Poetry has been a balm for many over the past difficult year, for others it has been an outlet to express the whirlwind of emotions. Chris Campbell’s White Eye of the Needle, currently available from The Choir Press, is the first published collection I’ve read that mentions the current epidemic, though its presence has been felt through poems in journals and online since this all began.
Covid’s stamp on the current poetry scene can’t be ignored as I’m sure it will continue to weigh down many poetic collections in the near future, but former journalist Campbell doesn’t dwell on the epidemic. The poetry collection themes range from travel to relationships. They are well-matched by Sandra Evans' sweet, detailed line drawings, gems in themselves.
Campbell’s writing is delightful, focusing on those simple moments that in retrospect carry so much importance now, especially as many ordinary habits of our life, visiting a café, going to an open air market have been denied us in the last year. His poems remind us to savour the things we once enjoyed freely.
Campbell’s mentions of Corona life start subtle and are rarely the main focus of the poems, but they increase and unfortunately ring too familiar. Some are humorous like ‘Mr Cat’ which plays with the joys and struggle of sharing living spaces and Zoom calls with cats. Others shine a light on the fears of our new reality during the epidemic.
Anxious. Flashing an impatient look, his eyes
Brighten in the dark. He lets us pass in silence.
I gesture a thank you–his mouth looks like it opens,
But it hides behind a mask.
This scene suggests for me The Scream by Edvard Munch, an unspoken, bright filter of confusion and fear thrown over an everyday encounter.
Thankfully not all the poems have this cloud hanging over them. There are joyful moments of just living with people around us, enjoying the closeness of busy city life, of holidays, of distant family memories. They capture those minute details of travel, moving freely about our towns and cities, experiences we all hope to return to soon. The poems and illustrations work together to lift the reader with Campbell’s lightness in phrase and imagery echoed in Evan's drawings.
The last poems end on wistful notes, an empty restaurant around a newly married couple, a wish for time to slow down, memories of loved ones. In these poems, Campbell echoes the sentiments that many of us feel of being grateful for what we have, what we have experienced and what we can look forward to. But we can't help but look back at what we've lost and yearn for a second chance at those moments.
My review is part of a blog tour for Chris' collection. Check out other blogger's views via their Twitter handles below or follow @kenyon_isabelle for more book blog tours.