Christian Campbell: The art of storytelling in poetry

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This article by Jessie Moniz Hardy appeared in Bermuda’s Royal Gazette. Follow the link below for the original report.

Some parents chastise their children for making up stories — Christian Campbell’s encouraged him.

It inspired a lifelong passion for storytelling that has served the 34-year-old well.

His poetry collection, Running the Dusk, was praised at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in Suffolk, England. It was also shortlisted as a Best First Book for the 2010 Forward Poetry Prize in the UK.

The University of Toronto professor was recently here as writer-in-residence for the Ministry of Community & Cultural Affairs.

“My father played this interesting game with my brother and I when we were five or so,” said Dr Campbell of his early introduction to storytelling.

“He would start telling a story, and I would have to continue it and then it was my brother’s turn.”

Dr Campbell wrote stories and poems throughout his childhood in the Bahamas but didn’t really get interested in poetry until his late teens.

“I read Dr Derek Walcott’s epic poem, Omeros, and then I really saw what could be done with the craft,” he said.

He took an academic path so that he could get more into literary criticism.

He was very excited when he was named a Rhodes Scholar.

“I applied, in part, to confront some of my own beliefs about colonialism,” he said.

“I also love British poetry and literature. By going to Oxford, I knew I was following in the path of a great number of writers I admired such as Gerard Manley Hopkins.”

Oxford University turned out to be a complicated and challenging journey.

“There was a lot of elitism,” he said, “but I also met some incredible people there.”

His work was published by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds, a company that focuses on Caribbean literature.

It wasn’t an easy road but he doesn’t feel that being a writer from a small Island is as much a challenge as it used to be.

“That is part of being a writer, you get rejected,” he said.

“Some rejections are good and some are not good. One of the things I have come to understand is that rejections happen for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it is the quality of work and sometimes it is not that.

“You can’t underestimate the power of the internet to breakdown certain barriers,” he said. “Social networks are important. There are literary festivals in the Caribbean, and workshops and retreats. There are different ways to get published.”

Dr Campbell said he “didn’t hesitate” when Folklife Officer Kim Dismont Robinson invited him to Bermuda as writer-in-residence. When he arrived in June, he quickly felt at home.

“I didn’t know much about the Island [but] I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I was curious,” said the poet, whose family is split between the Bahamas and Trinidad.

“[Bermuda] is a very Caribbean space even though many Bermudians don’t see it as such.

“It has a Caribbean feel in terms of its history, its relationship to the sea and to colonialism and power and in so many ways.”

He taught ekphrastic poetry during his time here. Generally, he believes the process should be more complex than an outpouring of raw emotion.

“[It’s] poetry based on a work of art. We went to the National Museum of Bermuda and looked at works of art there by artists such as Graham Foster. Then the students were challenged to write works inspired by what they saw.

“Poetry is more akin to sculpture. In many ways, a poem is an organism with a nervous system, blood and a pulse. We forget that the brain is in the same body as the heart. We can’t relegate poetry as the sole provenance of feeling. Poetry is thinking.”

For the original report go to http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20150706/ISLAND04/150709839

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