My Voice by Rafael Campo speaks to the national identity within us all, focusing on his Cuban heritage. He describes a ‘Cuban song’ that tells all about his life, myths from Cuba and ideas from his country. At the end of the poem he reveals this ‘Song’ is actually his ‘Voice’, suggesting that our national identity is intertwined with the way in which he speak.
Beginning My Voice with a focus on ‘Cuban Songs’, Rafael Campo tells about typical characteristics of these songs, focusing on the ideas, images and myths common in them. He talks of the ‘sea’, of the story of the ‘Carib boy’ lost to the sea, a bird who gave up flight and a ‘queen’ who was ‘stronger’ than the rival king. All these stories and ideas passed through each generation have become an integral part of Cuban culture, with Campo suggesting they lie inherently in everyone from the country. He summarises his ‘Song’ by actually revealing that it was his ‘Voice’ all along, suggesting that all this history is bound up in something as simple as his voice. He projects the voice as a symbol of national identity, proudly presenting his Cuban heritage through the concise poem.
Campo splits My Voice into 21 lines. Although not split into individual stanzas, every 7 lines contain a distinct part of the poem. The first 7 lines focus on the spirit of the ‘song’, the characteristics that define it such as ‘fantasy’ and the image of ‘the sea’. The second group of 7 lines focuses on ‘’folklore’ and stories of Cuban culture. Finally, the bottom 7 lines of the poem complete the story, revealing the idea that the ‘song’ is actually just his voice – insinuating that all these stories and ideas are connected to his voice through the idea of a national identity,
You can read the full version of My Voice here.
Campo begins My Voice by focusing on the idea that he must be cured from the nostalgia he has for his home in Cuba. He starts the poem with the verb ‘To cure myself’, the ease of ‘myself’ insinuating that this is more so a personal journey, rather than an actual sickness he wants to cure. It is nostalgia and missing his home which drives him to write a ‘Cuban song’, trying to regain a sense of connection to the culture from which he has been removed. The connotation of ‘song’ is that of happiness and joy, with the idea of Cuba being a place he holds dear being related through this imagery.
Campo writes that in engaging with art, ‘wrote a Cuban song’, you can ‘suppress’ ‘unhealthy’ fantasies, the ‘fantasies’ he is referencing here being the melancholy one feels to a home they have left. In making this ‘song’, he is able to regain a sense of connection to his home, comforting him with memories of the past.
Considering that Cuba is an island, the focus on the ‘sea’ is appropriate when referencing memories of his time in the country. Campo describes the ‘Sea’ as something that ‘never can be swallowed’ as it is too great. This image can be understood as polysemous. It could represent the idea that his national pride and national identity can never be destroyed or taken away from him, it being integral to who he is. This image could also be exploring the idea that his melancholy in leaving Cuba will never be resolved, a deep longing for the past following him wherever he goes. However you want to analyse this, it is important to remember that the sea itself is a liminal space. What this means is it acts as a ‘between’ area in the middle of two things. This can be applied to Campo’s own life, the liminality of the sea being a representation of his simultaneous connection and separation from his home culture.
The use of enjambment across these lines allows for the ‘sea’ to seem ‘great’ even by poetic structure. The flowing nature of the lines, without divisive end stop, allows the huge expanse of the sea to be represented through the structure of these lines, furthering Campo’s argument.
These lines refer to the ‘folklore’ of Cuba, with Campo telling fragments of different stories he heard as a child. It begins with a ‘Carib boy’ being swept out to sea, perhaps representing Campo’s own movements away from his country. The lines then focus on ‘the legend’ of a ‘bird’ that ‘gave up flight’ in order to sing; this could be a reference to those who have stayed in Cuba, giving up the dream of moving abroad in order to carry on the traditional and ideals of the land. Finally, Campo references a ‘Queen / whose strength was greater than a rival king’s’, focusing on a legend of royal battles. The grandeur this final image implies furthers the idea that Cuba is a place of regal mystery, the culture being rich and detailed.
The final seven lines of My Voice retreat back to the present, focusing again on crafting the ‘song’. Campo returns to the image of the sea, echoing his previous statement that it is vastly ‘deep’. He adds to this, suggesting that many people rely on the sea, the body of water becoming a symbol of nurturing, this being something ‘beautiful’ that should be cherished.
The final three lines of the poem focus on the ‘ending’ of the song, Campo withdrawing from his ‘singing’ as he ‘cannot bear to hear it any longer’. There is a deep sense of melancholy as Campo suggests that he loves Cuba, and misses it dearly, the nostalgia being overpowering.
The final line subverts our expectation, with Campo revealing that the ‘Song’ he has been singing is actually just his ‘voice’, the stories and histories he has been telling being presented through the harmonious light of ‘song’. Campo loves, and greatly misses, his culture, with this poem shedding a little light on the beauty of Cuban tradition and culture.