Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Jonathan Humble
Features Writer
9:24 AM 19th November 2020

Review: Keepsake By Kayleigh Campbell

Kayleigh Campbell’s Keepsake is number 7 in the list of work published by those producers of wonderfully presented pamphlets based in Marsden, UK, Maytree Press. The editor, David Coldwell, wanted to establish a poetry press specialising in beautiful pamphlets and anthologies, combining poetry with art through the use of unique covers featuring original paintings. With Campbell’s collection, they have teamed up with West Yorkshire artist Caroline Brown, using ‘Reverie’, an ethereal figurative painting of a young woman seeking ‘space for reflection in a chaotic world’.

The title poem, ‘Keepsake’, immediately struck a paternal chord, as memories flooded back of my own first purchase for my daughter when she was born - a tiny and beautiful knitted cardigan bought from Brockhole which we still have, wrapped and stored safely away in the secret depths of our house, along with her first pair of shoes and early books. This poem is also beautiful, contrasting calm gentleness with devastating imagery:

‘One of the first things I bought for you
was a rabbit;
sweet, neatly stitched, delicate.
Now I can’t stop seeing dead rabbits
on the road and in my dreams.’

This brings to mind my own over-protectiveness as a father, a simmering feeling of aggression towards the threat of the general public while carrying my child through town in a baby sling for the first time, echoes of worries about the unknown and the sense of new responsibilities that come with parenting. Campbell’s mid-poem description of roadkill raised the anxiety levels of this particular parent before returning to a symbolic representation of vulnerability:

‘The rabbit sits on your windowsill;
I peek at it while you sleep.’

Here I brought my own experience to the poetry, which is a characteristically selfish response, but a starting point nevertheless, as I read through these excellent poems and tried to remember other details from twenty years ago.

Between the poem ‘Postpartum’...

‘Do you remember what you said?
You said you wanted me here,
so you could love me
and that would be all that mattered.’

...and ‘The First Year’, Campbell reveals aspects of aftermath either side of the first twelve months of a new role in life; an underlying sadness in changed relationships and the diminishing of feelings, rippling away, perhaps unknown to others yet still present. The description of the colour blue from the first stanza of ‘The First Year’ starts with a mixture of adjectives in month one, distilled to a repetition of the words ‘baby blues’ over the rest of the year in the poem, gradually fading in lines of words reducing in size of font. The repetition induces an emotional response in me similar to listening to ‘Zodiac T-shirt’ read by Simon Armitage, with his refrain of ‘call in the crash-team’, and I wonder if Kayleigh has read these two poems to audiences, for I believe it would have the same effect.

In ‘On being, a 40lb Pike’, the experience of being caught up and swept along in events over which one has little control is conveyed brilliantly in a wonderful response to Ted Hughes’ early poem on fishing. Hughes felt he’d ‘hooked 3 parts of hell’, with very little empathy toward the plight of the fish which he saw as ‘sinister’. Campbell’s take is wholly empathetic, viewing it through the lens of pregnancy and childbirth, as we’re taken below the water to dark and unknown depths, where dismay and desperation are communicated with poetic skill:

‘… and she dived deeper still,
to no-[wo]man’s land,
where one cannot see
what sometimes desperately
lies beneath.
As she moved with the water
her skin stretched,
slowly but determinedly.
She caught glimpses of her growing body
in shards of broken glass …’

I loved Campbell’s debut collection. It is composed of well crafted, memorable and lovely poetry. Keepsake soars and swoops with imagery which stays with you long after you’ve put the book down. The depth of emotion therein is potent and heartfelt, the understanding and authenticity is evident in the work, phrases crackle with quality and I feel certain this collection is the beginning of excellent things for this poet.

I highly recommend her work.

For more information, or to buy Keepsake:

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