Alex Creece Reviews Marion May Campbell’s third body

By | 12 March 2019

Transgressive poetry is looming larger in contemporary Australian poetics, where work regarding in-betweenness and otherness is receiving some much-needed amplification with publishing presses. In this sense, reading third body reminded me of Kait Fenwick’s recent collection, Burning Between (Slow Loris, 2018), which speaks sincerely, boldly, and very personally of their queer identity within the zeitgeist of social media hashtags and Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. Admittedly, Fenwick’s style is vastly different from Campbell’s, the latter of whom is not prone to colloquialism or direct confession in her poetry. Furthermore, Campbell’s references to virtual worlds tend to provide a means for metapoetic musings, rather than a constant presence as in Burning Between. Nonetheless, these collections share common ground in their respective otherness and post-structural politics. An example of this can be seen in Fenwick’s ‘Ambivalence Can Ruin Your Life’ with its thematic resemblance to Campbell’s aforementioned piece, ‘semaphore’:

you’ll stain the flesh but ink only seals
into the second epidermal layer

How do I etch it on my heart?
Mapped bodies drape
like protest banners
over this city

We’ve all got
something to say
but are seemingly
searching for someone
who speaks the
same tongue

There are also notable commonalities between the language of Burning Between’s prologue and third body’s ‘inside the fold’, with Fenwick stating:

those recesses in your brain that you push down 
and fold over and over again until 
they become such far removed nothingness 
that you couldn’t possibly unearth them

Likewise, Campbell’s piece lingers on similar subject matters:

in the long approach
as we unfold & our bodies
perhaps there’ll just be
this ear-to-ear
of breath


a child runs past the open door
of palliative care
& in the flash of smile
(for instance)
sends luminous backwash
over all
that I’ve called reminiscence

Transience of mind and body is intrinsic to each collection as they speak from a place beyond expected and typically definable binaries. Campbell explores how ‘difference is aborted’ in various contexts, including matters such as nationalism and racism in Australia:

we bar in black & white we need
perhaps to look our own death 
in the eye – so says

Antigone & still she watches
as the child deleted leaves 
all passports blank (‘fountain’)

I feel that this reference to Antigone is a fitting inclusion in third body—even if only mentioned briefly—given that the eponymous figure typifies a feminist defiance of institutionalised rules, as well as philosophical conflicts of fatalism and free will. By contrast, Fenwick’s critiques tend to be blunter, and more specifically focused on sexual and gender diversity:

I still play with oil and water in the sink when I wash our dishes
I relish knowing the two entities will never meet
& even when they’re siphoned out into the vast ocean
The oil sits on the surface
& suffocates the water below


If only I could wrap my head around ‘he’
& be content transferring x to y
& seek comfort in the confines of the binary (‘Oil Slick’)

Nonetheless, the ideological connections between the two collections serve as a welcome reminder of a progressively changing world, and with it, a progressively changing culture of poetic expression. The final section of third body, ‘riding parallel’—which contains a single poem of the same name—portrays a journey through the chaotic ‘moors’ of cyberspace, imagination, and memory, as imperfectly parallel to each other. Campbell leaves us with a conflicted but hopeful sense of connection through difference:

that shimmer & terrible
this mirage        that roadkill
send fugitive flashes to our own

fires which may not synchronise
but it’s as if each relayed pulse
in the travelling universe of stories

threw a line        red or saffron yellow
to connect our own & so to slow
our passage through these parallel trajectories 

Both Campbell and Fenwick have produced a strong contribution to Australian transgressive poetry in their own right, and third body’s ability to draw such connections to other artistic and academic works alike—whether inadvertently and deliberately—demonstrates its ability to reach beyond the scope of its own pages. In this sense, Campbell’s collection creates and inhabits its own third body.

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