Cover image for Landscape with human figure
Landscape with human figure
Campo, Rafael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xiii, 88 pages ; 25 cm

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PS3553.A4883 L36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In Landscape with Human Figure, his fourth and most compelling collection of poetry, Rafael Campo confirms his status as one of America's most important poets. Like his predecessor William Carlos Williams, who was also a physician, Campo plumbs the depths of our capacity for empathy. Campo writes stunning, candid poems from outside the academy, poems that arise with equal beauty from a bleak Boston tenement or a moonlit Spanish plaza, poems that remain unafraid to explore and to celebrate his identity as a doctor and Cuban American gay man. Yet no matter what their unexpected and inspired sources, Campo's poems insistently remind us of the necessity of poetry itself in our increasingly fractured society; his writing brings us together--just as did the incantations of humankind's earliest healers--into the warm circle of community and connectedness. In this heart-wrenching, haunting, and ultimately humane work, Rafael Campo has painted as if in blood and breath a gorgeously complex world, in which every one of us can be found.

Author Notes

Rafael Campo teaches and practices general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. His debut collection of poetry, The Other Man Was Me, won the 1993 National Poetry Series award. His second collection, What the Body Told, won a Lambda Literary Award; his third, Diva, was a finalist in 2000 for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize (both titles also available from Duke University Press). His work has been published in DoubleTake, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, Out, The Progressive, Salon, Slate, and The Washington Post Book World. He is also the author of a collection of essays now available in paperback under the title The Desire to Heal. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In The Poetry of Healing (1997), Harvard physician Campo disclosed how writing formal poetry helps him heal the fissures of compound identity as a Cuban, Catholic, gay man as well as a doctor. His actual poems record that healing, better than ever before in this, his fourth collection. Writing in regular meters and rhyme frees the person in the doctor, so greatly that Campo can report on the one hand wanting to give his patients joy as well as prescriptions and on the other that a demented AIDS patient so annoyed him that he wished "he would hurry up and die" --and then the man fervently kissed his hand. He writes candidly and with pictorial clarity and color about love won, matured, alienated, and lost; powerfully about the burden of dark skin in a white society, especially in the sonnet sequence "Afraid of the Dark"; and with satiric bite and rueful sympathy about his people and motherland in "Cuban Canticle in Five Parts." The physician can heal his readers as well as himself. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

A modern-day poet/M.D. teaching and practicing general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Campo writes restless, worldly narrative poems, often rhyming, that take and unapologetically engage the world as it presents itself: "Your back,/ As you leaned over glucose forming bonds/ With oxygen, was broad and strong; your leg/ Was pressing into mine, while all around the college seemed too temporal to beg// the question any longer. Tenting out/ My jeans, my surging, rock-hard cock propelled/ me to your dorm," he writes of his underground self. Campo has garnered a Lambda Literary Award for Diva (1999), which was also an NBCC finalist. When his insouciant, call-them-as-I-seem-them descriptions work, in this fourth collection, they are luminous, addressing the ravages of AIDS, particularly, with care and respect. In "Phone Messages on Call," for instance, each of five sections begins with a shorthand-like phone message such as "Pls call soon. Diarrhea x 2d. PS I have SIDA (AIDS)"; the poems that follow are narrative rhyming couplets that describe the returned call. "Undetectable," a lyric about two lovers, both with AIDS, embeds haunting lyricism in lines such as "Neuropathy,/ lymphoma, rectal warts, plus viral loads/ consistently above 300K." The rhymes and near-rhymes in both poems seem essential. Less vital-seeming are the poems set in Cuba and elsewhere, where the speaker remarks on various devastations, but leaves unchanged. Yet Campo's virtuosity and willingness to put the world in the poems gives this uneven book a real groundedness and depth. (Feb.) Forecast: Campo has appeared on National Public Radio and published poems in the Nation and New York Times Magazine, among other prominent venues. Look for an author tour, a fair number of reviews and short magazine profiles, driven by the medical angle, to push sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Poems in physician-poet Campo's fourth collection (after Diva, a National Book Critics Circle nominee) show how hard it is to sustain a complex, healthy identity, a process ("this act of definition") threatened by inward and outward obstacles imperfections of bodies and mind, excesses of "our flawed humanity borders nature never made." Campo's candid, meditative poetry bears witness ("I want to be/ A witness once again") to "the enormity/ of yearning and of disbelief" in those who live with illness. A Cuban American gay man in "unending exile" (he practices medicine in Boston), Campo writes compelling poems about patients in the ER, probing relationships between doctor and patient, between a patient's case "history" and the cultural mainstream, between an immigrant family and aspirations to study medicine, between sexuality and the restraint of lovers. Not unlike Chekhov, another physician-author, the steady-eyed Campo comes to terms with the darkest of human problems ("the muffled screams/ along a hallway to the absolute") by fusing empathy and clinical accuracy. Strengthened by his hands-on knowledge of healing and suffering and kept gentle by bearing his burdens with grace, Campo asserts that, despite "the harrowed world we are together, we are here to stay." For most poetry collections. Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One On New Year's Day If hopefulness resides in what we can resolve to change, then let us give up sweets, nail-biting, cigarettes, the habits of our weak humanity--we can succeed if only we try hard enough, resist potato chips and shed ten pounds, return whatever book we have that's overdue, forgive inequities and do what's just-- because today is anything, it is our natural color, it is when we begin to save, it is the better spouse we'll be, it is beginning to be free. Nightfall in Asturias Like eyebrows raised with weary resignation, the arches of the Roman bridges here bear witness to the endless passage not of pilgrims now, but tourists. Equal in the terrible iniquities of sin if not in abnegation of the self, we photograph the Lord's profane creation: the darkly ugly family of boar that wallows on the river's edge, a plot plowed neatly into rows of rocky earth that clings against a mountain's flank, a bus with "Bimbo" blazoned on its side (a brand of cake in Spain that makes some giggle--men, of course, who are Americans like us). The curving roads we travel parallel the northern route the faithful took to find the shrine where James the Greater's lost remains were finally discovered, centuries ago. The sun sets slow as a saint bleeds, eternal reds; fake Rolexes for sale, spread out like treasures from a foreign land, attract a couple to a gypsy's table. I watch you as you puzzle over maps, perplexed myself by what, if anything, it is that joins us. Not the sin, because we're all guilty of the abominable; not lack of fear, because I know the loss of you would be much more than I could stand. I grasp it when the gypsies start to sing of night as sanctuary, love as hope. Quatrains for a Shrinking World     I. El Oriental de Cuba, "La Esquina del Sabor" Victorians surrounding it, the place is just a storefront restaurant that seats about a dozen people; strange, to taste roast pork that's drenched in mojo , yuca frites , and milkshakes of mamey this far up North. Outside, if they were still alive, I might expect my grandparents to pass, the force of their unending exile not quite enough to stop them--only slow them down. Abuela, stooped by bags of groceries, her makeup's compensation overdone; and Granpa, brittle as his misery, his guayabera barely filled by bones. I wonder whether she'd prepare congrí for him, upon their safe arrival home. If only they could get there, finally.     II. Writer in Exile I've wished that I were born a Soviet, so that my presence in America would cause as greatly dignified regret as leads to literary coup d'états-- but I am merely Cuban, dark and small as any from a hundred nations which exist for others' domination. All I say is colonized, if not by rich "protectors" then by communists who redden on Varadero Beach; my poetry, if plagued by form, otherwise does not threaten (conveniently) the New-World-Orderly procession of the vanquished. Hear my voice, my queerly Spanish intonation, hear the perfect sound of banishment. Rejoice! I'm nothing yet, although tomorrow's near.     III. Take-Out Night with Friends:     A Meditation on "Multiculturalism" Half French-Canadian, half African-American, my friend is marrying an Irish-Chinese man; the Indian and German-Scottish couple always bring their daughter to our get-togethers, where my partner and I host, conventional first-time homeowners--gay, or even queer (and yes, Latino too), we seem of all our group the most bourgeois. We gaze at her, the tiny, lovely Nina Clair, her skin a color neither cinnamon nor pure white ivory, but somewhere in between; she smiles at her "uncles," six months old still young enough to trust, to love without "diversity." Perhaps she sees the world in us. Or else, she's slowly learning doubt.     IV. The Modern Cartographer's Lament My globe confuses me with distances. An island only ninety, miles lee fades infinitely far, while Budapest (at least the part that's Little Hungary) thrives only blocks from where I shop street stands. If only hatred didn't travel just as paradoxically: the African-American whose tortured death defaced the Texas hills, the NATO bombs unloosed upon the Balkans. Here, right here, I see each horror, all as near as neighborhood- as if these continents were joined, these seas unfilled by tears none ever had to cry. I plot out borders nature never made, the shapes of nations random to my eye whose peoples wander, equal in their need. Excerpted from LANDSCAPE WITH HUMAN FIGURE by Rafael Campo. Copyright © 2002 by Rafael Campo. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

I Landscape with Human Figure
On New Year's Day
Nightfall in Asturias
Quatrains for a Shrinking World
The Blackouts
Ghazal in a Time of War
Outside Fayetteville
What I Would Give
For My Brother's Wedding
Landscape with Human Figure
II Speak to Me
In Praise of Experience
October Afternoon, 1986
Your Black Eyes
An Attribution
Playing "Fidel and Peron"
On Valentine's Day
Last Hours in Florence
Speak to Me
Poem for My Familiar
After Losing Him
III Afraid of the Dark
Afraid of the Dark
IV Undetectable
Phone Messages on Call
Spiritual, ca. 1999
On Thanksgiving
The Same Old Place
Supernumerary Poem with Fruit Pastries that Allegorically Addresses Death
On the Virtues of Not Shaving
The Four Humours
V Questions for the Weather
The Age-Old Problem of Sentimental Verse
The Couple
After the Weekly Telephone Call
For a Dear Friend Who Is Grieving
Love Poem Written Especially for You
Living with Illness
Doberman Pinscher, Dreaming
Upon Overhearing, "Anyone Can Write Like Elizabeth Bishop"
You Can Just See the Cynicism
Cuban Canticle in Five Parts
On Christmas Eve
The Beech Forest
In Case of Emergency Landing
Questions for the Weather