Review of Passenger Flight
“The long and short of the prose poem is that it’s a product of deep inner contradictions. Its prose wants the freedom to wander, while its poetry wants the brevity of a few luminous words. It rejects the primacy of either of its parents in favor of a synthesis of both. It delights in frustrating the expectations of the readers of poetry and the readers of prose. In the end, its perfect realization is a construct of awkward grace that conceals as much as it reveals, that darkens the blank page with justified lines that are jagged with revelations.
What better genre, then, to utilize for a project like the one Brian Campbell proposes for his new book of prose poems, Passenger Flight. Situating himself as a “pilot,” his ambition is to send his readers, or “passengers,” on a voyage across the psychic landscape of the twenty-first century. He wildly navigates his craft (in both senses of the word) on an audacious exploration. The resulting record is a document of random indeterminateness that is decidedly postmodern. It does not respect consistency or continuity. It migrates across the stylistic spectrum with promiscuous abandon. The work it produces is of groaning inelegance and touching sensitivity, with the poems roughly divided about equally between these extremes.
Campbell’s method is to embody his subject matter rather than to describe it. The result can be difficult to assess. At its most puzzling, his work resembles the nonsense prose of Noam Chomsky’s exercises in deep grammar:
”Flick flick. Chuffle chuffle. Yes. In concupiscent caverns of hermetics, abstractions condense into moist tactilities. While the tongue goes slurp, teeth go crunch, and my crotch itches… (“Gallimaufry”)
At the other extreme, it sees the world as a place enchanted with intimations of mortality:
“Everything under a thin skin of dust. In the stillness it falls like snow. Beautiful, this falling. Soon I will be a part of it: accumulate on other bodies; as they move, they’ll shed my presence. We are all shedding presences of the dead. (“Slough”)
By conventional standards, the latter poem is superior in its writing, in its nuances, and in its claim on the observant mind. But Campbell presents all his poems as equal. There is no difference, to him, between the sacred and the profane. Everything is slightly absurd, everything has its own lurid charm. Whether or not the reader is willing to grant Campbell the aesthetic he expects, that reader will nevertheless find an intelligent sensibility at work in these poems, and a skillful use of a slightly incongruous angle of vision.
The reader of Passenger Flight will hear the faint laughter of the author on nearly every page. He laughs because he knows it’s the only intelligent response to looking into the abyss. He even sees a ray of hope on a winter day that’s a scene right out of Munch:
“The day is a creased grey brain… Wind howls through a funnel of nightmare. Leather collars are turned up against the cold… Smudged, bent figures in the rain walk head down… But beyond the brooding masses in the sky—canyons of light, brilliant rays under a blinding white disc. (“Brainpan”)
More Reviews of this title
“Brian Campbell’s prose poems are epiphanies – discoveries of transcendent meaning in the context of the everyday. Herein is philosophy as play, social critique as wit, and wisdom as awe. ”
“In Passenger Flight Brian Campbell finds the boundary between music and language in a re-invention of the prose poem. The poems speak as if translated from a “Cyber Sutra,” a dream of the near future. We should listen. ”
“The title of the final book reviewed here, Passenger Flight by Brian Campbell, suggests movement without commitment to any particular place. The book’s epigraph is from Baudelaire’s Spleen of Paris, and Campbell’s work engages formally with Baudelaire’s famous sequence of prose poems. While Campbell’s poems tread through numerous territories, making passing reference to “teak stained tablemats” from Sri Lanka, an “ersatz cherry wood shelf” from Bengal, “dates from Iran,” and “mandarins from Morocco,” the collection does this while refusing to settle down. At times, one wishes for a more intimate engagement with the local, with the sensuous and specific that metaphorical, rhythmical language provides. Because of the numerous abstractions and the author’s cool, detached tone, one has the feeling of being far away, of hovering at some objective height above the world, “in such a wonderful flying machine.””
“These prose-poems are wonderful: smart, allusive without pretension, eloquent, varied in technique and tonal register, and, in places, wildly funny. "Fishy", for instance, is hilarious, a piece that should spread microbially among other poets and fiction writers, much as did Clive James's uproarious "The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered."”
“Urbane, captivating, Brian Campbell’s images are as vertical as the city he describes and the sky overhead. Often blackly humorous, he records the frustrations and celebrations of ordinary living, juxtaposed to a time-space immensity which can only overwhelm and defeat. For Brian Campbell this overriding theme of transience and frailty is positive as well as scary. Standing grounded in his craft and his humanity, he can still startle in wonder, and his words open and lift the heart.”
“In this gem of a collection, Brian Campbell uses every device available within the poet’s armamentarium—except the line break. This allows Campbell’s somewhat eccentric persona to speak with manic breathlessness as his 'one open eye' explores the 'flexuous' possibilities of the imagination. 'The mind fills a void. It does fill. Have faith.”
“Brian Campbell's Passenger Flight is a collection of prose poems about very contemporary concerns: the depiction of women in advertising, big-city life, sex tourism, high blood pressure and global commerce. One poem, Pastorale, uses language from postings at an abandoned missile site in California.
Other pieces tackle the current relevance of poetry. A poem called Edmonton notes that 'Poetry is compared to the filling of potholes here and found wanting.' Fishy suggests a novel use for ground-up poetry manuscripts.
On the other hand, Nota Bene concerns that old standby, sex. Meanwhile, the ghost of Charles Baudelaire whispers in some of the poems: the French master also wrote about sex and the city, so maybe these concerns are universal.
Campbell finds beauty in chaos and the eternal in the seemingly transient. ”