Deep Summer

Blake Whalen-Encalarde is completing his MFA in Poetry this Fall at the University of Arizona. He's also a poet-in-residence for the Poetry Out Loud Program.

Deep Summer. An empty campus, a silent Poetry Center. I think: that cameraman, what does he take out of taping teachers as they attempt to recite poems? Of all things he thinks: poems. If this was my poem, I would say that he closes the tripod, packs the camera in his case, and leaves with a faint aftertaste of the poems hovering in his brain somewhere between lunch and editing.

Or if this is a ruse, I am nervous. If this were my poem, I would be the ham that I pretend to be, the one calm on the dais, the one perpetually smooth in the spot light. (I have held the stage plenty; I still cannot hold my hands perfectly steady.) If this were my poem, I would always embody the words, not speak them, that meter would subliminal flow from my mouth, that meaning would shine out from my eyes. (O on a good day!)

I am reciting “The Grandeur of God.” I know this poem. I have read this poem, many times, in rapture realizing that if read fast, it cadences like Rap. O charged world, let slow my words, let me recite clearly, let me forget that the cameraman is watching.

A word on practice: I do have experience on the stage, I do get nervous, I do practice. Particularly when you feel that you know something, as this familiarity can breed complacency, and complacency can cause chewing-on-your-words. I went over this poem as though I had not seen it before, line for line, to get my words out of my memory of the poem, leaving only the Hopkins’. Having this previous knowledge opened up a related area of work, the interpretation of the text, and the translation into performance, perhaps more quickly than if I had come to the poem cold. This translation is the key to not only an effective presentation of the poem but a full appreciation of the expression.

How to present a poem full of untempered joy in this 21st century, full with its irony, how to read a poem full of the divine in an age whose religion is wrapped up with its politics? How to deliver a last line whose interjection “with / Ah, bright wings!” asks the reader to enter into a state of immediacy, of exclamatory realization—without sounding like the ham that I pretend to be?

The words are coming from my mouth, I am speaking the poem. Yes “flame out” not “shine out,” hold back, slow down, breathe. Stanza break, volta, let it soak in, yes pick up steam, “dearest freshness deep down things” and—

Did I hit the right notes, was it too much? The adrenaline fades, more concentrated than I had expected.

Having your own poems in your hands, reading them to strangers, this is terrifying, this can take you out of your body, but to where? Into a presentation of yourself? This recitation of a poem, one into which you must enter, hands struggling with the fly, this is stepping out of the body.

I like it.

Please click on the video below to watch Blake's performance:

Created on: 
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Arizona Board of Regents