Personal Phrases Ventriloquy LD

Poetry has its origin in bodily rhythms and ritual occasions, Stewart says. Poetry has a particular relation to human memory, arising from the pulse of feeling and returns, internalised through memory and imagination. [i] The personal phrase also holds sway through the rhythms of bodies. It must be just as fantastic as my imaginary bag, so that when I ask you to hold it, you make a reaching gesture with your hand; ‘Imagination is our capacity to allow language to work within us.’ [ii]

Sometimes I catch myself saying ‘see you when I’m looking at you’, when I say goodbye to someone. I carry G.’s smile on my face when I say it, and I feel my eyebrows soften as his smile cushions the blow.

Sitting around the table as we finish our meal, D. says, ‘Oh well, that was horrible.’ We exchange a smile with a knowing look. The personal phrase is a poetic discourse which overflows through the borders of signification. The personal phrase stages a relation, by providing an intersubjective position from which we speak.

Now there’s a moth in my water glass. I have woken up to find a moth in my water glass. I say to myself, ‘don’t worry it won’t have drunk much’.

Linguistic experiences are ‘utterly disrespectful of the territorial boundaries of inside and out.’ [iii]

The moth throws me off. I speak in order to locate myself. Repetition is also rehearsal; ‘the subject becomes coherent and inhabits her identity only as she repeats an attachment to a scene that features her self-performance.’ [iv] The personal phrase is not just a habit but a practice we inhabit, I repeat in order to locate myself near you, I will see me when you are looking at me.

I am lodged in the gap; I act upon myself for my own sake; ‘I carry out a ritual act on my own behalf.’ [v]

Deleuze: ‘affects aren’t feelings, they’re becomings that spill over beyond whoever lives through them (thereby becoming someone else)…’ [vi]


…people pass swiftly, the woman on the table next to me leans across and touches the man’s face opposite her, she says, you’ve shaved. He says, I’ve shaved. She says, HA!

He says, HA! She says, you’ve got less hair on your face since I saw you last, and your face looks slimmer. He says, I’ve got less hair on my face since I saw you last, and my face looks slimmer. She offers him this affirmation, this transformation, and he accepts it.

A crack in his face denies his own evaporation, it unfolds the corners of his mouth and enfolds her words, a smile… and they confirm it all by laughing their heads off, they are absolutely laughing their heads off, and, for an ever so fleeting and hopeful moment, their mouths attune into

attune in two

attune to in

in complete

each other

the familiarity of

one another,

and oneself

as another,

in another’s mouth,

another moth,

to a flame.


Lydia Davies is the second recipient of the John Calcutt Prize for Critical Writing presented annually by The Glasgow School of Art in collaboration with MAP Magazine. Based in Glasgow, she works across writing, voice, sound, and moving image.


[i] The Free Library. s.v. Poetry, poetics and the senses: an interview with Prof. Susan Stewart. Retrieved 04 Jan 2022

[ii] Donnel B. Stern, Partners in Thought: Working with Unformulated Experience, Dissociation, and Enactment (New York: Routledge, 2010), p.64

[iii] Denise Riley, ‘ “A VOICE WITHOUT A MOUTH”: INNER SPEECH,’ in Qui Parle. 14 (2), (2004), p.61

[iv] Lauren Berlant, Desire/Love (New York: Punctum Books, 2012), p.80

[v] Antoine Meillet, Grammaire du Vieux-Perse, (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1931), pp. 137-138, cited in Denise Riley, ‘ “A VOICE WITHOUT A MOUTH”: INNER SPEECH,’ in Qui Parle. 14(2), (2004), p.74

[vi] Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations: 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p.137