a few poems

    untitled earth song

    Oh circulating cell,
    wrapped with flesh,

    all rests upon a root,
    life rushing beneath.

    I press two feet to you,
    soles in osmosis,

    and my mouth shapes a seed.

    Resting against the trunk,
    a gradual spine--

    the bend of shade reaches
    down, your hands over my eyes.

    I see our horizon, swaddled
    in skin and bloodstreams,

    turning into turning.

    Three Haiku

    I. Water
    drench in amnion
    an ocean inside a cup
    and spilling over

    II. Ice
    fluid takes body
    creeps down into a valley
    a slow, rounded breath

    III. Vapor
    the lung's final clutch
    now a thousand floating hands
    touch your ears and knees


    On every side,
    we see the lip
    of our brown dish of earth.

    The sun stirs westward,
    its wake pulling
    at the prairie grasses
    like they are fronds of kelp.

    This wind would enjoy
    the quick whistle
    of dissolving us into itself,
    but we brace ourselves against it.

    We pee along the highway,
    hidden behind a shrub,
    careful not to face the wind.

    We hold onto each other
    by smiling.

    Our van follows the thin road
    towards an early dusk,
    dragging tumbleweed beside us.

    Away from the breeze,
    we fall into each other--
    in the rush forward,
    leaning ahead--
    insatiable in our want

    to exceed the horizon,
    to outrun the wind's coaxing
    and pass beneath every color here.

    Do we notice as we pass
    from state to state?
    Can the sea breeze blow so far?
    Will we arrive in time for dinner?

    We proceed inch by inch,
    with the ground now breaking apart
    and the sky spilling over its edge.

    Simple Sonnets










    The Voice

    Finally, here's a copy of the paper I wrote for my linguistics class about "The Voice," the phonological expression of me and my friends' high-school sense of humor, interaction, personality, and reality even. I'm not sure what my prof thought about the whole thing, but I guess I feigned mastery, intelligence, and confidence enough to get an A-. Also, completing this project brought a lot of closure to that whole stage of my life, a good mix of rememberance and farewell-to. So in that personal aspect, it was definitely worth the undertaking.

    some notes: 1) the title is supposed to be substantially over the top, 2) please ignore the academic B-S, 3) the interview excerpts are the best

    “The Voice of Reason, the Voice of Irreverence, and Other Very Human Articulations: A Case Study in Adolescent Slang, Identity, and Personality”

    Ryan Weberling
    Professor W. Vande Kopple
    English 334--Linguistics
    April 27, 2007


    Beginning in the freshman year of my high-school career, those in my immediate peer group developed a mode of interaction centered on a system of slang we developed and utilized, dubbed “the Voice” by those involved with and affected by it. The Voice, as such, was more than just a lexicon of slang, but involved semantics, style and function, mannerisms and non-verbal commu-nication, and especially, as indicated by the name it was given, phonology or, more broadly, the intonation of the speaker’s voice. In this paper, I will provide a brief overview, history, and analysis of the system we used. The content will arise primarily from interviews carried out with those who were in-volved with the Voice, with occasional reference to relevant sources and ideas. However, the main effort of this project is to convey, through one limited case study, the extent to which people’s language, specifically the unique ways in which individuals and groups speak, affects identities, personalities, and relationships.

    Overview and History

    How was this mode of interaction developed, and how did it spread? “It all started when two of us were picking beans in my family’s garden,” recalls Nathan, one of the original speakers. “My dad was making us pick these beans, and we were really angry about that, and we just started making fun of stuff. I believe the first phrase was ‘beans, beans, beans... what are we gonna do with all them beans?’” The nature of these beginnings already reveal the commonplace capacity of language to demarcate boundaries, to establish space for restless juvenile identities, and to express otherwise restricted sentiments. As Teresa Labov notes, “Adolescents make particular use of the second characteristic in using slang to differentiate themselves from adults” (340).

    This way of speaking soon caught on with others in the social group at church and school, at first remaining limited to those in the immediate sphere of contact. Soon, though, it began to permeate into other related groups and demographics. Two interviewees recalled the spread of the Voice:

    Nathan: There were some people that picked up on it that might be more expected--younger brothers, girlfriends, and so on--but there were other cases, some people we had marginal contact with, like at coffee shops or church that we’d see once a week or once a month, but we came known by it, and these other people even started doing it.

    Derek: People older than us, like college students, started doing it as well. But the weirdest was when our parents started trying to imitate us.”

    Nathan: I think that’s when we started to realize that it had gone too far...and that was the beginning of the challenge to get rid of the Voice. We would make bets and pay each other a dollar or two if we slipped into using it again. It was hard not to.”

    The Voice, or the social dynamics created by its use, had a dramatic influence on those who spoke it. John, who was part of the first generation of speakers, recalls his experiences:

    There was a group of us who didn’t even look like we’d be friends, but we could relate with [the Voice]...[and] it contributed to tying us all together more than almost anything else. It defined our life for almost three years. And it still does, in a small way. When we get together, we still do it. When I meet new people, I tell them my sense of humor is based on this weird thing we used to do.

    Although use of the Voice was at first spurred on and incited by members of the group at every possible occasion, it soon began to dominate the group’s interactions to an undesired extent. Again, John recalls this shift:

    "It was a sense of humor we all agreed on, and it ended up controlling us...It’s not something we could just fluff off. It was some sort of psychological... addiction. We couldn’t kick it. We needed to have an alter-ego to be funny, to relate. When it got to the point where we couldn’t get ourselves or each other to stop doing it, that’s when realized: some people our age did drugs or had sex... well, we had the Voice.
    It turned against us. There was no way to get angry with each other. You couldn’t get upset because as soon as you brought an issue up, others could invoke the Voice to completely shut you down. There was never any arguing or fighting and therefore no real resolutions, because the Voice made getting mad seem ridiculous...we couldn’t have any emotions, even if we got really excited, the Voice would just cancel it out...On a positive side, it kept us from getting too serious, but it wasn’t healthy to not be capable of dealing with each other. Everything just got made fun of.”

    All of the original speakers have since graduated from high-school and moved on to college or various other post-high-school pursuits. Since then, though, the Voice has been transmitted at a substantial level through two high-school “generations” (that is, two sets of students four years apart, such that one set is graduating when the younger set is entering high school). There have also been observations, much to the disbelief of those initially involved, of isolated occurrences of use by those as much as ten years younger than the original speakers--the equivalent of nearly three such “generations.” This staying power continues to reflect on the inclination or even the necessity for young people explore the entirety of their surroundings, whether linguistically, relationally, or critically.


    On a more technical level, of what did this system of interaction consist? Nathan explains, “It’s hard to understand or explain to other people, but I think for us who experienced it, it was such a clear, noticeable thing.” What began as a loose imitation of Southern dialect shifted drastically into a wide range of variations. Interviewees mentioned such variations as “pompous,” ”playful or joyful,” “violent,” “sour and grumbling,” “depressed,” and most prominently, “sarcastic” and “awkward.” This wide range of descriptions makes sense in light of the fact that the majority of interviewees noted their use of the Voice as a means for displaying emotions and personalities.

    The Voice itself was characterized by an intonation that was varied but always recognizable. Derek describes it as such: Everyone had their own take on it, but it was always a continual thing...There are other people I’ve met at college who have their own crazy voices or jokes, but there’s a difference between just ‘a voice’ and ‘THE Voice.’” Non-verbal communication had as much of a defining quality as intonation. Speaking in the Voice required a large, crucial vocabulary of gestures, facial expressions, and mannerisms.

    “It was so many things combined together: facial expressions, voice intonation, body posture was crucial, hands in the pockets and lips protruding--and the most important part was the delivery, raising the head and then slamming it back down, like an elephant.” You had to frown until the two points of your lower lip are as far down as possible, hopefully getting down to the chin line, where you’re making this Godfather-like, old Marlin Brando look--an old, haggard, moaning and grumbling face.

    As flourishing young speakers, we certainly took advantage of what W.F. Bolton describes as the “productive” and “arbitrary” nature of language (Bolton, 62-62). We possessed the social and creative energy that Felix Rodriguez asigns to our demographic: “Of all social groups,” he writes, “the young are the most prone to the use and renovation of slang and unconventional language. They exhibit great social dynamism and are receptive to changes in fashion: in clothes, look, style, and also in speech.”

    Our lexicon, as it were, expanded and was formed by a process of bricolage drawing from various sources in pop culture, inside jokes, and everyday experiences. A large portion of the phrases we adapted could be included in the category of “non-propositional” language specifically in Van Lancker Sidtis’ categories of 1) conventional expresions, 2) expletives, 3) indirect requests, and especially, 4) pause fillers (Van Lancker Sidtis, 3). On the other hand, though, many of the terms, phrases, and ideas were assembled into an informal and fluid lexical collection with nearly infinite semantic applications. There was a way of, John explains, of “turning lines from movies into phrases. If you used the Voice for the delivery of a line, it could be applicable to anything, and it would become something totally different, with totally different meanings.” Nathan agrees, recalling, “On one hand, it was just a goofy thing...but we could use [the Voice] whenever, to express almost anything with these phrases.”

    Several examples stand out. One instance of a “found phrase” that found wide use and application is “razzle dazzle,” which was taken from a popular basketball video game. The phrase, originally used to highlight slam dunks, was employed in its new context as a greeting, an exclamation, a curse, or quite regularly, to mock political figures. The term ‘Puffy Biffalo’, a coinage supposedly based on sound symbolism, “stood for anything that was laying on the ground, Cheetos snack food, and trees--or it could be used as an insult.” A more systematic feature of the Voice was a naming process of adding an “-o” suffix to proper names and titles. For example, speakers Derek, Nathan, and Stephen became known as “Debo,” “Nato,” and “Stevo.”

    Many items were created out of the immediate social context. “Southern style,” once used as a reference to the quality of one family’s hospitality, became a descriptor for any action that needed to be done in a bombastic manner. An example of functional shift is the use of the word “pamcake”--first used to describe the singed but under-cooked, soggy-with-cottage-cheese breakfast creations of one of our mothers--as a verb meaning roughly, “to embarrass oneself” or, more generally, “to make a mess of a situation.”

    It is also helpful to consider the Voice in terms of its style and function. The Voice fits well the “casual” and the “intimate” categories of Martin Joos’ styles of conversation (Daniels, 50). Casual language, in Joos’ terminology, often features ellipsis, or “the shorthand of shared meaning,” and slang--the expression of these meanings “in a way that defines the group and excludes others.” Likewise, the intimate style contains language that is “personal, fragmentary, and implicit,” “a kind of language which ‘fuses two separate personalities’” (Daniels, 50). In comparison to these considerations, many interviewees noted the capacity of the Voice to establish their identity within and without the group, and a few also described the Voice as a sort of character or “alter-ego” that emerged from the group and could be taken on.

    Summary and Conclusion

    Why is it that this bizarre mode of communication spread so far and endured so long? I believe such a phenomenon as the Voice could occur because there is a vital interaction between language and both individual and group identity. “[Our native language] is the code we use to communicate in the most powerful and intimate experiences of our lives. It is a central part of our personality, an expression of who we are and wish to be” (Daniels, 56). The same considerations that apply to native languages or dialects are relevant to the slang of social groups, especially of youth for whom language is an exciting avenue for the expression of their maturing ideals and self-concepts.

    The interviews I conducted were very revealing as to the motivating factors and the forces that drove speakers of the Voice to such extremes. “We were in a humorless town, where the constant jokes and conversation were just degrading women and getting drunk,” says one interviewee. “I think the Voice developed as a way to disconnect with that, an escape.” This fits well with the assessment of Felix Rodriguez, who explains that young people “may use slang as a countercultural tool, as a weapon against established authority and conventions” (247). Many interviewees agreed with the idea of the Voice as part of the struggle against established norms and expectations:

    "Part of it was the way we looked at our high-school culture, our city and surrounding context, and so much of what we saw seemed ridiculous. The Voice provided an escape. We saw so much we thought was pointless or absurd--high-school drama, sex and drugs, the drive for a good career. It helped us establish our place in the world. We couldn’t make fun of certain things, things about ourselves or just unmentionable or taboo things, and the Voice was this objective alter-ego we could use to do that.”

    Thus, the Voice was crucial to establishing definitions, evaluations, and boundaries amongst individuals, the group, and the surrounding components of society.

    The most profound effects of the Voice, however, were on the individuals in the group and the dynamics that existed between them. It was an important part of growing up and learning about ourselves and each other. “[The Voice] was a way of putting a face on our awkwardness as teenagers,” John confesses, “because if we could make fun of it, then maybe afterward we could ignore it.“ He then goes on to explain the way that the Voice affected the friend relationships of his adolescence:

    "[The Voice] was one area we could always relate to each other on. It was definitely part of trying to fit in with each other, and the Voice helped me, at least, because as much as I wasn’t like you guys or didn’t fit in, I could catch on with the way you guys talked and actually be close to you guys, to my peers."

    Such an intimate connection to and dependency on language is not uncommon. It is in fact, the nature of most peoples’ relationship to the way they speak. It was more dramatically noticeable in this case, though, because it occurred within the microcosms of family, church, and high-school-subculture.

    The Voice instantiates the “three general effects of slang that distinguish it from other types of vocabulary: informality, group identification, and opposition to authority” (Rodriguez, 250). The Voice is unique and serves as a valuably revealing example for study because of the small scale on which it occurred. Its existence and function communicates the vital connection between the language of adolescents as a means of self-expression and the formation of their personalities and identities. It speaks also of the dependency of human beings on their own unique modes of communication and the profound desire to speak one’s own langauge and still be understood.

    Works Cited

    Bolton, W. F. "Language: An Introduction." Language: Readings in Language and Culture. Ed. Donna Erickson. 6th ed. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998.

    Daniels, Harvey A. "Nine Ideas about Language." Language: Readings in Language and Culture. Ed. Donna Erickson. 6th ed. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1998.

    Ebel, Connie C. "Slang, Metaphor, and Folk Speech." American Speech (2003): 151-61.

    Labov, Teresa. "Social and Language Boundaries among Adolescents." American Speech 67.4 (1992): 339-66.

    Rodriguez, Felix. Rev. of “Slang Sociability: In-Group Language among College Students,” by Connie C. Eble. Journal of English Linguistics 26.3 (1998): 247-65.

    Van Lancker Sidtis, Diana. "When novel sentences spoken or heard for the first time in the history of the universe are not enough: toward a dual-process model of language." International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders 39.1 (2004): 1-44.