Stephen Kampa’s first book, Cracks in the Invisible, won the 2010 Hollis Summers Poetry Prize and the 2011 Gold Medal in Poetry from the Florida Book Awards. It is available from Ohio University Press.
“Goodbye, plain style. Here is a poet of high style, who writes with the passion of Henry Vaughan and the wit of Lord Byron, the sheer virtuosity of James Merrill and Anthony Hecht and a lexicon to make W.H. Auden look up from his daily crosswords in Paradise. The range of tone and subject is breathtaking from the profoundest questions about human and divine love, to the parallels between Pilgrim’s Progress and being tested for STDs, to what kind of Chinese food to eat while watching science fiction on TV. With elegies for contemporary masters of the blues and even a domestic opera for one voice, the variety of performance is one of the many pleasures offered by Cracks in the Invisible. Others include a subtle ear for rhyme, both comic and serious, and the shifts of rhythm and meter. Whatever the poet tries his hand at, there is always a sense that these superbly made lyrics exist for strong and complicated feelings that could find, otherwise, no other form..”
—Mark Jarman, final judge, author of Bones Fires: New and Selected Poems
“One poem in Stephen Kampa’s Cracks in the Invisible ends with a woman ‘Nervously shredding a tissue in her hands, / Then cupping and recupping it until / It looked for all the world like a white carnation.’ Having seen, by that point in the book, Kampa’s attunement to the miracles and ministrations of the word, the reader is ready to hear the phrase aslant, and note that Kampa himself looks for all the world, in more than one sense of that phrase. Kampa tries to see the whole world, not only the parts that would confirm his prejudices or offer him easy solace. These are poems of faith, but not easy or naïve faith. Theirs is a faith that must include the warning, ‘Your convictions / May not survive,’ and must substitute for the clichéd message of an inspirational poster the conclusion, ‘You miss, you die, cold and alone in space.’ In addition—and, I want to say, more importantly—Kampa looks for all the world in the sense that he looks not only in order to advance the interests of those of us (himself, me, and most of his likely readers) who enjoy safetyand privilege and comfort, but also—in the best spirit of the Christian gospels—on behalf of all of us: he pays attention to the vagrant ‘standing / Near the corner, cupping his hands together’ to catch the rain that ‘fills them to overflowing,’ and he solicits (in an apostrophe I take as doulia, a prayer mediated by the yet-to-be-canonized Ray Charles) a promise that ‘God in his heart has room for / Heroin addicts, // Alcoholics, ass-grabbing creeps, and bastards.’ Stephen Kampa’s poems edify; may his prayers be answered.”
—H.L. Hix, author of First Fire, Then Birds: Obsessionals 1985-2010
“The very first poem in this marvelous first book describes shards of broken glass that ‘seem to promise everlasting light.’ From this moment on Stephen Kampa never ceases to amaze. His poems—religious in the deepest sense—will offer succor to believers and will tempt non-believers. Learned and playful—where else do Gene Krupa, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Charles, Dracula, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Duke Ellington keep company with Rembrandt, Beethoven, Hipparchus, Jane Austen, and John Bunyan?—the poems also keep us alert to the variety of poetry’s own resources. The rhymes (‘innuendo’ with ‘Nintendo’) dazzle and delight. Other ingenious rhyme and stanza schemes suggest Kampa’s debts to Anthony Hecht and W. H. Auden, as well as, farther back, to Donne and Herbert. These are very much a young man’s poems, concerned with love, religious faith (and doubt), and art, subjects brought together in the longest, and last poem, ‘A Closer Walk With Thee’ with a mature man’s sublime mastery.”
—Willard Spiegelman, author of Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness
- Check out the podcast-review from Books and Culture: A Christian Review here (7/18/11).
- Check out the Florida Book Awards Winner Interview here.