Poems for two voices are usually intended for two people to read aloud; the poem is arranged on the page so that it is clear which lines each person should read. The speakers may read lines alternately and together, as directed by the author.
This type of poem deals with issues which the author wants to present from two points of view. The voices are not always of people, for example they could be; an effect and its cause, two opposing values or two animals. The idea of writing a poem for two voices can seem daunting, but the process can be broken down into smaller steps.
Choose the identities of your two voices and decide upon a theme for your poem. Use experiences from your own life to begin with, such as an argument with a family member, a cause you are passionate about or an interaction with a customer at work.
Ensure that the voices express contrasting views. For example, if you write about poverty in third world countries you could pick an impoverished child growing up in Africa as one voice and a wealthy child growing up in America as the other.
Alternatively, consider aspects of the two lifestyles which differ for the voices, such as modes of transport: a modern car for the American and their own feet for the African.
Make lists of words or phrases you would associate with each voice. For example, if you picked an argument with your son about whether he can have a car, write the two titles 'father' and 'son' on your paper. Under 'father' you could write; cost, safety, maintenance, responsibility, maturity; under 'son' you could write; independence, right of passage, image, growing up, everyone else has one.
Think of points each voice would raise and the responses the other voice would give.
Use the lists to help you write a first draft of your poem. Take a sheet of paper for each voice. You could write your poem as a dialogue between the two voices or have each voice describe itself, its characteristics and its point of view.
Alternate between voices every line or sentence. You may wish to have the voices speak at the same time; these could be the same words or different ones.
You may wish to employ poetic tools such as rhyme, meter (a regular rhythm of words), assonance (repeated vowel sounds) or alliteration (repeated consonant sounds).
Decide how you will arrange your poem on the page; this is referred to as the format. Most two voice poems are arranged with one voice on the left and one on the right of the page, with the middle reserved for lines which are read together.
Some authors reserve each line for only one voice (still using the left/right/middle to indicate the speaker) thus staggering the words down the page. You may also choose to use stanzas (verses) to separate sections.
Review your poem after leaving it alone for at least a day. Read it aloud and edit any sentences/lines which trip up the reader.
Tips & Warnings
- Avoid using clichés; these are jaded words/phrases that can make your poem sound less original.
- Use stereotypes with caution; they will conjure a specific image so be sure that's the image you want in the reader's mind.
- Photo Credit notebook and pen image by Victor M. from Fotolia.com
- "Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices"; Paul Fleischmann; 1988
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