March 1 to April 28
KIMBERLY CAMPANELLO was born in Elkhart, Indiana. Her pamphlet Spinning Cities was published by Wurm Press (Dublin) in 2011. She was featured poet in the Summer 2010 issue of The Stinging Fly, and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in magazines in the USA, Canada, the UK, and Ireland, including Abridged, The Cream City Review, filling station, Irish Left Review, nthposition, Tears in the Fence, and The Penny Dreadful. Her first full-length collection Consent will be published by Doire Press (Galway) in May 2013.
In 2011, she was selected to read as part of the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and has been a featured reader at the Tonguebox (Dublin) and North Beach Nights (Galway). She recently performed her poems on the sheela-na-gig stone carvings in the National Concert Hall (Dublin) and the Palau Maricel (Sitges, Catalunya).
Kimberly has an MFA from the University of Alabama, an MA from the University of Cincinnati and is in the final year of her PhD at Middlesex University (London). She has taught Creative Writing at Florida Gulf Coast University, Big Smoke Writing Factory (Dublin), Middlesex University (London), and the Irish Writers’ Centre (Dublin).
Spring hangs leaves indiscriminately,
throws down dandelions onto vacant lots.
Another body is loosened from the canal bottom
by a cormorant gulping fresh spawn.
Councils purge piebald horses,
round them up for secret executions
as families tidy Tidy Town hopefuls,
blow dust from the paths
though it blows back in their faces,
blast moss from the stone wall at the crossroads
where the boy made his gallows speech
for stealing an apple
before he was hanged and wrapped
in the freshest sheet his skin had ever touched.
In these long-lit days women walk home
a different way, or a little later
or in less clothing.
Some regret it. Others know they could.
That old phrase of possession
meant as a deterrent—
Would you want someone to do that
to your own sister?
Imagine she is your daughter.
Though in that speech the boy said it—
The apple was not mine—
and was hanged anyway.
In my kitchen I get down
on hands and knees
and scrub floors the Alabama way
and think of kettlefuls
of boiling water poured down
women’s throats by priests
or members of the laity
and how some folks pressure-hosed
some others or hanged them
from live oak trees.
The American People
The American people are
What the American people want is
Americans, yes, Americans say
The American people tell me time and
Your everyday American might wonder
Americans on Main Street have had it up to
What the American people are sick of
Options for everyday Americans are decreasingly
Americans bring up that very thing
Americans over here chime in
The American people understand
Most Americans know better
Your average American can’t figure out
The American people find it increasingly
Everyday Americans want
Americans find this sort of thing
The American people are sick and
Those American people on Main Street
The American people believe more than anything that
Most Americans know nothing about
I’ve heard everyday Americans argue
Americans say give us
The American people find it hard
The American people are better off than
Americans are weighing the
The American people are telling me
Every day Americans wake up
(Both of these poems are protected under international copyright law and cannot be published in any format without the permission of the author.
Who are some of the contemporary writers you admire? If you could hear reading by three famous dead poets, who would you prefer?
I’m sure writers are always telling you how difficult it is to answer this question! A few contemporary poets I admire are Patrick Lane, Russell Edson, Frances Presley, Patrick Chapman...this list will become very long very soon, so I will stop here…
I would like to see H.D., Lorca, and Etheridge Knight come back from the dead and read together at the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield.
When did you start writing?
When did you start writing?
I started writing as a child and began to take writing seriously in my 20’s. I was always reading though. My parents had to take books away from me so I would talk to them at restaurants or on trips.
Declan Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father. Do you think he is right and how does this, if it does, reveal itself in your work? You have an outsider's perspective and you have lived in several places in the USA, if you were obligated to generalize, is this issue more important in Irish literature and life than American?
I think this is a theme in some Irish literature. There are certain strands of Irish literature that have dominated the work of critics like Kiberd, so that is not to say that uncanonized Irish literature doesn’t have other themes. I also think that the absent father is just one angle of family relations explored by Irish writers. In a certain sense, I think Joyce was ‘taking the mickey’ out of the trope of the absent father all while exploring it in extreme depth. It’s as though he was saying, ‘Here it is now get over it lads…’ In my view there are many subtle themes in the work of Ireland’s most sophisticated writers, such as in a brilliant short story I read recently by Evelyn Conlon called ‘A Night Out’ about differing attitudes toward male versus female sexuality/‘promiscuity’.
I think that in general critics and readers allow American literature to be more complex because it is seen as such a vast country, so themes don’t get stuck onto us until we are good and dead and even then we don’t get pigeonholed the way Irish writers unfortunately often do.
A while ago I read and posted on a long biography of Hart
Crane, author of the Bridge-few read it but many known of his life style as one of the first Gay poets living out a life of rough trade and wealthy older benefactors-he lived a very chaotic life and died young from suicide by jumping off a cruise ship. His father invented Life Saver Candy and wanted Hart to go in the Candy business with him-so if he Hart had done this and died at 75 rich living in Ohio fat bald and married would he still be even much thought about let alone read? One of the most references poets is Arthur Rimbaud who likewise had a short and chaotic life. Does a poet need or naturally tend to a chaotic life? Why so much seeming admiration for writers like Jack Kerouac and others who died way to young from alcohol abuse? If Ezra Pound had not gone mad, would he still be a role model for the contemporary poet? (I know this is long, please just respond to it as you will.)
(First, I don’t know any poets who view Pound as a role model due his Facism or madness. Instead, they appreciate his promotion of ground-breaking poetry and his own poetic innovation.) I think writers who live on the edges of normative society are venerated because every person has a tendency to question the status quo and/or have difficulties living under it. We like to be reminded that other people do, too.
Also, to some extent we all turn to the biographies of writers the way some people read about the Beckhams in Ok! magazine. We like the drama.
I don’t think the chaos is necessary for creativity, but sometimes if you are pushing boundaries in your creative work, you also end up pushing boundaries in your own life and vice versa. One is not necessarily a recipe for the other, however, and writers don’t always stick with it. Rimbaud ended up gun-running in Africa and made a deathbed conversion to Christ. Wallace Steven sold insurance.
7. Tell us a bit about your non-academic non-literary work experience please.
I grew up working in my family’s pizza restaurant in Indiana and have also done a lot of administrative work throughout my life, including for temp agencies. Once I had to organize the office of one of the company’s Vice Presidents. I was told not to throw anything away so I just wheeled a cart into the office, removed everything in several trips, and sorted it all into piles in the boardroom. One of the largest piles was of fast food wrappers and coupons.
10. This may seem like a silly question but I pose it anyway-do you believe in Fairies?—This quote from Declan Kiberd sort of explains why I am asking this:
" One 1916 veteran recalled, in old age, his youthful conviction that the rebellion would “put an end to the rule of the fairies in Ireland”. In this it was notably unsuccessful: during the 1920s, a young student named Samuel Beckett reported seeing a fairy-man in the New Square of Trinity College Dublin; and two decades later a Galway woman, when asked by an American anthropologist whether she really believed in the “little people”, replied with terse sophistication: “I do not, sir – but they’re there."
I do believe, but I don’t actively proselytize to that effect.
2. You have written poems on and indicated to me your PhD dissertation is on the Sheela na gig stone carvings of Ireland-I Goggled them and I admit I was shocked by the apparent sexual nature of these statues. In fact I do not feel comfortable putting an image on my blog for concern of younger or very conservative readers being offended. Tell us a bit about these statues, their background, their role in Irish culture, do they harken back to pre-Christian times? Is the posture of the woman indicating she is ready for sexual activity, that she is offering herself to anyone or that she is able to give birth? What drew you to these unique carvings? They are sexual in content but not erotic as Indian or Javanese temple carvings are.
Funnily enough, if kids or conservative readers visit ancient churches in Ireland, they just might come face to face with a sheela-na-gig because that’s where they are most often found! When you visit Ireland, drop by the Rock of Cashel and ask someone to point out the sheela-na-gig.
Sheela-na-gigs are stone carvings of naked female figures that prominently depict the vulva. There are about 100 found in Ireland and around 35 found in England, Scotland, and Wales. I’ve visited about 60 of them and wrote a full-length collection of poems on them for my PhD because I was so intrigued by them. I did a lot of research, reading every book and article that’s been written.
Most scholars suggest that they were carved between 1000-1500 A.D. However, dating is difficult to pinpoint because most of them are crafted using materials different from those forming the structures on which they are found and several have been found buried in fields or riverbeds. So no one knows when they are from exactly!
It has been suggested (without consistent or conclusive supporting evidence) that sheela-na-gigs are warnings against lust and sin, fertility charms that aid in conception and childbirth, icons of female power, emblems of natureʼs supremacy to give and take life, protective talismans against the evil eye, and symbols of sovereignty over land and nation. Their liminal location above doorways or windows is thought to indicate that they were intended to ward off evil or to facilitate passage from one state to another. Few written records mention them.
Unfortunately for the archaeologists and people who like solid answers, no one knows for certain when they were made, by whom, and for what purpose. This is good news for a poet!
17. Do you think poets have a social role to play in contemporary Ireland or are they pure artists writing for themselves and a few peers?
I think being an artist actually is a social role in and of itself, and this is an ancient fact in a lot of cultures, but certainly in Ireland in terms of the bardic tradition. The idea that ‘just being an artist’ is somehow not enough ignores what art is for.
However, being an artist isn’t just about floating around waiting for the Muse (though some floating is good). Being an artist means working at it, which means working with a sense of purpose and continually pursuing a concentrated and sincere level of experimentation. A committed artist, a ‘lifer’, who is an essential part of our social fabric, keeps doing it regardless of accolades or audiences. Just because at the moment people seem to prefer watching Ireland’s Next Top Model to reading the work of Paula Meehan or Leland Bardwell doesn’t mean Paula’s or Leland’s writing isn’t vital to contemporary Ireland.
19. Do you think Irish Travellers should be granted the status of a distinct ethnic group and be given special rights to make up for past mistreatment? Are the Travellers to the Irish what the Irish were once to the English? I became interested in this question partially through reading the short stories of Desmond Hogan.
First, I think the term ‘special rights’ needs to be clarified. In a society in which the dominant form of living—consumer capitalism—has drastically transformed the landscape and lives of every person, the right of people to live in contradistinction to this fact (whether they are Travellers or not) unfortunately needs to be continually stated. On the one hand there is this powerful system—capitalism—that as a system rather than a person or a government with a constitution has absolutely no regard for the rights or dignity of anyone, and in fact uses things like laws and ordinances to make itself even stronger. On the other hand, we have a situation where in order to be heard, to be allowed to exist safely and decently, some people must identify themselves to the state as a group, as an ‘other’.
We might assume every person has ‘inalienable rights’ to free movement, decent food, clothing, education, participation in social institutions, etc., but some people actually have to ask for them, or remind the state that it is supposed to recognize these rights, or remind the state to remind corporations to do so. And so people have to identify themselves according to the very grounds by which they are denied rights in order get them.
This is why LGBT people have had to become a movement, when in fact there is massive variation among everyone’s gender and sexual behaviors and self-presentations. This is why people with disabilities have to organize themselves around that fact because society (especially a society that instrumentalizes people’s bodies for the production of profit—you must be a fit worker to be worth anything!) is so inherently structured around able-bodiedness, even though we all at some point will most likely be disabled—whether through age, illness, or accident.
So for Irish Travellers, a community with a strong tradition and distinct culture, articulating themselves to the state as an ethnic group is one way to secure their cultural way of life (which has already been corroded by immense shifts in economic and social organization on the island of Ireland). What I wish we had instead, but which I don't think is possible without a total re-envisioning of social life, is a world that organized itself by starting with the standpoint of a person with disabilities (Things would be built differently, wouldn't they?) or from the standpoint of a Traveller (Perhaps we need to think very differently in general about rights of movement and the privatization of resources and land? Whatever happened to the Commons?)...
20. What besides friends or family do you miss about living in America? What are you frankly glad to be away from? When you are outside of Ireland, besides friends and family, what do you miss the most? What are you glad to be away from?
From the US, I miss food, particularly from my family’s restaurant, my dad’s kitchen (my dad can cook anything!), and Mexican food, which is almost impossible to find here (authentic versions at least). When I go home to the US, I eat from these three sources constantly.
I’m glad to be away from guns. It’s nice to accidentally bump into someone on the street or mistakenly cut someone off while driving without worrying that they could pull out a gun and shoot you.
When I’m away from Ireland, I miss Barry’s tea, Guinness in large bottles and the craic in pubs. Good Irish pubs—the ones without televisions or radio on—just have a great vibe. You can go in and read a book and bump into someone you know or don't know and have a great chat. Everyone around you is doing this! (And you can be a woman in these good pubs and actually talk to men without worrying that they are only talking to you to come on to you.)
This is why people visit Ireland. Even though some people visit Ireland to puke in in Temple Bar, the most unique part of Irish life, the real Irish drinking life involves reading your book or paper in a quiet corner or chatting away with friends or strangers. You don’t even have to have a drink alcohol to do this. Grogan’s serves tea from ancient metal pots layered with the flavor of frequent use.
22. My brother and I will be making our first trip to Ireland in May so I would like to ask you a few tourist questions
a. best fish and chips in Dublin Beshoff Brothers, Mespil Road or the Kingfisher, Parnell Square
b. Best place or way in Dublin to feel you are connected to the great writers of the past Grogan’s Pub, South William Street; Patrick Kavanagh’s seat on the Canal; The Sweny Shop (where soap is bought in Ulysses)
c. best splurge restaurant. I don’t really get to splurge!
d. best book store Books Upstairs and Chapters
e. best poetry reading Check out the listings on Poetry Ireland’s website. They list events for all of Ireland, so you can catch readings as you travel around.
I give my great thanks to Kimberly Campanello for taking the time to provide us with such interesting answers. I hope to see some of the statues she told us about on my trip to Ireland.