Keepsake by Kayleigh Campbell

DSCF5981The gentle thud of post at the front door signals the coming of Kayleigh Campbell’s Keepsake, number 7 in the impressive list of work published in 2019 by  Maytree Press.

As is my wont, I read the title poem first. I know … I am a heathen, literally and figuratively; often skipping to the middle or end of books before I should, evoking horror, dismay and occasionally pity from Fiona and friends, as if I’m somehow depraved or deranged.

From my perspective, the poem Keepsake immediately struck a paternal chord, as memories flooded back of my own first purchase for Em 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, bringing to mind my own over-protectiveness as a father, a simmering feeling of aggression toward 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. Here I brought my own experience to the poetry, which is a characteristically selfish response on my part, but a starting point nevertheless, as I read through these excellent poems and tried to remember other details from twenty years ago.

Postpartum and The First Year reveal 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 blue from the first stanza starts with a mixture of adjectives in month one, distilled to a concept of baby blues over the rest of the year, gradually fading in lines of words reducing in size of font. The repetition induces a response in me similar to listening to Zodiac T-shirt read by Simon Armitage with his refrain of “call in the crash-team” (and as I sit here with a cuppa, composing myself, I wonder if Kayleigh has read this to audiences, for I believe it would have the same effect).

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.

I loved Kayleigh’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 wonderful poet.

I would highly recommend her work.

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