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Rafael Campo

1964–

Rafael Campo was born in Dover, New Jersey, on November 24, 1964. He attended both Amherst College and Harvard Medical School before publishing his first collection of poems, The Other Man Was Me: A Voyage to the New World, which won the National Poetry Series Open Competition in 1993.

Since then, he has published several books, including Comfort Measures Only: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2016 (Duke University Press, 2018); The Enemy, (Duke University Press, 2007); Landscape with Human Figure (Duke University Press, 2002); Diva (1999), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and What the Body Told (1996), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He is also the author of two prose collections, including The Healing Art: A Doctor's Black Bag of Poetry (W. W. Norton & Company, 2003) and The Poetry of Healing (W. W. Norton, 1996), which also received a Lambda Literary Award for Memoir.

About Campo's work, the poet Mark Doty has said, "Rafael Campo's rhymes and iambs construct their music against the edgy, recognizble world his poems inhabit: the landscape of birth and of dying, sorrow and sex, shame and brave human persistence—first and last things, center stage in these large-hearted, open, deeply felt poems."

Campo is a PEN Center West Literary Award finalist and a recipient of the National Hispanic Academy of Arts and Sciences Annual Achievement Award. He recently received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Echoing Green Foundation.

He is a practicing physician at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Comfort Measures Only: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2016 (Duke University Press, 2018) 
The Enemy, (Duke University Press, 2007)
Landscape with Human Figure (Duke University Press, 2002) 
Diva (1999)
What the Body Told (1996)

Prose
The Healing Art: A Doctor's Black Bag of Poetry (W. W. Norton & Company, 2003)
The Poetry of Healing (W. W. Norton, 1996)

By This Poet

5

Health

While jogging on the treadmill at the gym,
that exercise in getting nowhere fast,
I realized we need a health pandemic.
Obesity writ large no more, Alzheimer's
forgotten, we could live carefree again.
We'd chant the painted shaman's sweaty oaths,
We'd kiss the awful relics of the saints,
we'd sip the bitter tea from twisted roots,
we'd listen to our grandmothers' advice.
We'd understand the moonlight's whispering.
We'd exercise by making love outside, 
and afterwards, while thinking only of
how much we'd lived in just one moment's time,
forgive ourselves for wanting something more:
to praise the memory of long-lost need,
or not to live forever in a world 
made painless by our incurable joy.

Love Song for Love Songs

A golden age of love songs and we still
can't get it right. Does your kiss really taste
like butter cream? To me, the moon's bright face
was neither like a pizza pie nor full;
the Beguine began, but my eyelid twitched.
"No more I love you's," someone else assured
us, pouring out her heart, in love (of course)—
what bothers me the most is that high-pitched,
undone whine of "Why am I so alone?"
Such rueful misery is closer to 
the truth, but once you turn the lamp down low,
you must admit that he is still the one,
and baby, baby he makes you so dumb
you sing in the shower at the top of your lungs.

Hospital Writing Workshop

Arriving late, my clinic having run
past 6 again, I realize I don’t
have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them,
these students who are patients, who I lead
in writing exercises, reading poems.
For them, this isn’t academic, it’s
reality:  I ask that they describe
an object right in front of them, to make
it come alive, and one writes about death,
her death, as if by just imagining
the softness of its skin, its panting rush
into her lap, that she might tame it; one
observes instead the love he lost, he’s there,
beside him in his gown and wheelchair,
together finally again.  I take
a good, long breath; we’re quiet as newborns.
The little conference room grows warm, and right
before my eyes, I see that what I thought
unspeakable was more than this, was hope.