Book Review of This Gardener's Impossible Dream by Emery L. Campbell
Reviewed by Ethelene Dyer Jones

Campbell, Emery L. This Gardener’s Impossible Dream: “A Not So Green Thumb, (Or Why I Took Up Poetry Instead)” and Other Poems and Translations.  MBooks of BC, Canada, May 2005.  (ISBN 0-97-33301-8-X)  {Also available as an e-book ISBN 0-9733301-9-8).

“Unique!  Different! Surprising!” are words not usually associated with a book of poems, but Emery L. Campbell’s new release shows cultivation of his unique gifts, his different approaches to traditional poetic forms, and a resulting harvest of surprising literary bounty full of humor laden with irony and satire.

Who but Emery Campbell, as adept with traditional forms as any contemporary poet I know, could put a twist on often-heard sayings resulting in surprising insights about our foibles and human nature in general?

He plays with words as he plies his adeptness at poetic forms, much as a gardener wields tools to break the soil, cultivate and produce a crop worthy of his efforts.  The subjects Campbell treats are as imaginative as a bed of wildflowers.  One cannot imagine what lies on the next page.  Maybe tares enter in at times, as in a regular garden, but Campbell knows how to identify and snare them to aid his growing crop of poems.  With his “blue” (not “green”) thumb, he tends the flowers and snaps at the roots of the interspersing weeds.  The poems bloom with a sense of “Ah!”

In his sonnet stating his poetic philosophy, “A Formalist’s Credo,” he views  ideas on traditional and contemporary verse and concludes with,

            “Well, as for me, I choose the formal route.
            What else did you expect from this old coot?”  (p. 55).

Mr. Campbell moves easily through sonnet, villanelle, limerick, ABCDarian verse (and reverse ZYX), glose, pantoum, parody, sestina, haiku, short lyric, acrostic, epigrams and more.  His rhyme and rhythm flow naturally.  His use of poetic forms and devices combined with his incisive wit and subtle humor are marks of a fine poetic craftsman. 

His linguistic skills began with his major in French and were strengthened by his years as an international exports sales executive.  He adeptly translates Jean de la Fontaine’s “Fables,” and poems of Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.  He adroitly turns the translations into rhymes and rhythms, “the formal route,” as per his stated style.

His titles are both impressive and suggestive.  He is able, as a gardener performing a graft, to take familiar titles and develop a unique perspective.  Some of the titles include:  “Oh, Dem Golden Slippers,”  “Gone But (Almost) Not Forgotten,”  “Kudzu, Kudzu, Go Away; Don’t Come Back Another Day,”  “Through the Looking Glass,”  “Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bite,” “The Weigh of All Flesh” and others.  The reader will be entertained with his treatment of these subjects.

Not all the poems are light.  “Genesis” (p. 17), “Through the Looking Glass” (p. 35 – autobiographical), “The Fiftieth of ‘45” (p. 49 - a poem for his Monroe, Wisconsin high school class of 1945 reunion), and the sette bello to his beloved wife “Hettie C” (p. 58) give us glimpses into the poet’s heart of hearts, the real “garden of his soul.”

My hearty recommendation:  Purchase your copy and read Emery L. Campbell’s book.  You’ll like it!  This long-time, hard-working member of Georgia Poetry Society has done the Society a great favor with the issuance of this unusual and entertaining book of poems.