The angels in this provocative debut defy expectation: they threaten to reduce the narrator's lover to ashes and tell ``dead baby jokes over their cornflakes.'' Many of Campbell's best poems refer imaginatively to popular culture: ``Life after Life'' speaks of our existence in terms of a video game; in ``Nostalgia,'' cartoon characters George and Jane Jetson remember their first date. Here the irony heightens the pathos, and the declarative tone is utterly convincing. Equally effective poems present facts or rules: ``WARNING: NUCLEAR WASTE DUMP'' asserts that ``This poem has to last / . . . must be equally beautiful / In every language'' and mean ``Exactly what it says.'' When Campbell confronts love or despair head-on, however, her diction and imagery can become familiar, even sentimental (``Think of me, from now on, thinking of you''). Other poems are cute or lengthy, lacking the force, resonance and clarity of the strongest works. (Apr.)
Campbell's poems are suffused with light, and not just the incidence of light itself, or of incandescent language, but light in all its connotations: spiritual striving; perceptiveness; the desire to attain joy, to get free of the world--``the flesh is hardest to remove''; the radiance of angels. Though religious symbolism figures largely in these poems, Campbell's concerns are not strictly religious; instead, she aims to show that transcendence is implicated in everyday life: ``My lover saw nothing but a woman doing woman's work for/ him./ When I lifted the stone . . ./ He could not see the burning foot of Raphael/ Light on it.'' The transcendence won't hold--faced with life after death, Campbell discovers, instead of the ``feverish and splendid inactivity'' she had expected, angels eating cornflakes--but readers who try these poems may touch it briefly. An exceptional beginning for the 1988 winner of the Barnard New Poets Prize.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''