Amy King, The Good Campaign, *a dusi/e-chap, 2006
Review by Chris Rizzo
Possibly the most interesting place to begin reading The Good Campaign is its final couplet: “You’ll have more than this passing ever after / where skin after sin swallows into us now.” One long poem comprised of eleven lyric sections, King’s text is an exploration of the couplet, the simplest principle that organizes the work throughout, and the simplest principle that organizes human relationships. What can we make of this final couplet, the point at which the couplings of The Good Campaign officially end?
Such a question leads me back to “where skin after sin swallows into us now.” King’s penchant for quicksilvering syntax is one of her greatest strengths as a poet. Here, “skin” becomes the “sin” that unexpectedly “swallows into us now,” i.e., pores not only sweat (expel) but also take in the “now,” an urgent yet organic process of feeling through a moment that somehow goes morally awry. And the text offers no conclusions about this “sin,” but rather a maelstrom of clues that keep us rapt:
“Friend, your corpus harp reminds me / of existence gone missing”
“I’m not invested in mulching truths at all, / I’m merely a fan of the fur that’s touched”
“Which came first, a graffiti of injury / or the limned outline across the floor?”
“Did you lasso up my voice? Lying by your hips? / A car appears the safest place in a storm.”
Or, this entire section:
In celluloid fashion, waitresses play
musical chairs, never the same face reflected
In a glass of wine, between sips the napkin
flies, gently off, onto your arm, able all along.
What would life be like around you?
I want a stomach for a pillow,
A film that renders a film sufficient,
crises carried in care. One of us reminds the other
Of a hostage who falls for her babysitter,
anchored sharp on gluegunned I love yous,
This incomplete answer escapes its yes,
a museum-shelved painting as evidence—
Who will seek your footnoted solos
for the gender that sidesteps its name?
Campaigns are about ends, and King’s campaign is no exception. The question of “sin” (and all the language that the question suggests, e.g., error, shame, etc.) is “incomplete,” yet must suffice in being its own individual and particular system of meaning. The Good Campaign is indeed good because it is made “of mathematical matchsticks / for the romance of gluing together,” the form(ula) of the couplet leaving us with more than one answer, one end, one art. A lack of both definitive closure and closed definitions leave the text hauntingly ambiguous, i.e., ambiguous in the sense of textual space, into which the reader can enter. King’s phrase “gluing together” could either mean two individuals romantically stuck to one another, or two individuals who share the process of putting together their singular, yet broken lives. Perhaps the phrase points to both these interpretations at once, but not even “gluegunned I love yous” are enough to hold a coupling together—or one’s life, for that matter—and this human problematic seems a sin, a shame, a lack out of which poems are made. Glittering, enigmatic, beautiful and of consequence, King’s lyricism makes “legs unfurl, brainstems burn, and trumpets / bone the room.” In a good way, The Good Campaignwill leave you wanting.