Ever since he was 15, Blake Campbell has had a knack for poetry. Earlier this month, Campbell, who graduated summa cum laude from Emerson in 2015, won the Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award.
The honor is granted by the Academy of American Poets and includes a $1,000 cash prize. The Jamaica Plain resident said his poem, “Bioluminescence,” is about an environmental spectacle of beauty and intrigue. He said he was inspired by an article about the Waitomo Caves in New Zealand, which are renowned for their glowworms.
“The larvae hang on the ceiling and glow in the dark,” Campbell said. “When you look up it looks like you are in a planetarium or something.”
Campbell, a former literature columnist for the Beacon, said nature is a recurring inspiration for his work.
“From the time I was a child, I’ve been very attuned to the smallest things in the environment,” Campbell said. “I pick out insects and wild flowers, and I think poetry is so good at encompassing those details in such an expressive and imaginative way.”
The alum graduated with a degree in writing, literature and publishing, and said the work of Wallace Stevens kickstarted his interest in poetry.
“I was going through a point in my life where I needed an anchor, and poetry became that anchor,” Campbell said. "I loved the way a poem could contain emotion without promising a resolution and without sugarcoating pain. I liked the candidness of poetry, so I wrote because I wanted to create something that had resonance and was more than just me complaining.”
Campbell said that he is drawn to formal verse poetry because of the careful construction of each line.
"I love the constraints of having to write in strict meter, or having to write with a very strict rhyme scheme,” Campbell said. “I love the possibilities that rhyming one word with another brings into the architecture of a poem.”
Robin Riley Fast, an associate professor in the WLP department, taught Campbell at Emerson. She said she appreciated Campbell’s open-mindedness and his attentiveness to context and the nuances of language.
"Equally impressive is the fact that Blake has always been eager to learn and ready to do the necessary work,” Fast said. “He would come to my office and tell me about writers and works he’d discovered and become knowledgeable about, that I hadn’t read. So he’s added to my reading list—maybe some day I’ll catch up."
Campbell said he is working on revising a handful of poems, including one that examines a mythical phoenix from an ecological standpoint.
“It uses a lot of language that one would use for bird watching, except using a mythological bird,” Campbell said. “I like that interplay of letting the imagination roam and rounding the poem in a scientific basis."
Daniel Tobin, another WLP professor, said he was thrilled that his former student won the award.
"[It’s] a real coup given the national competition and so well-deserved,” Tobin said. “‘Bioluminescence’ is a terrific poem, and I have no doubt Blake’s future in the art is very bright.”
Along with the cash prize, Campbell said that he also realized the potential of his work.
“[The award] has been a great honor,” Campbell said. “It has encouraged me to take my work more seriously and hold myself to a higher standing of writing.”