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Synopsis: A major new work from one of America’s most acclaimed younger poets, Rafael Campo’s Diva appears at the intersection of confession and confinement, hyperbole and humility. In his masterful third collection, Campo explores further the epic themes of his Cuban heritage and America’s newness, his work as a doctor caring for AIDS patients and his identity as a gay man.
At once relishing and resisting the poetic traditions of formal English verse, Diva showcases Campo moving deftly between received forms and free verse. In each poem the sound of words is transformed into the highest of arts, the act of performance into the exercise of power, and the most profound abjection into the sweet promise of divinity. Culminating with his new and daring translations of Federico García Lorca’s sonetos—the great Spanish poet’s most homoerotically explicit and formally accomplished poems—Campo’s music instills in the reader an exalted understanding of beauty, suffering, and, ultimately, the human capacity for empathy.
From reviews of Campo’s previous poetry:
“Extraordinary meditations on illness and the healing power of words.”—Lambda Literary Foundation
“Read Campo to enter the bloodstream of a man who, with a haunting clarity of vision, shares his memories, his anguish, his healing love.”—Cortney Davis, Literature and Medicine
“Riveting, provocative, and refreshing—[this volume] is a gift to the clinician who is trying to re-invoke in his or her students the humility, compassion, and deep caring that brought us all into medicine in the first place.”—Dr. Sandra L. Bertman, Annals of Internal Medicine
“[Campo] listens to the sounds the body makes, but what he hears is poetry.”—Zoë Ingalls, Chronicle of Higher Education
“Powerful and accessible.”—Jonathan Jackson, Washington Blade
“Bemused, indelible, and heartbreaking.”—Marilyn Hacker, Out
“[Campo’s] private corral of disparate words twist, torque, collide with gorgeous creative imperative.”—Nomi Eve, Independent Weekly
Review: Rafael Campo seems to have recognized early on that, like William Carlos Williams, his work as a physician gives him entry into what Williams called "the secret gardens of the self." No wonder Campo's best poetry has always drawn on his knowledge of the human body and his informed compassion for the sick. But if the ghost of Williams hovers over the pages of Diva, so does that of Walt Whitman, with his life-affirming philosophy of connection and brotherhood, and his joyous acceptance of the flesh.
Campo's third collection is arranged in five sections, the first drawing an imaginative map of Cuba and the poet's conflicted feelings toward his paternal homeland. In "The Dream of Loving Cuba," he writes:
It's half-erectIndeed, Campo is often strongest when describing experiences beyond his own, whether the subject is pre-revolutionary Cuba, motherhood, or slow death from AIDS. His is the voice from the bedside, the voice of the interested onlooker. This capability serves him well in "Baby Pictures," a long prose poem on maternity, in which childbirth becomes a metaphor for every sort of origin. Sometimes, however, he appears to view womanhood in the Latin manner, as an exotic and unfortunate condition (see his poem on the great, lost Audre Lorde.) Even in "The Pelvic Exam," in which the narrator-cum-doctor explores a teenage girl's pelvic cavity for signs of cancer, his empathy seems to be at war with his horror of being penetrated, of passivity: "At first the tears that drop are half-controlled. / Abnormal bleeding after periods / Has made her pain's unwilling centerfold."
beneath America on all my maps--
just look at how it wants me, shamelessly,
a geographic urge that can't be helped,
a crime of nature, both a heretic and ever faithful to its needs.
The book ends with Campo's fluid, admirable translations of Lorca's queer-themed Sonnets of Dark Love. The author also adds a note about Lorca's influence on his own work, explaining that he spent years "trying to make my English sound like Spanish, that elusive inner language of my lost childhood in Latin America." Whether he's succeeded in this bit of linguistic cross-pollination is hard to gauge. But in his frequent use of rhyme and his gift for observing his immediate environment, Campo has undoubtedly produced a satisfying, accessible body of work, which has won him a pair of Lambda Literary Awards and a nomination for the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award. The poems in Diva, especially the title poem à clef on adolescent clarity and angst, should only extend his considerable audience. --Regina Marler
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication Date: 1999
Book Condition: Used: Good
Book Description Duke University Press, 1999. Book Condition: Good. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP15636877
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Book Description Duke University Press, 1999. Book Condition: Good. Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP69461653
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