By Brian Campbell
Ekstasis Editions, 2015, 93 pages
There is a lively presence in Shimmer Report, the third collection of poetry by Brian Campbell, which he dedicates to his wife, Jocelyne Dubois. It is her lively presence, an artist whose painting graces the cover of the book with an abstract beauty and intense turquoise colour. This original painting entitled “A World of Glass” represents the transparency of what this couple shares, a seasoned love, no saccharine here, but the shimmer of a deep bond, erotic, creative, ultimately healing.
In the humorous poem “For All That,” Jocelyne (names are used, adding to the autobiographical quality) nicknames Brian “doctor” as the poet has had the skill to remove her painful ingrown toenail. The antiromantic interplay of voices in the collection is reminiscent of theatre of the absurd or the whimsical dialogue between two people discovering each other in a Woody Allen film.
Human loneliness is here relieved by talk, by jokes, by the deepest revelation. “Deadpan” is all dialogue, an intimate discussion that most couples perhaps avoid: what are their wishes and fantasies for burial. It has a twist of humour that makes it bearable.
Campbell also addresses illness and death in a gentle elegy for his late father-in-law, “Joe Dubois 1929-1996,” who loved “his manic daughter,” a woman who had attempted suicide.
A dedicated musician and songwriter, Brian Campbell has performed his music in many venues, and released a CD entitled The Courtier’s Manuscript. In his ode “Guitar,” he evokes the bliss he can feel as he plays:
“I come alive
to her colours’ jive
deep bass mauves blue white trebles
echoing through her velvety mouth
swift riffs chord accords
slanting up and down the frets
as on my rosewood woman
the music plays itself, plays me”
Montréal is another lively presence in this collection. In the 2013 anthology Language Matters: Interviews with 22 Quebec poets, edited by Carolyn Marie Souaid and Endre Farkas, Campbell explains why he moved to Montréal from Toronto in the early nineties:
“To find inspiration… Because I was excited by French culture, fashion and architecture… Because I was sick of my native city, which seemed – and is – very much a wasteland. Because going to Montreal seemed like going to another country.”
The bilingual life of the city is added to the je ne sais quoi of the collection. As a native of Montréal, I appreciate the authentic evocation of the bohemian spirit and unique landscape that includes Mount Royal, a centering presence in “Mountain.”
“Brocanterie” describes the eclectic café the poet frequents to write and observe the patrons, including a certain Mademoiselle “Right Look” who airily reads her Cosmopolitan while he frets over what he reads on the internet about the bombings in Iraq.
Inspiration comes not only in the city but in the forest, lakes and small towns in the Eastern Townships outside Montréal. “Tree: Versions” is a four-part meditation that includes a prose poem and an imagist poem that recalls W.C. Williams. “Emblem” has echoes in my mind of the late Montréal poet Irving Layton. On a holiday at a cabin in the woods with Jocelyne, the poet has gone in ankle-deep into the lake, “prickly slime between his toes.” He stares at the marvelous play of insects on the water and suddenly sees himself as a “colossus,” frightening nature.
Good poetry has an autobiographical source, and in this collection, there is no chronological order, which creates an intriguing tension. For example “The Arrow,” a brilliant lyric about the spark-less first meeting between the future lovers is set at the end, just before “Wedding in Blue,” a song of celebration:
“Here we are in shades of blue
turquoise, azure, lapis, indigo
subtle melancholy-mystic hues
hands now joined in marriage:”
Brian Campbell’s “Shimmer Report” is a mature book that espouses a vision of love and harmony as a possibility in our discordant fearful everyday world. It is a book that possesses valuable insight and true poetic richness.