Harrison Middleton University

An Experiment in Voice

An Experiment in Voice

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


August 7, 2020

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Today’s blog is really just what the title says, an experiment in voice. By combining a number of voices that I have recently read, I stitched together a found poem. This is a fun way to transition from season to season. As summer draws to a close, always too soon for my liking, I decided to put together some of the voices that I spent time with this summer. I encourage this kind of exercise for everyone for the following reasons:

1] It draws together voices who might not otherwise be in conversation.
2] It shows a trajectory of my own thoughts. These quotes are important to me because of the way they speak to thoughts already spinning in my head.
3] Beautiful writing and beautiful language justifies itself.
4] An experiment, even when it fails, also justifies itself.

Let’s see what happens. (The full quotes with attribution follow the poem.)

If love is a civilization
We balance/ on that edge.
It is impossible
To be sure
That one is reading one’s symptoms right.
All of this

Was it new
For anything in this world to be unequal?
Chance and circumstance
Snapping out of you like lightning
Direct the human fate.

Living is harder.
And yet/ none of it has ever happened/ before as it is happening now.

You some pair, that’s the truth.
Your words
Are less than rules and more than remedies


“If love is a civilization,
As I once hoped it was,
And you and I are its living citizens
And if your words
Are less than rules and more than remedies

As we speak, maybe
Someone escapes from a wounded morning.”
Eavan Boland, from “Talking to My Daughter Late at Night” in A Woman Without a Country

“Was it new for anything in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous – or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate?”
– From Emma by Jane Austen

“General benevolence, but not general friendship, made a man what he ought to be.”
– From Emma by Jane Austen

“I had been taught that slavery was the bottom fact of all wealth. With this foundation idea, I came naturally to the conclusion that poverty must be the general condition of the people of the free States.”
Frederick Douglass, from “My Escape from Slavery”

“Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”
– George Washington’s character to Hamilton in the musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda

“We balance/ on that edge/ of time/ before/ all/ collapses.” – Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose

“’Ain’t that just like God,’ she said, ‘throwing the two of you together?’ She shook her head. ‘This boy full of sorrow, keeping it down low in his legs. And you,’ – she pointed a cigarette at Sistine – ‘you all full of anger, got it snapping out of you like lightning. You some pair, that’s the truth.’”
– From The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

“The year is changing. The summer’s young/ are grown and strong in flight. Soon now/ it will be fall. The frost will come./ To one who has watched here many years,/ all of this is familiar. And yet/ none of it has ever happened/ before as it is happening now.”
Wendell Berry, from 2002, Sabbaths

“Harlem needed something to smash. To smash something is the ghetto’s chronic need. Most of the time it is the members of the ghetto who smash each other, and themselves. But as long as the ghetto walls are standing there will always come a moment when these outlets do not work. …If ever, indeed, the violence which fills Harlem’s churches, pool halls, and bars erupts outward in a more direct fashion Harlem and its citizens are likely to vanish in an apocalyptic flood. That this is not likely to happen is due to a great many reasons, most hidden and powerful among them the Negro’s real relation to the white American. This relation prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind – and the heart – that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one’s own reactions are always canceling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both black and white. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene. Amputation is swift: but time may prove that the amputation was not necessary – or one may delay the amputation too long. Gangrene is slow, but it is impossible to be sure that one is reading one’s symptoms right.”
– From “Journey to Atlanta” by James Baldwin

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