Poet Shirley Campbell said she considers herself to be utterly black. In fact, during the release of her poetry book, “Rotundamente Negra” (“Utterly Black”), she called herself “the blackest woman in this world.”
“Through this skin, you see everything, because, thank God, you can’t take it off,” she told a crowd gathered at the SpanishCulturalCenter in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Escalante.
Her poetry collection, initially published non-commercially 12 years ago, was reborn last month after being reprinted by Ediciones Perro Azul editorial house in San José.
In its three sections: “La Tierra Prometida” (“The Promised Land”), “Ahora que Puedo Gritarlos” (“Now that I Can Shout Them”), and “Rotundamente Negra,” Campbell’s work revolves around the theme of skin color, while also touching on issues such as motherhood, loneliness, fear, gender and love.
“Rotundamente Negra,” the poem that gives the collection its name, is an emphatic reflection on acceptance: staring into a mirror and seeing utter beauty, and entering a condition of freedom that precludes fear and sadness.
During the book release, held the evening of Oct. 26, Costa Rican poet and Campbell’s friend Carlos Manuel Morera called her collection a work that “transcends poetry.”
“She (Campbell) opted to show her face,” he said to an audience of approximately 70 people at the activity. “Her dream has to do with Martin Luther King’s, Malcolm X’s, Rosa Parks’…” added Morera, who wrote a prologue to the book.
According to Campbell, it was during a book presentation of Morera’s she attended approximately three months ago that it occurred to them both to release her poetry collection once again, though it is not the only poetry she has worked on in the last few years.
At the activity, the poet, who resides in Jamaica with her family, read some of her more recent unpublished work in addition to poems from “Rotundamente Negra.”
Her reading of an unpublished poem about her deceased grandmothers made her father’s eyes fill with tears. Sitting in the front row, economist Luis Campbell said he always reads his daughter’s book when he is feeling down.
“Sometimes I read her poetry to my clients, to reduce their tension,” he told The Tico Times.
Other members of Campbell’s multitalented family in attendance at the activity included an impressive list of siblings: former vice-presidential candidate for the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and former legislator Epsy; dancer Doris; model and actress Narda; engineer Luis; and R&B songstress Sasha, who stole the stage for a few minutes to deliver a delightful performance.
According to the Campbell siblings’ mother, Shirley Barr, the secret to bringing up such a gifted family is encouraging children to study.
“Studying is the key to everything. Our children were always busy,” she said. Shirley Campbell studied anthropology at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and got a Master’s degree in international cooperation for development at Peru’s St. Mary’s CatholicUniversity. She also took postgraduate courses in African gender studies at ZimbabweUniversity in Harare. The poet has lived throughout Central America and in New York City.
Campbell’s poetry book is available at most bookstores in the Central Valley for ¢2,000 (approximately $3), according to Perro Azul editor Carlos Aguilar. For the moment, “Rotundamente Negra” is available only in Spanish.