On the Web: The Poetry of Troy Camplin

Troy asked me to review his blog, Thyme and Time Again, and, by extension, his poetry. The first thing to say about Troy’s blog is that it’s well-presented. Nothing can be more off-putting than a slipshod blog (doesn’t encourage readers to take a blogger seriously). His brief little autobiography tells us that he has a Ph.D. in the Humanities from UT-Dallas, an M.A. in English from the Univ. of S. MS, and a B.S. in Recombinant Gene Technology. He writes: “I specialize in spontaneous order and self-organization theory (from the brain to cities), network theory, Austrian economics, aesthetics, and cultural studies. I also write plays and poems.” Wow.

The  libraries of poetry are filled with books by educated and well-heeled Ministers, Physicians, Diplomats, Aristocrats, etc…  They had a love of literature, poetry and some spare time. John Donne is the most famous. There are also poets like John Collop and Edward Taylor. Edward Taylor was a minister but it’s John Collop who would be Troy’s spiritual and professional antecedent. Collop was a physician who didn’t suffer fools gladly, including other physicians. The editor writes that Collop “rejected as ignorant folly the most popular remedies of his time — phlebotomy, purges, fontanels — and the accompanying theories of defluxions and bodily humors. His poems attack quacks in all varieties: the astrological quack who assigns each herb to a house in the Zodiac and reads its properties in the stars…”

Hillberry, the editor of The Poems of John Collop, writes that Collop was no John Donne (a poet who Collop admired and imitated in some ways) but his poems are nevertheless rugged, avoid sentimentality and are intelligently alive with observation and wit. Camplin writes in this tradition – the gentleman poet. If he doesn’t already, Camplin should have some Collop on his shelf.

Camplin is doggedly prolific, writing one poem a day, and they range from free verse to traditional. No creative artist, can keep that pace and produce lasting work unless they possess surpassing ability.  Since today is today, and that would be December 29th, let’s take a look at his current poem:

Morning Tea

I know when roses fill her breath,
This morning she’s been drinking tea.
I wonder then what were her thoughts –
Of house, of work, or even me.
As honey drips slow off her spoon –
An amber made, not trapping bees –
Under the shade of old live oaks,
Her chair well-set on roots of trees,
She dips her spoon into the cup
To stir the light brown liquid sweet
And closes eyes to hear the air,
Relaxing back in plastic seat.
I see a smile spread through her eyes
As any fear within her dies.

Morning Tea is safely representative of the kind of poetry you will find — accomplished but showing the hallmarks of quick writing. The imagery is fairly straight forward and moves line by line. One doesn’t find the carefully planned imagery or conceits of more considered poetry. All but one of the lines are end-stopped. This is commonly the mark of haste – get the lines out and get them to rhyme. However, in fairness to Troy, I actually find this poem to be atypical. Many, if not most, of his other poems show greater freedom with enjambment and end-stopping. Another mark of speed, perhaps, is a willingness to invert grammar for the sake of rhyme:

To stir the light brown liquid sweet

One’s not sure whether we’re to treat liquid as the noun, or sweet as the noun. Troy has chosen not to punctuate the line so we’re left to our own devices (and this may be deliberate). I think most readers would read liquid as the noun and sweet as the adjective.  There’s some grammatical awkwardness earlier in the poem as well:

I know when roses fill her breath,
This morning she’s been drinking tea.

Normally, we would probably say: She’s been drinking tea this morning. We would also, probably, more normally order our thoughts as follows:

She’s been drinking tea this morning,
I know it when the scent of roses is on her breath.

Something like that, but Troy has a rhyme scheme to keep. His lines aren’t exactly ungrammatical (though they flirt with poor grammar through their lack of punctuation), but there’s frequently something a little off kilter about them. They don’t feel organic. Rather, it frequently feels as though the form wrote the lines rather than the lines writing the form. A poet who isn’t writing a poem a day might be less willing to let such lines slip by. He might not close the line with the inverted grammar of:

As any fear within her dies.

Rather than:

As any fear dies within her.

Another mark of haste is Troy’s willingness to discard articles for the sake of meter (rather than re-write the line so that standard English is preserved). Poets up to the 19th century had the luxury of synaloepha when they needed to keep their lines iambic. These days, about the only shortcut left to poets is the omission of articles, but it’s not really an effective shortcut. It almost always risks making the lines sound amateurish.

And closes eyes to hear the air,
Relaxing back in plastic seat.

Should read:

And closes (her) eyes to hear the air,
Relaxing back in (the) plastic seat.

Haste can also be revealed by logical oversights. In the lines just quoted, Troy observes that the woman, as she sips her morning tea, has just closed her eyes. And yet, two lines later, he tells us that he sees “a smile spread through her eyes”. I’m not sure how this is possible since her eyes are, presumably, still closed. It’s possible that he’s speaking rhetorically and figuratively, using eyes as a catchall for closed eyes, eye brows, facial expressions, etc.; but in either case the lines don’t feel thoroughly thought out. All these little flaws, to a greater or less extent, can be found in all his poems.

But it wouldn’t be fair to leave it at that. Just as with Edward Taylor and John Collop, Camplin’s better poems show a poet’s grasp of metaphor and imagery. Consider the following:

An Inordinate Fondness

In all my travels I have noticed God
Is fond of filling fields with yellow flowers.
There’s blue and red and pink and white – how odd
It’s golden yellow glowing after showers

Sow fields with water blown in flowing sheets
To dew the sod anew. No matter where
I look, I note that God both greets and meets
The eye with golden threads He’s sewn with care

Into the blooming fields. Indeed, in fields
He fills with lupines, blue in sun and shade
Of pines, some yellow shines. The yellow yields
A sharp define to all the mellow grades

Of blue and green that wave as warm winds blow.
It seems He couldn’t help Himself – He felt
He had to throw in just a note, to show
That sorrow’s blues and greens would always melt.

And even when I tried to plant a plot
Of only purple flowers, God slipped in
A golden dandelion that would not
Let me get lost within the purple din.

So now I look upon the yellow glow
Of God’s gold fingerprints upon the earth,
And know I owe him all I own – I grow
And glow with yellow petals from my birth.

Now, compared to the broken glass of a poet like John Ashbery, this is going to feel simplistic, mawkish and sentimental but, for all that, the poem is well put together. And, to be honest, it’s no more mawkish or sentimental than the free verse of Maya Angelou. I’d rather read Camplin than Angelou.  Complin works harder. There’s nothing safer or easier than free verse – like putting up the frame of a house and calling it done. Meter and rhyme is the finish work. Even if his efforts aren’t always successful, I know far more about his stature as a poet than Angelou. I know that if Camplin took just a little extra time he could, potentially, write some spectacular stuff:

····················Indeed, in fields
He fills with lupines, blue in sun and shade
Of pines, some yellow shines. The yellow yields
A sharp define to all the mellow grades

Of blue and green that wave as warm winds blow.

The sense of rhythm and structure in these lines is strong. I’d like to see him think twice about the alliteration and internal rhyme of words like lupines, shines and define – mainly because they feel contrived. I’d like to see him loosen the meter. If I were to re-think the lines, here’s how I would do it:

····················Indeed, in fields
Filled with the lupine and the blueish shade
Of fir, there’s a yellow of the kind that yields
Nothing to any of the mellow grades

Of blue or green blending where the warm winds blow.

To my sensibilities, this gives the lines a more vernacular, less halting feel. The meter, while still strong, feels less forced into the mold.

All in all, I find Troy to be one of the stronger traditional poets on the Internet. The inquisitive reader will find poem after poem by this prolific scientist/poet, all in need of comments. I encourage any reader with a taste for traditional poetry to visit his site and comment. Interaction is the artist’s life blood. If you like his poems, say so. If you think they can be improved, share your thoughts. Camplin writes in the same tradition as a Taylor, Collop, or a Thomas Traherne, who, as they made their living in other ways, wrote poetry for the sheer joy of it. Traherne would have immediately appreciated Camplin’s more devout poems, and shared Camplin’s child-like  contemplation of God. The accessibility of so many voices on the internet is as promising as the self-published poetry of an earlier ra. Take a look and see if you like it.

And why not end the post with a poem by John Collop, the poet who Troy most reminds me of.

On the Atrologicall quack.

As th’Colledge of the stars he did commence,
And Statesman-like will speak the houses sense,
Each house for mans use stranger herbs hath got,
To them they essence property, seed allot.
But is’t not strange; when they so numerous be,
How all do with a fewer stars agree?
Each pil and potion too hath diff’rent sign:
Nature ith’ stomach sure now can’t refine.
Or ist since Heav’n stands still, and earth turns round,
We here are giddy, there no truth is found?
The Heav’ns a book is, where men wonders read,
The stars are letters, most a Christs Cross need.