13 Questions with Robert Campbell


Coffin Bell: Introduce yourself.
Robert Campbell: I like to think of myself as a language nerd with a penchant for writing on and around oddities, dreams, and otherworldly happenings. Living in a rural place, I have a fondness for writing about the eeriness and beauty of human-less landscapes.
CB: When you write, do you start with a plan and move from there, or do you generally go where the writing takes you?
RC: Both. It’s easy to start a poem with an idea in mind, but a poem is a living thing, isn’t it? It is disruptive by nature in some ways. My goal is to have an initial focus that breaks open or pivots somehow, that becomes something else in the course of the poem.
CB:  What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
RC: Do two things that are expected and one that is unexpected.
CB: What advice can you give about revising and editing work?
RC: I think of revision as an opportunity to completely re-imagine an initial draft. Often, I find that I’m trying to say two or even three things at once in a poem, and those things need to be oscillated and woven in a way that feels balanced to me. For me, revision is about bringing the best parts into conversation with one another.
CB: What advice can you give about navigating the world of publishing?
RC: Send your work to places that like to publish what you write. Ignore publications and presses that address writers insultingly, charge outrageous fees, or refuse to even acknowledge submissions. Don’t waste time on places that aren’t the right fit.
CB: Who are your influences?
RC: Berryman, Stevens, and Dickinson, to name a few. I know those are wildly different, and I’m eternally getting shit for listing Emily Dickinson as a favorite poet, but her precision is incredible, and the way she tempers darkness with joy is so unique.
CB: What’s one thing you wish every journal editor knew?
RC: Poets cannot afford to subscribe to every journal we submit to, and it’s not because we don’t want to. This is something we need to start being honest about. Poets make very little off of our work, and we may buy a single copy of a journal or browse one at a library, but buying them all is beyond the capacity of our budgets.
CB: Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive. Tell us about your fears.
RC: Evangelists, serial killers, and anything in between.
CB: What draws you to dark literature?
RC: I think gazing into the dark allows us to transform what haunts us. For many of us, fear of “the dark” is ingrained in us as a kind of fear of the Other, and by approaching strange things in our writing, we also make room for those parts of ourselves that we reject unfairly.
CB: How does the darkness in your piece enhance the work?
RC: What do you think? I hesitate to give my own answer, but I would like to think that the Queen and the Empire have a diametrical opposition not unlike that between mystery and empiricism, the self and imperialism.
CB: How important are your surroundings when you write? Tell us about your workspace.
RC: Not at all, really. I’ve written in all kinds of spaces, though I tend to jot down lines and ideas that occur to me in my smartphone, then explore them more fully when I have some time at home, usually in my office.
CB: If you had to summarize your philosophy of literary creation, what would that be?
RC: This is a hard question. I’d say I approach poems as living things made of weird music. They want and need to sing, but they also have to have a kind of unforced complexity that makes them interesting, not like a puzzle, but like a person. This isn’t something I’m always able to manage, but it’s what I hope to see.
CB: Where can we find more of your work?
RC: My chapbook, In the Herald of Improbable Misfortunes, is available from Etchings Press at the University of Indianapolis. You can also find my work in Barrow Street, Arts & Letters, the Los Angeles Review, and many other literary journals.