is the natural voice, not the rhetorical voice but the naturally quiet spoken voice.

Robert Bly

* * *

“I love what the words can do. I love the language, the music that happens. I’m not going at this because I want something in particular to happen. I do it because I love what I can make with it.”

Joy Harjo

* * *

“There’s a sense in which poetry is not so much the writing of words as it is the movement of breath itself. To write it, you must pay attention the breathing of poetry, to all speech as breath, to the relationship of our thoughts and emotions and the actual way they fill our bodies. This is the emotional, physical centering of the activity of poetry.”

Robert Haas

* * *

How badly the world needs words
Don’t be fooled
By how green it is,
How it seems to be thriving.

“Willow” secures that tree
From its radiant perishing.

How much more so then
When you name the beloved.

                                     Gregory Orr  – Concerning the Book That Was the Body of the Beloved, Copper Canyon Press, 2005




1. Read an excerpt “About Original And Wild Voice in Speaking and Writing” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
This chapter is from “Tending the Creative Fire manuscript” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés © 1989, 2010, All Rights Reserved. This particular work may be used non-commercially as long as it is kept entirely intact.

2.  Eli Greifer was a pioneer who believed that there are deep benefits for mental health from memorizing. Here are his words:We have here no less than a psychograft-by-memorization in the inmost reaches of the brain, where the soul can allow the soul-stuff of stalwart poet-prophets to “take” and to become one with the spirit of the patient. Here is insight. Here is introjection. Here is ennoblement of the spirit of man … by blood transfusing the personality with the greatest insights of all the greatest-souled poets of all ages …The hypnotism of beautiful figures of speech, the melody of rhythm and meter and assonance … painted scenes …dramatic episodes, love’s pervasiveness-all are consecrated by the master poets to gently enter and transfuse the ailing subconscious, the abraded and suffering personality.

Eli Greifer, Principles of Poetry Therapy   New York: Poetry Therapy Center,1963, p.2.
Find a poem that speaks to your heart and soul and resonates totally and completely. If you are stressed, find a soothing poem. Memorize it. If you have difficulty falling asleep, recite it repeatedly. As Dr. Jack J. Leedy was fond of saying, “Take two aspirin and one poem.” Identify for yourself an emotion that would enhance your life. Is it the ability to feel joy, empowerment, tranquility, excitement, or even grief?
Now find the poet whose voice has captured this feeling for you in words.  In ancient Egypt, in the 4th millienium B.C., the shamans wrote healing chants on papyrus and had the ill patient drink in the words to make sure it took effect. Your objective is to completely take it into yourself, memorize it, say it for friends and relatives. But most importantly, say it over and over till it becomes part of yourself.

3. Listen to the audio recording stressing the flexibility of voice and its ability to take on the colors of different emotions of the heart. I have demonstrated speaking from the four points in the body – the head, throat, heart, and pelvis. Although we are using all of these sources in oral interpretation, particular poems illustrate this interesting concept.

POWER OF THE SPOKEN WORD with Dr. Sherry Reiter