For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.
W. Todd Kaneko asks, "Your performances are so dynamic and passionate. What is it about spoken word and performance that we should be thinking about as poets? Moreover, how do you navigate performativity with the written word as you are writing poems for the page?"
marlon esguerra answers, You can’t speed read a poem. You just can’t. I’ve tried. You try it some time. In fact, do it right now. Try it with a poem you’ve never read before; do it with one of your favorite poems; hell, do it with one of your own poems. Just suppress any subvocalization (internal speech) and go for it—chalk up as many words as you can.
There ya go: Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. What did I just read?
Poems are a form of speech, in every sense of the word speech. I don’t write poems for the page, or performance poems, or slam poems, or spoken word pieces. I write and I write and I write some more. I read my poems aloud when they’re young and timid and have no line breaks but the cadence of my breathing. I’ll stand and walk around, reading aloud—now there’s the cadence of my slow pacing. My partner writes and we read our poems aloud to each other. We don’t read news articles to each other—that’s a terrible use of one’s voice; that’s what speed reading is for.
As someone who has carved such a wonderful home and community in the spoken world, I navigate my known world in finding congruity between the subvocalized and vocalized; “between what I see and what I say,” as Octavio Paz said. My audience these days are less in number—sometimes my 10th period Chemistry class in the last five minutes before the bell, other times just a cat trying to commandeer my laptop as his bed. But page or stage, the community exists—you are writing and speaking it into existence. You find your loves this way. You find your voice this way. There’s no half-steppin’ it. So speak!
a disambiguation of limbo
-after speed reading Mark Strand’s Keeping Things Whole
My teachers, all
warned me away from
steered me safely
dangerous territory, must
not confine my geography.
My father always gambled.
A priest never touched me.
Every church is a black box.
I must have deserved it, there
must be a universe where none
of this happened again and again
I have a degree in words.
I have an advanced degree in teaching words.
I have schooled and schooled and nonetheless
and none the worse and none the better
all these universes exist. They, or none, must.
marlon unas esguerra lives & works in queens. When he isn’t running marathons or ultras, he stops long enough to write and teach high school english, U.S. history, physics, chemistry, earth science and robotics. He’s working on a collection of essays, short stories, and poems based on his first 15 years of teaching, entitled, “Freshman 15.”