Book Pages: 112 Illustrations: Published: September 1999

Author: Rafael Campo

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

A major new work from one of America’s most acclaimed younger poets, Rafael Campo’s Diva appears at the intersection of confession and confinement, hyperbole and humility. In his masterful third collection, Campo explores further the epic themes of his Cuban heritage and America’s newness, his work as a doctor caring for AIDS patients and his identity as a gay man.
At once relishing and resisting the poetic traditions of formal English verse, Diva showcases Campo moving deftly between received forms and free verse. In each poem the sound of words is transformed into the highest of arts, the act of performance into the exercise of power, and the most profound abjection into the sweet promise of divinity. Culminating with his new and daring translations of Federico García Lorca’s sonetos—the great Spanish poet’s most homoerotically explicit and formally accomplished poems—Campo’s music instills in the reader an exalted understanding of beauty, suffering, and, ultimately, the human capacity for empathy.

From reviews of Campo’s previous poetry:
“Extraordinary meditations on illness and the healing power of words.”—Lambda Literary Foundation

“Read Campo to enter the bloodstream of a man who, with a haunting clarity of vision, shares his memories, his anguish, his healing love.”—Cortney Davis, Literature and Medicine

“Riveting, provocative, and refreshing—[this volume] is a gift to the clinician who is trying to re-invoke in his or her students the humility, compassion, and deep caring that brought us all into medicine in the first place.”—Dr. Sandra L. Bertman, Annals of Internal Medicine

“[Campo] listens to the sounds the body makes, but what he hears is poetry.”—Zoë Ingalls, Chronicle of Higher Education

“Powerful and accessible.”—Jonathan Jackson, Washington Blade

“Bemused, indelible, and heartbreaking.”—Marilyn Hacker, Out

“[Campo’s] private corral of disparate words twist, torque, collide with gorgeous creative imperative.”—Nomi Eve, Independent Weekly


“[A] virtuoso display. . . Campo is a master of image. . . His poems are revealing and courageous.” — Jay A. Liveson, JAMA

“[N]inety-eight percent of what doctors have to say on the subject of HIV and AIDS is neither interesting nor useful to anyone but a fellow doctor. Until now. Rafael Campo . . . is one of the most eloquent, emotionally honest modern poets. . . . His latest book, Diva, more than fulfills the two percent ‘useful’ quotient of what doctors have to say about AIDS. . . . The true beauty of Campo’s poems is the universal quality.” — Rhomylly B. Forbes, A&U Magazine

“Campo’s heartfelt prose is the real thing. He lays himself bare and in the process creates art.” — Library Journal

“Campo’s poetry continually asserts that we are human above all. From the narrow confines of a hospital bed and the pained immobility of a sick body, Campo demonstrates ‘that poetry is singing in a voice/Undampened by its small, constricted space.’ For those of us who are overworked students, sleep-deprived residents, and hardened attendings, Campo gives us permission to remember that the patient is always a person first. And most importantly, he inspires us never to forget the last lines of ‘The Failure of Empathy on Center Street’: ‘Your heart is human. Never let it close.’ ” — Katerina A. Christopoulos, Medical Student Journal of the American Medical Association Online

“Following in the footsteps of such poets as Whitman and Williams, Campo’s poetry encapsulates the privacy and primacy witnessed by the physician, exploring in verse AIDS, cancer, and the experiences of general medical practice. No aspect of life is too routine or unspeakable for examination.” — Valerie Duff, Bostonia

“Like William Carlos Williams and John Stone, Campo is a physician-poet who uses the discipline of medicine to read back to us our fascination with AIDS, the representation of the diva, and the struggle for compassion. . . In the spirit of Meredith, Campo writes mordant lyrics of dark love that displace trite expectations of what sonnets or canciones should accomplish. His work is devoid of cheap romanticizing.” — Jerry W. Ward Jr., Washington Post Book World

“Rafael Campo has managed to take an extremely morbid, taboo topic and introduce us to the virtue and distinction of it. The pages of Diva are peppered with the flavors of life. The poetry is compelling, moving, musing, and inspiring. . . Campo’s poetry is sustained through his passion for his work and compassion for his patients. He has literally taken the words of death and given them new life.” — Popzine

“Rafael Campo is perhaps our most distinguished physician-poet since William Carlos Williams. . . . [His] sense of a common humanity is hard-won against the ugliness, misery, and cruelty that he must confront in his practice.” — David Bergman, Gay & Lesbian Review

“The power of solitary empathy energizes Rafael Campo’s new collection of poems, Diva, evoking an intimate brand of compassion that is highly unusual in American verse. . . . Diva is a significant contribution to contemporary American poetry because it contains poems wrought with formal expertise and profound humanity.” — David Roderick, Salt Hill

“These are stirring poems that make you think as you read them, trying to understand the life of this gifted man.” — AIDS Book Review Journal

Diva . . . sings across an extraordinary range of tones and topics . . . Campo’s poems have always negotiated the difficult terrain of identity across these very complicated categories, and the ones in Diva refine that further, often taking glorious flight as they celebrate the very earthbound complexities of the experiences they explore . . . His poems both dance and sing, and offer his readers a rare opportunity to enjoy the music of a poetry not afraid, or ashamed, to belt out its beautiful and painful truths.” — Washington Blade

“I know of no poet writing today with more courage and compassion than Rafael Campo. Like the practicing physician that he is, Campo writes poems that heal artfully—or honestly face the impossibility of healing. Here we find sonnets for the damned, songs for the dying, the insistence on empathy for a prostitute with AIDS on a Boston street corner. There is the unforgiving squint of a mother rejecting her gay son. Yet there is a soaring lyricism in these poems, epiphany and redemption, a celebration of bloodstained, stubborn life as it bursts forth. The poems of Rafael Campo inspire that sharp breath of recognition. He has all my gratitude and admiration.” — Martín Espada, author of Imagine the Angels of Bread

“Rafael Campo’s rhymes and iambs construct their music against the edgy, recognizable world his poems inhabit: the landscape of birth and of dying, sorrow and sex, shame and brave human persistence—first and last things, center stage in these large-hearted, open, deeply felt poems.” — Mark Doty, author of Sweet Machine


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Rafael Campo teaches and practices general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is the author of The Other Man Was Me, which won the 1993 National Poetry Series award; The Poetry of Healing: A Doctor’s Education in Empathy, Identity, and Desire, winner of a 1997 Lambda Literary Award for Memoir; and What the Body Told, published by Duke University Press and winner of a 1996 Lambda Literary Award for Poetry. Campo’s poetry, prose, and reviews have appeared in many major anthologies and periodicals.

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Finalist for a Lammy Award in the gay male poetry category

Finalist, 2000 Paterson Poetry Prize competition

Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry

Silver award in the poetry category in the Books of the Year awards, ForeWord Magazine

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2417-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2383-9
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