Peter Campion is a poet who's written some things that have given me the proverbial pause to refresh myself--that is , strum my chin, emit an elongated hmmmmmmmmmmm, transport myself to some melancholia place of the mind to align his imagery with the patchy glimpses of a huddled past that constitutes my memory of things. Sometimes it works rather well, his sudden associative leaps from one situation to another one wholly other than what he started with. It doesn't work here, not at all, in this gasping, breathlessly articulate poem. A poet, like anyone else, needs to find a coping mechanism in order to sort through the drama of a near tragedy--the goal being that the recent trauma be accepted as something that has happened, past tense, and that one can go forward with their designs and desires knowing more , philosophically, morally, psychologically, about why the daily grind is less the grind and more a privilege.
Campion has perhaps performed that to his satisfaction with this poem and , I imagine, a sequence of poems contemplating the harsh facts of the fragility of his life and that of his family, and to that end I hope he has recovered a sense of balance in his negotiations of the everyday and the journey into future uncertainty. I wish, though , he had written a better poem--I find "El Dorado" to be dreadful and pretentious. It's one thing to begin this piece with a description of the aftermath of an accident, a description that is too finessed, the images primed for a movie opening, an artfully arranged post-accident beautifully filmed on an empty Iowa highway. It's difficult to leave the creative writing lessons where they belong, in the shoe box in the garage along with all those other blue booked samples from a younger enthusiasm for over participative verbs and adjectives. Campion does not put is the shock, place us in the psychology of a world shattered suddenly and only coming together in shards, hard bits and pieces. The hardest thing , at times, is for the poet to leave the sound of his voice back at the kitchen coffee, next to the Ipad and the coffee maker. This is not about the situation , the accident, it is about, instead, Campion's comma-driven articulation of the list he made of things he noticed while having a near fatal experience. This suggests that this a poet who imagines cultivating miserable experiences so he would have something to write about. Please note that that I don't think Peter Campion looks for trouble in order to secure subject matter; rather, it's that his particular style of articulation just bleeds this poem of any real power.
As does his penchant for random and willful dashes of book learning. The middle sequence of" El Dorado", is an unconvincing parallel development, but I would ask this quite beyond this senseless and zany insertion of native custom in a poem otherwise situated at the side of Midwestern highway is why the poet felt compelled to dust off his lecture notes and to squint at his marginalia? It is a rather nice trick Eliot and Pound could pull off , make this leaps and strange alignments of reference points and images and so achieve an expanded mood ; for all the talking these poets did in the course of their formal publication, they were writing from within their dread, their terror, and through the instincts of good editing and good ears (over all) could make much of they juxtaposed against resonate vividly, richly. Campion's effort is feeble, unexpected, gratuitous. It is one of those things writers do that do not work but which leave readers plenty of waddle room to debate the effect of the poet's cultural imperialism. What does that , though, is reveal more about the readers than it explains what the poet was thinking or what he actually accomplished.