Erotic Distance

Barbara Campbell

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Winner of the 2003 T. S. Eliot Prize

Erotic Distance explores our most intimate relationships and private lives in language that is at once painterly, sensual, and exacting.


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Winner of the 2003 T. S. Eliot Prize

Erotic Distance explores our most intimate relationships and private lives in language that is at once painterly, sensual, and exacting. The poems combine the lyric image and formal rigor to negotiate the luminous space between ourselves and our desires.

Erotic Distance describes the unstable, but unquenchable connectedness of man, woman, and child. Once the head is lifted off the pillow the triangle begins to spin. Occasionally the angles soften into curves, into circle. The body rests and the song unburdens itself. The terms of entanglement are set among plain nouns—room, light, mirror, horse, birds, tree, apple, body—that describe the complexity of our interior geography. But autonomous space, in other words, “sitting unopposed in the trees outside thinking,” is a privileged, impermanent position. The poems admit the losses only mercy can sustain and forgiveness relieve. The singing burns and yet the days open into one, “Now, reach into the quiet for the name of the beloved / Into the mouth of the apple.” Who can refuse this chastened exhortation to love.

—C. D. Wright

Barbara Campbell is one of the best younger poets to appear in recent years. In its sensual understanding of states of anxiety, her work reminds me of the uncanny tone of Peter Handke novels, in which a leaf skitters down a highway or someone holds his hand in ice water for the texture of the experience. The heart is “a fist of linen” and “a red house comes in and out of focus for hours.” Formally diverse, the pastorals, ghazals, tyrannies, and aubades of Erotic Distance strike at the emotional center of experience—“They love and a field burns, circled by dogs”—with sympathy and ardor. This is the poetry of desire and lyric intensity, complex in detail and ideation but also unbearably physical.

—Paul Hoover

Barbara Campbell’s Erotic Distance is aptly named, and brilliantly aware of that aptness. In a kind of unassuming attentiveness, these poems do not try to overcome distances, but rather they allow longing to produce freedom—or if not to produce, to allow, suggest, and invite liberation to replace various tyrannies. Along with a beautiful graciousness, this book offers its readers an engaged conscience. Erotic Distance is an important book.

—Bin Ramke




Parable for a Marriage Long Sought
The Tyranny of Three
Quesnay’s Aspect
Chicago Ghazal
Lament for a Son
Morning at the Window
Tyranny of Errant Desire
Notes on Form
Tyranny of Erotic Distance
Painted Vase
Middle Ground
Five Odes for Ellen Gunderson
The Writing Room
Nine Lines Broken into Finer Parts
To the Trees’ Irregular Tremor
Tyranny of the Aerial Map
Lyric on a Painting by Odd Nerdrum
Love Poem in Stricter Measure
Against Animism
The Art Lesson
Evening at the Window
Abandoned Paradelle
Lines Reclaimed from Faith
Chicago Aubade
Tyranny of Advent
The Builder’s Wife
Lines Discarded and Deeply Felt
The Swimming
Epithalamion: How We Drown
Tyranny of the Present Moment
Lines Approximating Light
Chicago Pastoral
Ars Poetica
Tyranny of the Muse



Barbara Campbell is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has published widely in journals including New American Writing, Indiana Review, Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, and most recently, Verse. Campbell was winner of the 1993 John Logan Poetry Prize and the 1990 Eileen Lannan Poetry Prize, and has been awarded four residencies at the Ragdale Foundation.