21 Days/ 21 Poems: Oregon Elegy by Christian Campbell

Christian Campbell
Christian Campbell

Christian Campbell is both a Bahamiam and a Trinidadian poet.  He  describes his award-winning debut collection of poetry, Running the Dusk, as a “nomadic book” and says that he’s “in conversation with Walcott (a first love), Césaire, Brathwaite, Lorna Goodison, Martin Carter, NourbeSe Philip, et al. But when we talk about the blood of my poems, Spanish and Latin American poets reign: Neruda, García Lorca, Vallejo, Machado“.

I think his poetry lives up to the expectations and the picture he paints.  As usual, I had a hard time selecting just one poem.  I settled on the poem below because its transitions delighted me the most.  Also, the poem can fit several of the themes that I specified to guide this April is Poetry Month Celebration.

I finally settled on:  an elegy for today’s Another 21 Days/ 21 Poems.

The title is a bit deceptive.  Note how Campbell transitions through a delightful word-play to the heavier topics of race and lynching and how he wraps it up with the powerful image of the implications of loving someone.

Enjoy!

Oregon Elegy

for I. H.

I once told a friend, who was going
to Oregon for Christmas with his girlfriend,

he’d be the only black person there
and, in fact, if you shuffle Oregon,

like a seasoned minstrel, it spells Negro
but with an extra O as if to make

a groan, nearly a shout, perhaps
a moment of fright: O Negro in Oregon!

He died laughing and told me
that’s word-lynching, and I wondered

if we could also lynch words,
string them up, sever them,

tattoo them with bullets and knives;
if we could hold a barbecue

for language swaying with the branches,
soon picked to silence by crows—

words soaked in coal oil
then set ablaze, a carnival of words

sacrificed over rivers, from bridges,
from trees, too-ripe words dangling

from branches just beyond our reach.
Like Alonzo Tucker in 1906,

shot twice, then hanged
from the Fourth Street Bridge

by two hundred men arched into one
white arm because (we wonder,

we know) a white woman said
he raped her. I want to tell my boy

blacks weren’t wanted in Oregon
at first, but what do I know, I’ve never

set foot on Nez Perce land where
exactly one hundred years after

Tucker, he could go west to one edge
of America because he loves

his woman enough to be
the very last Negro on Earth.

– by Christian Campbell

Source , poem is from Running the Dusk by Christian Campbell

Campbell quotes taken from CRB Interview.

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4 comments

  1. Wow, good to see you back in action, Kinna! This is a very powerful poem. I came across quite a few Caribbean writers and poets last year while I was living in Barbados, but Christian Campbell is a new one for me, so thanks very much for introducing me to his work. I love the way that the poem moves so easily from word play to lynching and ends up with love. Covers a lot of important territory in a very light, free kind of way. Thanks for posting!

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