Established in 1989, the Aldeburgh Prize is the oldest national award in the UK for a first poetry collection. Campbell’s work beat out a record 95 entries for the prize, which includes a monetary award equivalent to $4,800 CDN, a week-long writing retreat on the East Suffolk coast, and an invitation to read at the 23rd Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November 2011.
“My first reaction was to throw my hands up in the air and make noise!” laughed Campbell, remembering the moment when he received news of his win in early November. “It’s wonderful. A prize like this really allows me to share my work with a much wider audience.”
Born and raised in the Bahamas, Campbell describes himself as a “fortunate traveller,” in the words of St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. He has enjoyed a peripatetic life, studying at Duke University in the U.S. and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He was also an editorial consultant in the Bahamas, engaging with Caribbean artists, culminating in an interview with Sidney Poitier. In 2008 he took up a post as professor of Caribbean Literature at U of T.
Campbell is currently working on an interdisciplinary study of Sidney Poitier and a second poetry collection about the intersections between competitive swimming and writing.
Written over a nine year period, Running the Dusk is firmly entrenched in the culture of diaspora, a transnational affair that hones in on the arrivals and departures that constitute our lives. Campbell maintains that that movement was key for the creation of his poetry. “Geographically and geopolitically, it reflects the nomadic movement of my life,” he explained.
Dusk is the spiritual centre of the collection. The title was inspired by an ordinary experience of the Caribbean everyday: running along the beach at dusk. Running at the beach became a ritual for Campbell after returning to the Bahamas from America before he left for his stint at Oxford.
“It was an act of reconnecting with the self and my own landscape,” he said. “I kept going back to the beach, and it became less and less about the exercise and more about the experience. The poems are very much about that beach space and that dusk moment. There’s a metaphorical richness to what dusk means. It’s a liminal state: neither light nor dark. I’m very interested in the texture of light at dusk.”
Campbell notes the importance of landscape as a part of Caribbean culture and its intimate relationship to the beach. He explains that the landscape imbues music and literature. The overarching, multifaceted role of landscape helps to explain his attraction to poetry.
“I am an audiophile,” he said. “I’m obsessed with sound and language. Poetry, more than any other literary genre, allows me to explore that. For me, poetry is a listening presence, fully present to the air and the heart. The compression of time and space and the idea that you can travel so far in such little space on a page is very powerful for me.”
Christian Campbell’s poetry collection Running the Dusk is available at A Different Book List, 746 Bathurst.
Illustration by Kate Wakely-Mulroney