Sunday, June 13, 2010

Peter Campion Wins The Levis Reading Prize!

It was announced today that Peter Campion has won the VCU Department of English Levis Reading Prize for The Lions. Congratulations, Peter. Well deserved. The planet is fortunate to have you as a poet, and I am grateful to have you as a friend.

Below is a reprint of my review of The Lions, which appeared in this blog earlier this year:

"Peter Campion's poetry is emblematic of the finest work being written today. His poetic sensibility is virtuosic because it is rooted in a prosody intimate with the literary canon, simultaneously blooming into the ethereal mystery that connects all art and life. He enacts in his work the high standard against which he measures others' work, as defined in his lucid recent essay in Poetry entitled "Strangers." In it he defines metaphorical sense as "a type of inventiveness that can appear even when metaphor seems absent. It's not merely a knack for crafting comparisons without 'like' or 'as,' but the ability to establish far-reaching connections, as well as disjunctions, in consciousness."

This metaphorical sense is never better demonstrated than in his new book, The Lions. Long before Campion's lions make their inevitable appearance in the lines of "Simile," an ars poetica fully one-third the way into the book, we have felt their proleptic presence in practically every poem. From "the blacktail deer [that] descend/Trembling. All systems on alert," in the opening "In Early March" to "all that force/falling through air" of "So Here Is How We Live Now," Campion's carefully chosen images effortlessly do their work of "implying the vision of a larger shape of being," to again quote Campion's essay.

Who are these ubiquitous beings that not only "shake out a clump of vertebra and sinews in their teeth to extract the sweetest meat," but also "rip reality from all the surfaces that flow around us."? This beautifully crafted and wonderfully inventive collection grapples convincingly with the question. Campion's capacious vision of the art of language emerges as one force amidst a dense landscape of life forms struggling for individual survival, all connected beneath the surface, including a lion in Botswana eating a kill, Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War), a man and woman having sex on a towel spread on a bathroom floor at a party ("a violence/only the kind they don't deny but relish) again, teeth clenched," "then this, then this, then this: life happening, each instant, rivers history" (from the title poem, "The Lions," part v.).

In this collection Campion puts flesh to the violence that resides bone-deep in existence with a pantheon of images in ways we knew and in ways we didn't know before--all lions releasing their "coiled lunge[s]," their "claws...regulators, rulers of the flow [of] reality lay[ing] hot beneath [them]." Again and again Campion portrays with quintessential craft and ideational nexus, a reality-seizing force that resides in all things, incapable of being titrated out, not making every conscious creature as bad as it can possibly be, but affecting each part of reality nonetheless."