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Knowing Your Voice (with poetry by Kendel Hippolyte)

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Feeling afraid is normal.

We are often socialized to fear that which we have no understanding of. My contention, however, is that this fear can be diminished bit by bit, day by day. All you have to do is find your voice.

I remember the first time I entered a debating competition in high school. I was nervous like hell, couldn’t really focus and had just enough time to make a scathing clap back to a previous speaker’s futile point before I found myself sinking to the ground and pretty much blacking out. My memory becomes clear again when I’m outside at the back of the church, shirt unbuttoned, drinking a glass of water (how I made it outside is pretty much forgotten). Some said I did it for the emotional kicks of the debate; some laughed at my inability to withstand that kind of pressure. Funny thing is, the team I was a part of won that debate, and my ten minutes of fame got me the best speaker prize for that year.

Even though I became more involved in debating after that, I still downplayed the power of my voice. I didn’t believe that I had much, or anything at all really, to say. So about two years later, when I was called upon to enter a speech competition, I was just about ready to fail at that. I had only been using my strength in writing to enter various essay competitions so far, and though I had some relative success in this department, I’d never actually won “First Place” in anything. To make matters worse, that speech competition was about “Optimism”, a topic I almost hated, if I can make such an admission. I rehearsed, rehearsed some more, almost failed the qualifying round, doubted myself, almost missed the final round because of clothes I had to go borrow from another location, and actually won that speech competition as well.

In all these instances, I was mentally preparing myself to fail. I was afraid of not winning, not making any impact; I wasn’t used to voicing my opinions and my thoughts and finding them to be acceptable to the people around me. Only years later do I realize that, more than winning awards, it was this set of circumstances that molded my confidence and ability to speak out, regardless of the reception of those who heard/read my mental concoctions.

We all have something important to say, and we all think there’s no one listening. This is one of the many wonders of the world.

Kendel Hippolyte is probably the modern Caribbean poet I relate most to, and he usually covers topics about conversations, words, and the meanings of things we say. Please enjoy his poem, “Ways”, as is seen published online:

“They were walking—he, left she, right—on a winding path below the speckled foliage,
he speaking quietly, she listening easily, so neither saw or heard at first
when the ground cracked and a long fissure wavered ahead of them along the path

and they began to walk on either side of it on parallel tracks while he kept talking
just a bit more loudly and she strained—but just a bit—to listen, and at first
they did not notice since they were still walking—he|she—in the same direction

and even when their parallel companionable journeys brought them finally
to where the track split, forking into a serpent’s tongue, transforming the pathway’s single I
into a Y… they paused only slightly, looking ahead, each one, into the distance,

then continued—he, crossing to right she, crossing to left—both barely noticing
he was speaking more loudly, she was listening harder, and both straining now,
he, looking at her over his left shoulder she, looking at him over her right

and how long they misconversed like that, neither remembered afterward, only that
this was the only way that they could keep with insight of each other
although his voice to her, her form to him, as they continued, became fainter

and they continued walking, neither seeing where his own\ /her own journey led because
each needed to keep looking at the other to feel oriented, and in truth it was easier
to see each other’s path, and as their separate journeys widened into ways apart,

he began shouting with all he was worth but she could not hear him across the distance
and she bared herself till she was naked but he could not see her across the distance
and they continued, they continue—shouting and unheard\ /naked and unseen—along their ways, cleft

and if they could, just once, look far enough into the distance, and just once, behind,
they’d see the way all led back to the Y… and they would find, again and yet beyond again,
their journey.”

Blessings in abundance!



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