Sonority is time and meaning.
~ Jean-Luc Nancy
We are losing our listening.
~ Julian Treasure
What does "to listen" mean to you?
If you're a poet, you know the value of being able to mark (and feel) the rhythm of words, make distinctions among words' sounds (consonance, assonance, alliteration), pay attention to places where a pause (comma) or full stop (period) is needed, be alert to how enjambment (continuing beyond the end of a line into the next line, as from stanza to stanza) can affect cadence and understanding, "see" in your mind's eye how the words you "hear" in your mind, before you commit them to writing, work together to convey meaning through imagery, which can be both visual and aural.
Some of us are blessed with some or all of these listening traits — a gift, if you come by them naturally and effortlessly — and all of us who want to be successful poets seek to refine them. We do the latter by reading words aloud, and also silently; recording them and playing them back; reading others' poetry, aloud and silently, for clues; studying how the ways written and spoken words can be heard differently by different people.
You need not be a poet to claim to listen well and, as sound expert Julian Treasure suggests, all of us can stand to improve our "conscious listening" skill, because, as he says, in a digital world where "[w]e are losing our listening", we are losing our ability to understand.
Treasure, who maintains that he "lives to listen" (but does not have that expectation of anyone else), spoke before a TED audience in July (see video below) and shared five ways we can "re-tune" ourselves for conscious listening:
✦ Spend three minutes a day in silence.
✦ Listen to how many different channels of sound you can hear whenever you find yourself at a "mixer", such as a noisy party or the lobby of a theatre during intermission.
✦ Practice "savoring", that is, learn to enjoy the most mundane sounds (Treasure cites a common household appliance whose noise he likens to the meter of a waltz).
✦ Change your listening position, so that you move to what's appropriate to what you are listening to.
✦ Develop your RASA skills, an acronym, from the Sanskrit for "juice" or "essence", that stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask.
These tools seem simple enough but require conscious effort to use to advantage. They are as valuable to the poet as they are to every person reading this post.
Julian Treasure is chair of The Sound Agency, which advises companies all over the world on how to use sound. He also is the author of Sound Business (1st ed., 2007; a second edition is available). He blogs at Sound Business.
Julian Treasure on Twitter