The Book of LIFE
by Joseph Campana
July Open 2016 Reading Period Selection
Taking inspiration from the iconic pages of Life magazine, The Book of Life immerses its reader in an ecstatic, ekphrastic experience of how life becomes history and how history comes back to life.
Publication Date: March 1, 2019
The Book of LIFE finds inspiration in the pages of LIFE Magazine, from its origin in the Great Depression to its demise amid the Apollo missions, with many milestones between: the Korean War and Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam War and immolation of Thich Quang Duc, and the Kennedy and King assassinations. LIFE’s compendium of the American century stretches from its initial cover, Margaret Bourke-White’s photo of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana, to its final, year-in-review issue covering the lunar mission, with an image of the Earth that awakened a planetary consciousness.
Using the lens of poet, arts critic, and scholar of Renaissance literature, Joseph Campana locates an individual life in the churning wake of these great events; he is a poet who persists in the hope of reawakening the past, while simultaneously finding and providing a guide for this journey called life.
November 23, 1936
Scream of beginnings: what was once sequestered now haul
into light. There was a camera for you: there is always a camera
ready. All will be seen, the child now dangling from the hands
of the miracle man. Once you were poised between lives, an un-
breathing thing. Now plunge into this one, this life. Enter, now,
LIFE. All enter like patient passengers lining up for transport,
tickets in hand, a team of nurses in the background to usher
them through to destinations not yet final. Oh nurse of life,
complete in your un-attachment to me or to anyone or to basins
of porcelain, blood in water, sheets disarrayed but perhaps staged
for the camera. How much trouble can one life make, passing
through what it will pass out of at some as yet undetermined
date? Come, child, enter the field of vision with a red-faced
cry. You already have secrets to tell the glass. Somewhere in the
background your mother has disappeared behind the doctor
and nurses. Look: imagine the camera is your mother. Cry to
her, child, cry of beginnings. The engine of your life waits. The
flywheel is already spinning up.
|Dimensions||6 × 5 × 9 in|
“Life, like life, had a prior existence, but the iconic weekly news magazine whose images would saturate the country’s visual field was born in 1936, child of the New Deal and the Great Depression. In a brilliant structural proposition, Joseph Campana transforms a family trove of aging magazines into scaffolding for an extended meditation on the contours of self and national community. The writing in these pages is as sensuous and meticulous as the photographs it takes for prompts: ‘corn silk / and the squawk / of husking ears,’ ‘lawnmowers ripping / to life.’ But it is also much more: a questing, trenchant portrait of the perishable life we depend upon one another to sustain.” —Linda Gregerson, Caroline Walker Bynum Distinguished University Professor, Department of English, University of Michigan
“In poems that enact the heady rush of history, what we mean when we say “my life flashed before my eyes,” Joseph Campana gives us the world in swooning context. The Book of Life is at once an ecstatic accounting, a love poem ‘to love/what you can’t understand,’ an elegy for not only what is gone but also for what is steadily going. ‘That was/what lured me,’ he writes: ‘the song of the world disappearing before me….’ These poems are a marvel the way life itself is a marvel.” —Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2012-2014
Praise for prior publications
“The faces of Joseph Campana’s beautifully inventive first collection are those that stare most urgently at us while we grow blind: hunger (spiritual and literal), war, peace, fame, hope, fashion, heartlessness, greed. What this one vision does with the idea of the mask . . . is groundbreaking—the face of the maker, the face of the made.” —Jorie Graham
“Joseph Campana’s The Book of Faces is an extraordinary debut . . . not the expected fare but something finer, more provocative, enchanting and rich.” —Alice Fulton
“Campana’s poems haunt, instruct, and console me.”—David Wojahn