Book Review: Consent, by Kimberly Campanello, Doire Press, 2013
Consent is alive with poems that move the gut, that shock and excite in equal measure. Eating and shitting, fucking and childbirth, living and dying – all are on full display and the end result is a collection that celebrates the body’s strengths and its breakdowns, and Campanello treats both with a tenderness that demands the reader pay attention.
Humour and defiance are out in full force throughout this collection, and each serves to highlight Campanello’s kindness to the body as it struggles to navigate a world bound by the ‘antonyms that bind consent’.
In the opening poem ‘Consent’, physical acquiescence due to lactose intolerance, ‘My bowels are bound/by cheese and fear,’ is handled with humour that reads slightly of defiance – ‘Meaning my shit is bound/for another bright port’. In short, this sort of breakdown is nothing to be ashamed of.
In ‘The Eggshell Rule’ defiance – born of the notion that it is the fault of the skull, acquiescing for being so thin, a thinness that permits death – turns to talk of equality, pushing the poem to an ending that is greater than the sum of its parts:
I just want to tell you,
I am a man and you are a woman.
But we are equal
in my mind.
And how did I find you?
And you, me?
Elsewhere, as in ‘Grandma’, a poem about the body’s breakdown to Alzheimer’s, humour and defiance give way to love –
You burn through the bottom
of four coffee pots
You serve your grandchildren
raw sausages on Sunday
When you’re hungry
you eat ice cream
You forgo shots of botulism in the face
to stop the twitching in your eye
You are still beautiful
Like a baby mouse
your bones and veins
breathe through your skin
and the end-result is a poem that is stunning for how it addresses a loss happening right in front of the poet’s eyes: ‘you know me/you don’t know me’. In these and other poems in the collection, it is impossible not to acknowledge the dignity with which subject matter is treated, giving the reader a real glimpse of poetry’s capacity to be humane and full of humanity.
Another strength in this collection of poems is the various associations made between food and body. ‘The Watermelon’, is a poem that shines for how it offers itself to the reader: here is a piece that works on what the reader brings to it, whatever the reader chooses to take away. This is the kind of poetry that is free of expectations, the kind of poetry that makes no demands. And because of this, it is the kind of poem one returns to because it offers up something new each time.
Food is used in a number of poems to describe the parts of the body – and of those parts, it is the genitals that get the best treatment in this regard. Food is a tool to both celebrate and poke fun at the body, and the poems themselves are fresh (no pun intended), funny, sexy and ridiculous. Two stand-outs in the collection are ‘Sunday Morning’, where the poet’s vision is tested by
the longest, sweatiest foreskin I have ever seen
pink and glistening in the sun like folded, sliced ham
and ‘Chicken Skin’ –
I never really saw chicken skin
Until at 18 I saw the inside
of my labia majora.
I had worried it was wrong.
I was wrong. The nurse said
No, that’s your chicken skin.
We all have it. Just ask any of us.
The latter poem is an exceptional piece of work, and while it is not the only poem where rape is made mention of, it is this piece, and the way in which the chicken is used to describe ‘arms and legs/spread at the sockets’ that lingers, long, long after. It is shocking, and it speaks to something evident across the whole collection: there is nothing precious about how Campanello handles the body (the female body most of all); and this, beyond being a good thing, makes for compelling and vibrant poetry.
Another example of there being nothing precious in the way in which this collection presents the body is in the poem ‘The Squatters’. Moving between meanings – squatting in homes, squatting during birth, squatting at the gym – the reader finds Campanello declaring:
I have to put cunt
in a poem one more time
because you are looking up at mine
Here, and elsewhere in the collection, words are given free rein to be as powerful as they ought to be. Whatever one wants to make of the use of the word ‘cunt’ here (and Campanello giving herself permission to use it in this instance) any other word would have done the poem a disservice; worse still, any other word would have been a tell-tale sign of the poet holding herself back, letting herself be bound – but in a bad way.
Poems tied to place – Dublin, Miami, Haiti, among others – are scattered throughout the collection. In most cases, the poems unfold evocatively, and with purpose; however, it is in the body – and the compassion with which Campanello treats it (hers, and all the others) where Consent truly breathes. Consent is sexy and raw. The poems make a claim on the body and celebrate the flesh of it. It has no shame and it makes no apologies for the way the poems will make the reader feel: ‘I bind you and you like it alright’ she writes. Yes. There is much, very much, to like here alright.
Dimitra Xidous’ work has appeared in various Irish, US and Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including bare hands poetry, Room, The Weary Blues, and Penduline. She was a joint runner-up in the Heart in Mouth Competition (2013) and she was long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize (2011). Her poetry has been featured on RTE Arena, and she has performed at a number of spoken word nights in Dublin, including Nighthawks and The Monday Echo. Her work is included in the New Planet Cabaret Anthology (edited by Dave Lordan and forthcoming September 2013 from New Island Books).