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Amid early twenty-first century crises I think of Campbell’s texts, creative and critical, as lifeboats, hovercraft with air-borne capacity, passenger-full and powering-up for a new creative departure.
—Moya Costello, TEXT
This new collection of poems by Marion May Campbell furthers her lifelong interest in form, stretching to breaking point the potential of poetic language. She stages language as trickster, traitor and seducer, flamboyantly connecting and wiring the circuitry of desire, just as it silences and slices. One moment, it stutters, teetering on the brink, and the next it transfigures loss in radiant dreamscapes, restoring ardour amongst the ruins of allegory. languish is Campbell’s eleventh book across the forms of fiction, poetry and critical theory. Her writing is always charged by a poetics of feminist contestation.
Cover artwork: Penny Coss
From early childhood, Marion wanted to be a painter, but working with language, with its etymological boundlessness, its sonic texture, its rhythmic and imagistic transport, became an equally enthralling thing to do. Through her novels, Lines of Flight (1985), Not Being Miriam (1988), Prowler (1999), Shadow Thief (2006) and konkretion (2013); her works for theatre Dr Memory in the Dream Home (1990), Ariadne’s Understudies (1992) and The Half-Life of Creonite (2010); the poetry collections Fragments from a Paper Witch (2010), third body (2018); the critical monograph Poetic Revolutionaries: Intertextuality and Subversion (2013), the memoir The Man on the Mantelpiece (2018) and a range of other nonfiction publications, what’s driven her work is the compulsion to yield to the pull of language that unshackles from binary fixations, dissolves identity and sets in train the exhilaration of an endlessly metamorphic potential. Marion has taught literature and writing in various universities, including Murdoch University, the University of Melbourne and, most recently, at Deakin University. She now lives in Drouin in GunaiKurnai country with her two border collie companions.
Endorsements for languish
"languish is Marion May Campbell’s most fiercely ambitious collection to date. In it, Campbell gives us splendid, numinous poems about language and its intertexts conceived with the mind but set free through the senses. She explodes the borders of genre and implodes the margins of desire. Questions of power, passion, mortality, and suffering animate this trilogy. It is sheer joy to feel the physical and intellectual command of the mercurial shiftings of tone, the rippling reticulations of canto, stanza, line, phrase, phoneme, tropism and silence." DOMINIQUE HECQ
"Reading languish I found myself in a smoky, all-night habitués’ bar − a sort of Café L’Amour − eavesdropping on lucid-dream conversations between the writer and the world of her Western cultural elders, ghosts, lovers and language itself. In other words engaging with a profound and confronting personal intertextuality. This woman, this Marion May Campbell, asks the question of writing − is it ‘the only way to keep the wounds of memory open?’ As she strikes ‘another self against this flint’ of the other she lays ‘bare the coddled myths’ of her ‘moral delicacy’ and the nakedness of her need as she almost begs for a ‘textual intimacy’ that might free us women from the labyrinth, the prison, we’ve made for ourselves – ‘we cannot be dreamed back together, we willed the dark page turned’. Yet, there is the possibility that, ‘the Venus of Willendorf will be the body of our making … fashioning her from the dream dough and from the dream yeast she rises’." KATHLEEN MARY FALLON
"Marion May Campbell’s poems do not languish – they do language. Language where it crackles and contradicts, refuses to be standard – or teeters on the edge of paradox, like the gift that is poison in another tongue. Sometimes dystopian, yet countering acid cynicism, this book makes hue and cry at politicians who debase speech as they pray, self-congratulatory, or sit like Humpty Dumpty on their rickety walls. Eternity’s terrible tick-tick-tick marks every page, whether in skateboard, car-bonnet or Geiger counter. Campbell’s poems are rich and erudite, yet playfully approachable, ranging from Greek myth to the misread women of literature. Languish traces the challenges of intimacy and the sensual, our relations with each other and with animals real or symbolic, all driven by Campbell’s characteristic verve, humour and spark." TRACY RYAN
"Here are poems of surprising agility and erudition from a poet with a uniquely dramatic intelligence. No reference is too far or too wide for her effervescent voice and her intense, inquiring and challenging considerations. Marion May Campbell speaks into and against positions as different as limits on the lustful body and the political abstractions of climate inaction, in registers that are always of the word, always of the world. Her poems are also personal, she opens then explores a Venn overlap of identity, speech-act and psyche. If this is bravura work, then her many prose poems are lyrically trippy and beguiling. Campbell is a magician." PHILIP SALOM
"‘Our futures are sealed by this plague outside the jar’, writes Marion Campbell, but the poet’s brilliant new collection sings of so much else ‘outside the jar’ – complex, urgent songs of love, loss, disenchantment and desire.
These are poems of dazzling erudition and wit, where modernist intertexts viewith dynamic feminist écriture. Ekphrastic, metafictional verve abounds. Campbell parodies the masculinist art historical frames that produced Warhol and Rembrandt; elsewhere, domestic violence is linked to the ‘triumph of democracy’. Exquisite elegies mourn a ‘trackless’ father who disappeared in a meteorological survey flight but whose life in colonial science must be reappraised. The bittersweet life of Janet Frame is elegised in painterly lemon.
Campbell brings female experience into exhilarating alignment with histories of ideas and forms as no-one else can." AMANDA JOHNSON