- Davis, Cortney
- Date of entry: Aug-26-2007
The poems in physician Rafael Campo's latest collection examine familiar themes: lost homelands, the agonies of patients and providers, local and global abuses, love and betrayal, of both the heart and the body. In this book, Campo expands these themes, writing of child abuse, war, and the certainties and uncertainties of maturing love. As in his earlier collections, Campo investigates these themes in poems that are expertly crafted and often in form, as if form might contain this poet's empathic and deeply felt connection to the world. While Campo has always been a reliable witness, especially to the world of healthcare, in this volume his vision becomes even more incantatory, paradoxical and mature. The narrator's personal losses and responsibilities expand into the universal, into a world that cries out to us to care, to act, to heal, to notice, to tell, to "realize the human" (92).
Divided into four sections, the first section begins with a poem, "Dialogue with Sun and Poet," dedicated to June Jordan, a deceased activist and poet whose poems once made Campo uncomfortable but now mobilize him to "arise." Following poems tell of local abuses--an abused woman ("Addressed to Her"), the displacement of memory ("Elsa, Varadero, 1934" and "Night Has Fallen"), the crushing of the spirit ("Personal Mythology") and the reality of evil, evil that calls poets to "refuse nostalgia's reassurance that the way was clear" ("Brief Treatise on the New Millennial Poetics"). This section ends with a translation from Neruda's "Book of Questions," a poem that asks if we are in control and if we are indeed capable of change (22).
In the second section, Campo takes us, in sonnets, through "Eighteen Days in France," another country and yet one in which he is still haunted by melancholy, by both sadness and joy--when one sees clearly one cannot leave behind suffering or the potential for suffering. These sonnets speak of loss, fear, doubt and death grounded in moments of pure happiness.
The book's third section, "Toward a Theory of Memory," opens with another masterful Neruda translation, one that speaks of love's convolutions, "just as life is of two minds" (47). Following are exceptionally beautiful poems that speak of the misuse of love and power ("Granymede, to Zeus") and of the deep joy and deep complications of long-married love (see especially "The Story of Us").
Section Four, "Dawn, New Age," is a collection of laments for human selfishness, for war, for the inevitable passage of time, for the emotional depressions we might lose ourselves in, for the patients we cannot cure. In "Tuesday Morning," the poet says, "No poet cares / for such deceptions anymore, and words / don't cure" (93). Perhaps words alone cannot cure, but these poems, intelligent and very often incredibly beautiful, can sustain us and remind us that only human connection, human love might help us survive.
Duke University Press
Durham, North Carolina & London