Rafael Campo At The Folger

9780822339601Rafael Campo read a wonderful lecture on Emily Dickinson and her relationship to science and medicine, interspersed with readings from Dickinson and his own poetry. Of course, I would have preferred less reading from a prepared lecture and more speaking. Among other things, the inevitably monotony of the reading voice sometimes made it hard to distinguish when he had left the realm of ‘discourse about Dickinson’ and started reading a poem by himself or Dickinson.

I bought a collection by Campo called The Enemy that was far better to read than I would have guessed by his earnest, but uncharismatic style behind the podium.

I wasn’t sure about Campo as the designated reader on a day honoring Emily Dickinson. I didn’t know much about him, but what I did know seemed far from Dickinson’s aesthetic. But he explained that he studied in Amherst and the Dickinson house was a source of poetry inspiration and solace to him, so all is forgiven! The collection even has a poem about reading Dickinson on the quad in college and the solace that she (along with Coleridge) provided.

As for Campo’s poetry, it is mixed.

There is a section about a trip to Paris which is beautiful and often haunting, with subtle politics, usually touching on issues around AIDS and its effect on America’s gay community. But there are also less subtle political poems in other section which comes across as heavy handed and too pat in their sentiments.

In general, he is very good when his poems are driven by place – or rather by memory of place. Provincetown, for example, appears often and is used to think about current loves, past loves, and how relationships have changed – for good and for ill – over time.

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