Landscape with Human Figure

Landscape with Human Figure

Book Pages: 104 Illustrations: Published: January 2002

Author: Rafael Campo

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Poetry, Medicine and Health > Medical Humanities

In Landscape with Human Figure, his fourth and most compelling collection of poetry, Rafael Campo confirms his status as one of America’s most important poets. Like his predecessor William Carlos Williams, who was also a physician, Campo plumbs the depths of our capacity for empathy. Campo writes stunning, candid poems from outside the academy, poems that arise with equal beauty from a bleak Boston tenement or a moonlit Spanish plaza, poems that remain unafraid to explore and to celebrate his identity as a doctor and Cuban American gay man. Yet no matter what their unexpected and inspired sources, Campo’s poems insistently remind us of the necessity of poetry itself in our increasingly fractured society; his writing brings us together—just as did the incantations of humankind’s earliest healers—into the warm circle of community and connectedness. In this heart-wrenching, haunting, and ultimately humane work, Rafael Campo has painted as if in blood and breath a gorgeously complex world, in which every one of us can be found.


Landscape with Human Figure bespeaks compassion, dedication, and the sort of intellectual curiosity you’d expect from an M.D. with a creative writing degree.” — Eric McHenry, New York Times Book Review

Landscape with Human Figure by Rafael Campo is about not having the luxury to look away. An AIDS physician, Campo boldly defies the myth of the kind and courageous care giver. This is not stylish cynicism but a brave admission of his own limitations. He is made speechless by a dying man’s gentle reproach: ‘You can’t know how I feel.” Just as often, Campo peers curiously into the dreamlife of his patients.” — Philip Huang, POZ

“[A] pleasant and accessible fourth collection of poetry . . . . [T]he gentle, regular rhythms of [Campo’s] poems give them a sense of quiet control. . . . Contemplative, hopeful, and heartfelt. . . .” — Chelsey Johnson, Out

“[A] powerful collection. . . .” — Gregg Shapiro, Windy City Times

“[A]mbitious, elegant poems. . . . [I]n Landscape with Human Figure, Campo’s clear gaze, generous heart and great skill combine to create a resonant and often romantic collection of poems, one that locates and celebrates all our shared ‘outsider’ hearts.” — Kevin Riordan, Philadelphia Gay News

“[Campo’s] contemporary verses bristle with immediacy. . . . The poems explore the contradictions of contemporary culture, seeking to define the place of art in ‘the shrinking world.’ ” — David Caplan, Columbus Dispatch

“[Campo] writes candidly and with pictorial clarity and color about love won, matured, alienated, and lost; powerfully about the burden of dark skin in a white society, especially in the sonnet sequence ‘Afraid of the Dark;’ and with satiric bite and rueful sympathy about his people and motherland in ‘Cuban Canticle in Five Parts.’ The physician can heal his readers as well as himself.” — Ray Olson, Booklist

“A Cuban American gay man in ‘unending exile’ (he practices medicine in Boston), Campo writes compelling poems about patients in the ER, probing relationships between doctor and patient, between a patient’s case ‘history’ and the cultural mainstream, between an immigrant family and aspirations to study medicine, between sexuality and the restraint of lovers. Not unlike Chekhov, another physician-author, the steady-eyed Campo comes to terms with the darkest of human problems (‘the muffled screams/ along a hallway to the absolute’) by fusing empathy and clinical accuracy. Strengthened by his hands-on knowledge of healing and suffering and kept gentle by bearing his burdens with grace, Campo asserts that, despite ‘the harrowed world . . . we are together, we are here to stay.’” — Library Journal

“Campo confirms his celebrated ability to move from formal verses to far-reaching reflections on alienation and the manifestation of internal energies on external surfaces. With emotion and a technical prowess surgical in its delicacy, the book exposes our raw selves and our travels between beauty and terror.” — Rachel DeWoskin, Boston Magazine

“Campo uses strong words to speak of what needs to be spoken of, which includes being a brown person and not feeling at home ‘no matter where I go.’ . . . It is a pleasure to read words that do not hesitate or skirt around tough issues. Campo is clear and direct about what it means to him to be Cuban, gay, a poet. A practicing physician, he also writes about the hospital, illness, and caregiving.” — Holly Spaulding, Foreword Reviews

“Campo writes restless, worldly narrative poems, often rhyming, that take—and unapologetically engage—the world as it presents itself. . . . His insouciant, call-them-as-I-seem-them descriptions are luminous, addressing the ravages of AIDS, particularly, with care and respect.” — Publishers Weekly

“In his newest collection of poems, gay Cuban-American doctor Rafael Campo calls on all of his various, even conflicting, selves to render some sort of artistic meaning out of the pain, mystery and loss he encounters in life. His poetry also brings up interesting if not troubling ideas about just what poetry is, especially at the beginning of a new millennium that will have even less time for it than the last one. . . . [T]he house of poetry, like God’s, has many mansions; with this collection Campo proves himself a worthy occupant.” — H.E.B., Frontiers News Magazine

“Memorable moments can be found throughout Landscape with Human Figure, Campo’s fourth book of elegant, eloquent, resonant poetry. . . . [Campo] is not simply an ‘issues’ poet; he also writes about the everyday life of the heart. And even his polemical poems are often engagingly lyrical and fiercely clever, filled, like all his work, with dextrous wordplay, with all manner of rhyme. . . . No matter the subject, Campo’s poetry is as frank as it is insightful. And it is never less than generous and humane.” — Kevin Riordan, Courier-Post (Cherry Hill NJ)

“Physicians will be particularly moved by Campo’s weary but respectful regard for his patients in the series of ‘Phone Messages on Call.’ They tell of the times we are catapulted into the lives and suffering of patients we barely know, through the portal of a beeper or the ring of a phone. These wonderful narratives, told in rhyming couplets, smack of the impossibility of our work. So many obstacles: HIV infection, poverty, physical abuse, drug addiction. . . . Landscape with Human Figure reminds us all of how we navigate senses of self, in the face of loss and change, with astonishment and sometimes joy.” — Allan Peterkin, Canadian Medical Association Journal

“Rafael Campo blends several selves into his persona as a poet—Cuban-American, openly gay man, physician, AIDS healer, teacher. Each facet of his life is brilliantly yet formally depicted in his fourth collection, Landscape with Human Figure . . . . Each rereading will yield new wisdom, heart, and insight—great poems, really, reveal their truths with inspired reluctance. Campo is among his generation’s best poets . . . .” — Richard Labonte, Front Page

"[Campo’s] fourth and most compelling collection, a candidate for another award. In today’s hustle and bustle, this collection of poems is highly recommended to take your mind off of yourself and learn how others might react to life and death, laughter and sorrow, and love and hate. A must book for all academic and public libraries, as well as the personal collections who truly appreciate great poets."

— H. Robert Malinowsky, AIDS Book Review Journal

"[M]ature and riveting. . . . [Campo’s] ability to write without emotional restraint, and yet without emotional excess, gives readers a glimpse into a fully human life, one beset with contradictions and imperfections that mirror the world’s. . . . [I]n these well-crafted and well-ordered poems that accrue, in collection, both depth and relevance. Campo, writing at top form for several years, sustains and deepens his voice in this volume. Exploring material he has examined in previous collections, he goes closer to the bone here, displaying a new vulnerability within the framework of precisely crafted poems. As always, Campo’s work is visceral, electric, romantic, and haunting."
— Cortney Davis, Medical Humanities Review

"[T]he majority of Rafael Campo’s verse in Landscape with Human Figure is formal, skillfully using quatrains, couplets, sonnets, and even a sonnet sequence to explore desires between men. . . . [T]he best poems in this collection are simple slices of sexual life, told in quatrains and couplets with slant rhyme, such as 'Your Black Eyes’ and 'An Attribution.’ Throughout, the formality of the poems actually increases their sexiness; the tension between formal verse and images of public, oral, and anal sex—odd images in 'traditional’ verse—creates strains and stresses that are more than just strange; they are erotic. . . . Campo excels at tracing the contours of bodies in heat . . . . Medical images abound, and part of this poet’s 'making strange’ is his ability to see his desires through the lens of medicine. . . . In Campo’s hands, science invites us to consider the strangeness, the inarticulate fragility of our bodies—and of intimacy." — Jonathan Alexander, Lambda Book Report

"Campo is too modest to portray himself as hero, but we sense the heroic in him . . . . [P]art of Campo’s courage is his willingness to confront his own dark fears . . . . Dr. Rafael Campo is inevitably a poet of heartbreak; yet he remains a poet of accompanying hope."

— Sydney Lea, Hudson Review

"In his fourth and most compelling collection of poetry, physician Rafael Campo confirms his status as one of America’s most important poets. His stunning, candid poems . . . rise with equal beauty from a Boston tenement or a moonlit Spanish plaza, yet remain unafraid to explore and celebrate his identity as a doctor, and Cuban gay man.’"

Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

"While the settings in this collection vary widely — a blacked-out Cuba; a bridge in Florence; a Fayetteville back road — it was the moments in which Campo focuses on the human figures populating these landscapes that resonated the most with me. . . . Moments like these, in which Campo captures some of the nuances of healing, are woven throughout the collection, and remind us that sometimes creating emotional distance — even in writing poetry — is the only way to steel against pain." — Ricardo Hernandez, Los Angeles Review of Books

Landscape with Human Figure is a striking achievement. I am moved, as his readers are sure to be, by Campo’s wisdom, maturity, depth, heart, and range of experience.” — Grace Schulman

“Rafael Campo is an accomplished formalist. I hugely enjoy watching him skitter from sestina to pantoum, sonnet to rhymed couplets, to say nothing of his own nonce forms devised as the situation suggests.” — Maxine Kumin


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Price: $22.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rafael Campo teaches and practices general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. His debut collection of poetry, The Other Man Was Me, won the 1993 National Poetry Series award. His second collection, What the Body Told, won a Lambda Literary Award; his third, Diva, was a finalist in 2000 for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Paterson Poetry Prize (both titles also available from Duke University Press). His work has been published in DoubleTake, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, Out, The Progressive, Salon, Slate, and The Washington Post Book World. He is also the author of a collection of essays now available in paperback under the title The Desire to Heal. He lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

Table of Contents Back to Top

I. Landscape with Human Figure

On New Year’s Day

Nightfall in Asturias

Quatrains for a Shrinking World

The Blackouts

Ghazal in a Time of War

Outside Fayetteville

What I Would Give

For My Brother’s Wedding

Landscape with Human Figure

II. Speak to Me

In Praise of Experience

October Afternoon, 1986


Your Black Eyes

An Attribution

Playing “Fidel and Peron”

On Valentine’s Day

Last Hours in Florence

Speak to Me

Poem for My Familiar

After Losing Him

III. Afraid of the Dark

Afraid of the Dark

IV. Undetectable

Phone Messages on Call


Spiritual, ca. 1999

On Thanksgiving

The Same Old Place

Supernumerary Poem with Fruit Pastries that Allegorically Addresses Death

On the Virtues of Not Shaving

The Four Humours

V. Questions for the Weather

The Age-Old Problem of Sentimental Verse

The Couple

After the Weekly Telephone Call

For a Dear Friend Who Is Grieving

Love Poem Written Especially for You

Living with Illness

Doberman Pinscher, Dreaming

Upon Overhearing, “Anyone Can Write Like Elizabeth Bishop”

You Can Just See the Cynicism

Cuban Canticle in Five Parts

On Christmas Eve

The Beech Forest

In Case of Emergency Landing

Questions for the Weather
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Finalist, 2003 Award for Gay Male Poetry

Finalist, Lambda Literary Award

Gold Award Winner, 2002 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Poetry

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2890-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2875-9
Publicity material