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Transom:
To us, “Living in the Tall Kingdom” and “The Farmstead” feel like sibling poems because of the way their speakers animate a landscape with near-mythic lyric energy. They seem written from a dream- or childlike state in which the boundaries between reality and fantasy are particularly porous (“If we hide / under our beds for long enough our chores / will forget about us.”). Are these pieces from a larger project? Can you tell us what concerns inspired the poems?

Campbell:
Both poems are part of a series that seeks to establish a real, if mythic, setting.  An overarching narrative involving coming of age and its sibling, disillusionment, ties many of the poems together.  The poems were inspired, in part, by the notion that childhood can be defined by the lack of control that one has over their own life, paired with a child’s inability to rationalize or even comprehend the actions of mature adults and the motives behind these actions.  The speaker longs for an escape from this reality, and the move to dreams and fantasy is a reaction to what he is living through.  Unfamiliarity is frightening, but can be met with wonder in addition to fear.  I had other concerns in conceptualizing the whole series of poems as well, some examples being: where is the intersection between experience and knowledge?  Is trauma reversible?  Is there a link between intimacy and transgression?  What is the distinction between trauma and growth?

The frustration in writing poems like this is trying to imply rather than explain something away, to point in the direction of the collection of things in the corner so that the reader can discover them for themselves.  I know what the storyline is, and I know what questions caused me to create (and, in some cases, recollect from my own experiences) the story to begin with, but for the poetry to be a success the reader must discover it for themselves.  It’s been one of the greatest challenges in editing these poems, trying to balance the overarching elements of the series with restraint necessary to keep all of these concerns unsolved.  I like the idea of telling stories through poetry, but think it presents a lot of challenges and pitfalls in this regard.

There’s a deeper thread to the narrative of the whole series that I won’t spoil, but my hope is that the exploration of these ideas will be evident in the book.

Transom:
The final lines of “Living in the Tall Kingdom” sound, if possible, like an even darker twist on a similar moment in Plath’s “The Colossus,” which ends, “No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel/ On the blank stones of the landing.” But while Plath’s speaker turns away from the waterfront, realizing that her former waiting posture is a useless remnant of patriarchal culture, your speaker gets “love-deep in the mud” to “wait for the quarry muse/ to step out of her skirt.” Is your poem doubling down on the notion that lyric inquiry can only be quenched by peril?

Campbell:
That you brought up the Plath poem is interesting. First I would say that in writing the final lines of “Living in the Tall Kingdom” I wanted to spin a reader’s expectation, to introduce surprise through diction.  The speaker is trying to escape, but, while he waits for her to arrive, the quarry muse doesn’t appear in the poem, maybe implying the lack of a cure for what he is dealing with.  He wants to be overwhelmed by a feminine power that he perceives (perhaps an even better word would be “conceives” although this term is a bit loaded) in the quarry.  Plath’s speaker rejects her status quo in the end, while my speaker continues to seek supernatural refuge. One distinction might be that Plath’s active turn from the shores could imply triumph over that system, albeit a painful one, while my speaker continues to wait for the muse as my poem ends and thus has no positive revelation.  I think my speaker is dealing with emotions that parallel Plath’s, though there are obvious situational differences. So, to finally answer the question: Yes, “Living in the Tall Kingdom” makes a claim for peril as a means of inquiry.  We grow most when we face seemingly insurmountable, possibly dangerous, or potentially traumatic challenges, and then solve them.