Speechless the Magazine

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A magazine of poetry and related arts straight from L.A.

 

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An Actor on Poetry

Hector Elizondo

I was playing beatnik and doing an excellent job of it in a New York City coffee house sometime in the late 60s, I believe, when someone who looked like a young Trotsky was reading poems by a variety of poets. Philip Levine was one of them. I remember thinking that the name Philip Levine wasn’t very poetic. In those days I thought that real poets first of all were dead and had names like Tennyson or Coleridge or Yeats, but Philip Levine sounded like one of the Jewish kids from my grammar school. The poem was about something or someplace Spanish without mentioning Spain, which I thought was most resourceful. About a century later Carolee Campbell of Ninja Press printed a broadside of Philip’s poem, “The Return: Orihuela, 1965.” It is a haunting and evocative work, a beautiful poem, beautifully wrought. Again, Spain was never mentioned. But that wasn’t the poem I first heard.

I find Philip Levine’s work to have an emotional completeness, an insistent beauty and utter honesty. I judge poets by whether or not I wish to start or end the day with them. He always helps me face the day. Stanley Kunitz’s work does that also by helping me understand the inescapable fact of tragedy and the price one pays if one denies the tragic element.

Both Kunitz and Levine have a deep, unsentimental kinship with nature. Robinson Jeffers is real meat where nature is concerned. “The maelstrom has us all.” In a time when there is less and less connection with that messy, squiggly ol’ nature with all its unpredictable flailings about and then sometimes crashing down on us, Jeffers reminds me that we forget her at our peril and that our humanity lies in the recognition of our smallness and relative inconsequence. That fills me somehow. The remembrance that we are no more than cosmic dust, puts it back in perspective. It’s all temporal because while we’re bemoaning, wailing and carrying on—being “true believers” at all costs—the canyon wren still sings its cascading song and doesn’t give a shit about all our pooblah.

I love to read W.S. Merwin any time, anywhere, of course. He’s like Ted Williams or Sugar Ray Robinson, my favorite fighter who was really a song-and-dance man at heart. Well, I’m sorry but he was poetry; a great boxer who could also knock you out while moving backwards. But I digress.

The poetry of Michael Hannon up in Los Osos, California, is another “morning” poet. His lean work is rife with implication and the sly smile of a Zen fisherman who really doesn’t care if he lands one. It’s meaningful, spare paradox, true looking and paying attention, then having a good, rich, Tantric laugh.

I was recently airlifted into another poetic experience while reading The Art of the Lathe by B.H. Fairchild, another California poet. His poem “Beauty” took my breath away and his “Body & Soul” left me with that sheepish, quizzical feeling that here was yet another poet who was paying deep, knowing, close, and penetrating attention. 

I find a commonality and a union with poetry and acting because, as an actor, I become the intermediary between author and audience and when the play sings, it becomes transcendent; almost metaphysical. It moves and ultimately changes me. That’s sort of like, well—poetry.

(I would recommend How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch as a fine introduction to poetry.)

 


About Hector Elizondo

Repertory Theatre
Theatre Company of Boston & Arena Stage (1963-1968).

Theatre Since 1960
Off Broadway: "Drums In the Night", Brecht at Circle In the Square (1968). Won an Obie in 1970 for "Steambath" by Bruce Jay Friedman.
On Broadway: "The Great White Hope" (1967); "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1974); "Sly Fox" (1977); "The Dance of Death" (1975); "The Price", Arthur Miller (1992).
Most recently, "Wrong Turn At Lungfish" (2004) at the Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake, CA.
Recorded "Glengarry Glen Ross" (role of Levine) for the BBC (2005).

Television
Won an Emmy for "Chicago Hope" (1997).

And a bunch of films, including some of my favorites
The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3
(1975); Report To the Commissioner (1976); Young Doctors In Love (1981); The Flamingo Kid (1983); Nothing In Common (1986); Pretty Woman (1990); Tortilla Soup (2000); The Princess Diaries, One and Two (2001 & 2004). Just completed filming Gabriel Garcia Marques' Love In the Time of Cholera in Cartagena, Colombia.

Organizations
The Creative Coalition (member); Enrichment Works (board member); SAG Foundation (board member); The Nature Conservancy (lifetime member); ACLU (member); Amnesty International (member) and others.

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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach