Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Canadian Oresteia

Robert Moore praises Chad Campbell's debut Laws & Locks:
As family drama—the family as the source of a curse passed from generation to generation—Laws & Locks is a Canadian Oresteia, only without the laughs of the original. There is in the entire volume, so far as I can tell, no lapse into the humourous or even the vaguely ironic (Nabokov’s line from Speak, Memory, “In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much,” could easily have made it to the shortlist for this volume’s epigraph). It is a very dark book. Over the course of its progress through two centuries of Campbells, very little emotional or intellectual light mitigates the gloom of the book’s opening reminder that death is only a breath away or that Canada, for all its apparent promise to an immigrant, “was a thought/ that couldn’t stopper the dark/ rank water of a dark/ rank hold.”

Along with the consistency of shadow, neither the basic subject matter nor the point of view, tone, or essential scheme of techniques of this collection much varies. And this, I think, is one of its strengths, especially for a first book. Campbell isn’t about to be distracted from his solemn agenda by the merely arcane. (This is the advice he tacitly offers in “Lighthouse Beats” to poets whose tastes might run to the postmodern: “Too easy to write of oddities, catalogue curious things—/ mistake a peculiarity of vision for feeling.”) As a result of this discipline, Laws & Locks isn’t what so many debut collections tend to be: a potpourri of voices—of attitudes either struck or borrowed—from a poet who has yet to find his or her own. These poems, rather, read as if they sprang fully formed from the settled and accomplished brow of a mature, mid-career poet.

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