Stringybark Publishing, Australia, 2021
Poems is an intimate and affecting collection of work by a poet with an assured mastery of the English word and phrase. Many of the poems speak of his love for his mother and for the Suffolk countryside of his boyhood, often felt to be one and the same.
There are constant echoes of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas in Colin Campbell’s beautiful language, along with the lilt and fall of the Suffolk dialect he sometimes employs in his story telling. For this is what these poems are, the stories of his life and loves, from the sadness and shame of his unmarried mother to the cruelty of the cane-wielding school master.
Amidst the palpable sorrow of his words, however, the reader falls blissfully into the rhythm and alliteration of his wordsmithing:
‘and now, in rows of roses they lean, while leaves
and flowers droop in this day’s dwindling heat.’
(prologue/the thatcher, page 3)
The book is divided into sections, indicating the passage of time and the stages of his life. The lines are written in an almost stream of consciousness style that follows the sense of speech rather than any traditional rules of verse writing.
These are accessible tales many of which will find echoes in the lives of the poet’s post-war generation and which also offer insights into the society of his youth, its pleasures and its stains. The poet’s keen observation of both nature and people makes for heart-searing work:
‘and the things in which you found such simple pleasure
(primroses violets the first sweet snowdrops)
will happen these miracles in due season
when the sun and earth remember as they always do
what is required and do it
but now of course… without you’
(mum, page 48)
I have a deeply emotional response to Colin Campbell’s work. This book is certainly one of my top 10 for 2021, if God forbid I should have to make such a difficult list. As much as I grieve with him for the losses of the past, I am buoyed by his hope 2 (page 159):
‘hope is the bird
that sings into the teeth of the storm
it is the first yell of a baby’
With the sell-out of his first print run, Colin’s book is a precious and rare commodity. I can but hope his publisher encourages a second print run and I would also love to see this work produced as an audio book so that others can enjoy Colin’s voice in every sense of the word.
Thank you, Colin Campbell for my review copy and for a long and rich conversation about your life and this work.