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Natural Selections

2011 Iowa Poetry Prize



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2012
82 pages
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"Joseph Campana’s Natural Selections gently reminds us of the brutal fact that the mythic world remains present in this one. Subtly inverting the Orpheus myth, Campana suffers his beloved’s loss—a division that leads not to an underworld quest, but to wandering the rural roads of Ohio, where the poet does not sing so that the world hears him, but more humbly, more importantly, sings so as to listen to the world."—Dan Beachy-Quick, editor, Colorado Review

"Like James Wright and Sherwood Anderson—both of whom he pays homage to in this stunning collection—Joseph Campana understands that the Midwest is less a place than a strangely inscrutable state of mind, where our losses and vulnerabilities are shown in terrifyingly high relief. This is to say that Campana also understands—as too few poets do these days—that the principal business of the lyric poem is heartbreak. As he puts it in one of the book's most characteristic efforts, 'How potent the longing, / how potent the fear. / The two as one, the two / as hawk and shadow.' Campana's poems haunt, instruct, and console me."—David Wojahn, author, World Tree

Whether wandering the paths of the imagination, driving through sparsely populated countryside, or listening for the voices of animals, Joseph Campana’s poemsattend to the ways we are indelibly marked by habitat. Shot full of accidental attachments and reluctant transience, Natural Selectionsproduces from vibrant contradiction potent song. 

In poems both lyric and expansive, Natural Selections finds in the simplicity and strangeness of middle America a complex metaphysics of place and an uncanny perspective reminiscent of the landscapes of Grant Wood. Birds and beasts, frequent storms, country roads, a fraught election, and some of Ohio’s literary guardian angels (James Wright, Hart Crane, and Sherwood Anderson) haunt the poems. Whether enigmatically refracted or brutally direct, these poems attend to the way life is beautifully, violently, and unexpectedly marked by place.

With a boldness of vision that might overwhelm a lesser talent, Joseph Campana gives us a collection guided by a focused intelligence and yet containing wonderment and awe at its heart. By turns ferocious and charming, contemporary and mythic, grief-stricken and funny, the poet’s voice is always original, direct, and pitch-perfect. The poems in this book are a wonder.

Excerpt: 

Crow

 

Crow said murder and

then there was one. If

 

there were two, if

there were myriad

 

black wings covering

black winds beating sky.

 

Sky said malice. Crow

saw it shining. Glitter

 

of the needful, glitter

of the wanting ones:

 

dark hunger dark in

trees. Whither, crow,

 

now: who will you run to?

 

Crow said murder. And

then there were more.

 

And then there were more.

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