THE COLD THAT BURNS by Siobhan Campbell


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Many of the poems in Campbell’s second collection coolly examine the potentially “hot” subjects of religion and family. Her rhythms and intermittent use of rhyme are often reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop, but the former lacks the mystery, delicacy, and depth of the latter. Contrasting a relatively young, contemporary poet with Bishop may seem unfair, but Campbell invites the comparison herself by using Bishop’s lines as an epigraph to the second section. When the rhymes are internal or incidental, they can be pleasant enough, but when forced (as in “Windows,” which tediously compares the writing of poems to a wren’s incompetent nest-building) they prove unbearable: “and from the way she tries and tries, / she must not know that she will die.” The villanelles fare as badly; in one called “Halting,” we encounter the following: “How will I start, begin, to tell you so, / Or should I pretend nothing has died? / It is so difficult to let you go.” These are the stale sentiments that are found (and ought to be squelched) in undergraduate poetry workshops. Campbell’s poems tend not to lead anywhere interesting, partly because they often end before they begin—most of them are quite short, which need not be a bad thing, but the language is not compressed enough, the images not compelling enough to save them from mediocrity. While “Watching My Mother Shaving,” for instance, mercifully does not lead to some mawkish epiphany, but it’s also no more absorbing than the title. The same is true of two poems about breastfeeding, although one (“Formula”) does achieve the emotional resonance found in Jane Kenyon’s work.

Lackluster poesy.

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 2000
ISBN: 0-85640-675-9
Page count: 62pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2000