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Featured Poet: Christian Campbell

Eyewear is very glad to welcome poet Christian Campbell (pictured) this rather crisp London Friday.  Campbell is a writer of Bahamian and Trinidadian heritage.  A professor at the University of Toronto, he studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and received a PhD at Duke.

He is the author of Running the Dusk, which was a finalist for the Cave Canem Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the Best First Book in the UK and is the winner of the 2010 Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.  Running the Dusk is his first book.

It is to be hoped that we can see a lot more of this fine poet over in the UK in the near future, hopefully reading for Oxfam, among other places.  He exemplifies the best in truly international writing.

Oregon Elegy             

for I. H.

I once told a friend, who was going
to Oregon for Christmas with his girlfriend,

he’d be the only black person there
and, in fact, if you shuffle Oregon,

like a seasoned minstrel, it spells Negro
but with an extra O as if to make

a groan, nearly a shout, perhaps
a moment of fright: O Negro in Oregon!

He died laughing and told me
that’s word-lynching, and I wondered

if we could also lynch words,
string them up, sever them,

tattoo them with bullets and knives;
if we could hold a barbecue

for language swaying with the branches,
soon picked to silence by crows—

words soaked in coal oil
then set ablaze, a carnival of words

sacrificed over rivers, from bridges,
from trees, too-ripe words dangling

from branches just beyond our reach.
Like Alonzo Tucker in 1906,

shot twice, then hanged
from the Fourth Street Bridge

by two hundred men arched into one
white arm because (we wonder,

we know) a white woman said
he raped her.  I want to tell my boy

blacks weren’t wanted in Oregon
at first, but what do I know, I’ve never

set foot on Nez Perce land where
exactly one hundred years after

Tucker, he could go west to one edge
of America because he loves

his woman enough to be
the very last Negro on Earth.

poem by Christian Campbell; reprinted with permission of the author
photo credit: Toni McRae

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