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  • Michael Black

(REVIEW) Political A/F: A Rage Collection, by Tara Campbell

book cover for Tara Campbell pink figure against sun-like corolla

From the tranquil meadows of Wordsworth to the trouble with pronouns, Michael Black explores Tara Campbell's new volume, Political A/F: A Rage Collection (Unlikely Books, 2020).

> Tara Campbell has made a hybrid rage collection. I take pause, wondering what it is to collect rage, considering that of all emotions and affects, rage is both the hardest to categorize, collect, preserve, define, predict, temper, enjoy, control, differentiate, and the hardest to relinquish, the hardest of all to get over. Campbell’s book was published on August 22nd this year. Exactly one month later, on the 15th September, Bob Woodwards’ study of the Trump presidency has just been published, entitled Rage. Promising as an expose of rage in the White House might be, could we be healed by the intimate details? Campbell gives us the lesson, without the torture.

> ‘The meadow’ is an allegory of sexual violence, centred on an anthropomorphized meadow capable of ‘love’ for its ‘own wet heft’, but finding the world dominated by tyranny, makes the meadow full of self-loathing: ‘The meadow sings birthright and hates herself.’ The voice of the meadow is not shrinking, as it might seem in a classic allegorization of sexual innocence and experience, such as William Blake’s The Book of Thel. Campbell’s meadow introduces the intransigence of rage for the collection as a whole, and its semantic relation to hate.

> ‘In the New Republic’ imagines the future direction of Trump’s masculinity, depicted by Campbell as a return to a world of old school advertising and media in which a figure called ‘The bachelor’ is invited to come forward and ‘choose her/and choose her/and choose her’, lines in which the anaphora captures the joylessness that makes bachelors ‘tire of thrusting.’ In the future ‘Republic’ political leaders are obsessed by their fear of ‘sharp objects’, and rebels seek the illicit community of ‘wool stitches/over tender knuckles.’

> In ‘Shut up and dribble’, Donald Trump has gone to play golf in Mar a Lago, only to find his twitter account has accidentally emitted fifty nine, by my count, tweets in suppression of his voter’s desires. ‘Active 3D printer situation’ is a plea that cyber reproduction won’t only be used to download/plans for your AR-15’, but also consider ‘the plans for our son.’ A poignant thought about what is missing or lost in this new technology.

> ‘Four-cent Father’ is a spare account of racist police reports, in the wake of which, ‘judge’, ‘jury’, and ‘poet’ are at a loss to ‘clarify how a life is worth four cents’, a lament for justice unattained. In ‘The Trouble with Pronouns’, Campbell offers us an equivocal American voice for 2020:

Another unarmed black man dead and I want to be clear but my pronouns are a mess because I’m mixed-race and mixed-up trying to explain in black and white how “we” and “they” might bridge the gap.

> In sensitive appreciation of the doubts about a racial chiaroscuro the above lines suggest, Em Spencer has made a prismatic dancing uterus for the cover. The reflection on pronouns contains a personal confession of collected clutter that might signify whiteness, while also disavowing it: ‘I’ll spill it now, watched Gilligan’s Island and Get Smart, wore Hee Haw overalls and played with Donny and Marie dolls; so how am I even black enough, because I have no history with collards or church.’ Campbell’s speaker is open to accepting ‘the debate rolls on/all mixed up/in black and white.’

> Throughout Political A/F, the question of collective American history keeps re-emerging. In ‘The Reek of history’, a mythology of US exceptionalism through liberty is exposed as ‘the stink of freedom’, the cost of the ‘patriots’ ideals is:

the stench of the elderly without medicine kids without lunches immigrants without futures con-men without consequences klansmen without fear guns without limits and fetal coffins floating like flower petals ao’er scum-filled waters.

This is a litany of the consequences of unchecked rage. In ‘All Hail NewConstitution’ and ‘A Growing Crisis: A Presidential Address’, Trump and his insider’s ‘gerrymandering’ is exposed. While Trump rewrites articles of the constitution, Campbell answers back by erasing parts of a speech he gave to congress on January 8th, 2019. Reading ’42,000 matches’, I am delighted to learn ‘Sacha Baron Cohen fools Republicans into filming ad about arming toddlers.’

> In ‘Scotus 2247’, a piece of ekphrasis, responding to the work of contemporary artist Oliver Lee Jackson, Campbell takes a moment to describe subjects, momentarily separate from the increasingly hostile terrain of American politics before the election in November. Yet not in a way that entirely evades suffering:

The Three are hollowed out now: no lungs, no stomachs, no hearts. Impervious to hunger and sickness. They are neither male nor female, have no race or creed. They neither want nor need, designed to be completely impartial, untainted in their pursuit of justice. There were once more of them; now only three remain.

If you follow the link I gave above, then note that I think Campbell responds to Jackson’s Triptych’s I, II, and III, all made in 2015, which are now in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. In both Jackson and Campbell’s work, these figures are restless, anxious, at the impossibility of realising: ‘there is no other law, no other history, no other justice.’

> ‘Vessels of the State’ invokes the ancient embattled gender politics of Aristophanes Lysistrata, but creates the opposite of a sex strike. Instead, it is announced ‘we/will no longer/refuse you.’ In Campbell’s bleakly dystopian creation of ‘U.S. Government Form BC-451: Form to procure permission to Purchase Birth Control’, there is intensely rude, violent Althusserian interpellation, as the form decides in advance that its subject is the ‘Infernal Harlot’ and favours an ‘Infernal Harlot’ who is related to a ‘GOP Elected Representative.’ Included are a total of eight reasons for women to have the right to full control of their reproductive labour, but these are invalidated by ‘the Fetal Host Act of 2024.’ Reason number 9, ‘I am dating a married CEO or Member of Congress’ is the only one accepted. Campbell continues to address misogynist laws in ‘The Scent of Lions’, a short story that is a kind of re-writing, for the drone age, of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).

> Rage in poetry evokes Audre Lorde’s ‘A Poem for Women in Rage’ (1981):

In the deathland my lover’s voice fades Like the roar of a train derailed On the other side of a river Every white woman’s face I love And distrust is upon it.’[1]

> Overcoming that ‘distrust’ relates to Campbell’s poetic aims because Lorde identified it with being told at conferences by white women: ‘Tell me how you feel but don’t say it too harshly or I cannot hear you.’[2]Campbell’s work achieves what Lorde called ‘symphony of anger’ in contradistinction to ‘cacophony.’[3]Once having made that point, a qualification is necessary. While ‘symphony of anger’ is what Lorde praised, ‘cacophony’ cannot be censored, where one hears ‘cacophony’, there may be a failure to hear the ‘symphony’ of rage.

> And yet, in The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004), Sara Ahmed defines the political violence of rage perpetuated by an organisation like the British National Front in which the ‘hard white body’ is ‘shaped by its reactions: the rage against others surfaces as a body that stands apart or keeps its distance from others.’[4] Perhaps, by making a ‘rage collection’, Campbell encourages us that ‘rage’ need not be about that ‘distance from others’, but part of a productive communal experience, promising an undoing of what James Baldwin called ‘unrewarding rage.’[5] As Autumn threatens to keep giving us Trump’s voice, Campbell’s is better.

Political A/F: A Rage Collection is out now and available to order from Unlikely Books.


[1] Audre Lorde, ‘A Poem for Women in Rage’, printed in Iowa Review, 12.2), Spring/Summer, 1981, 220-222. [2] Ibid, p. 23. [3] Audre Lorde ‘Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’ (1981), a speech Lorde gave in June, 1981, at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut, reprinted in The Masters’ Tools will Never Dismantle The Master’s House (London: Penguin, 2017), p. 23. [4] Sarah Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), p.4 [5] James Baldwin, Notes of Native Son, (London: Penguin, 2017), p. 34.


Text: Michael Black

Published: 23/10/20


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