5-Star Book Review Club: Kingfisher Flowerman by Don Kingfisher Campbell

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5-Star Book Review Club: Kingfisher Flowerman by Don Kingfisher Campbell

KINGFISHER’S EVOLUTION

As you read Kingfisher Flowerman by Don Kingfisher Campbell, you’ll be impressed by the precise way Mr. Campbell wrote his poems to show how nature intertwines with everything. The book also seems to be a compilation of Campbell’s poems spanning from a heartfelt start in 1982 to a full-circle ending in 2023. He uses this span to cover many things, and just like a garden of flowers, other topics blossom during the read, like some wonderful personal poems featuring the theme of love. All of it, seamlessly shown, displays the vast relationship humanity has with nature and beyond. 

Now, since I’m not one to spoil the read, I had to narrow this in-depth book review down to my favorite poem. It was definitely a tough task because there were several I could’ve geeked out on. One poem I wish I could’ve included was “9/12 Shadow” for its beautifully heart wrenching message about losing your wife and why the narrator can’t bear to tell his daughter where her mother has gone. And then there was the poem “2021 Houseless” which worked out to be an impactful scene showing the state of the people living in motorhomes and how, even amongst sadness, nature’s beauty continues to exist, almost like seeing gorgeous flowers left in flower holders next to a cemetery plot. With that said, I picked the poem “A Street in Haikou” since it’s a great example of the poetic ability shining throughout the poems in Campbell’s book because it’s a significant and universal poem showing how hard it is to be kept away from a loved one by a circumstance no one understands, not even experts. It also shows Haikou is a city that looks the same as any populous city in the United States; a metaphor revealing we’re all the same, since it’s really just one planet controlled by governments complicating everything. 

WATCHING THE VIDEO

For someone like me who didn’t know Haikou is a city in China, the beginning was mysterious but it seemed very normal in today’s world to show a significant other sending their loved one a 15-second video, so the mystery became: why is the narrator focusing on what he sees in the video? By doing this, you almost forget it’s showing the hustle and bustle of Haikou because you feel as if it could be here in the United States, especially since the depicted background is universal nowadays. The first image, a male florist selling flowers on the sidewalk, is a perfect example. Then he follows a cyclist, showing him wearing a helmet as he passes a “multi-story tower/ of residences/ in the background.” Next, the narrator adds seeing the “power pole strings/ overhead in a clear sky/ cars, [SUVs], and vans/ line the parking lot of this mini-mall.” At this point, I totally forgot about the specific city Mr. Campbell was depicting because each image was akin to something I’d seen in Los Angeles, or any other big city for that matter. 

2020 VIBES

As the poem continues, the narrator takes you inside the mini-mall, showing how “double glass doors/ lead to a faux/ marble tiled floor.” However, just as you’re getting lost in the narrator’s description of what he’s seeing, the turn happens when the focus becomes “her friend with a blue/ mask on her chin… [signing] the mortgage form” because it reminds you it was a video sent to him by his love, who you finally realize is a woman. The line’s also working double duty since it’s showing you a new detail; the choice to show a mask on her friend hints at the time period, although wearing masks happened in some places before 2020, the line is giving 2020 vibes. 

RAISING THE STAKES

Mr. Campbell doesn’t stop with the vibe, though. He shows this by having the poem turn again by adding another poignant detail that raises the stakes. This happens when the narrator shows his “fiancée is outside/ waiting to walk with her [friend]/ to the bus stop where/ they travel through traffic/ to blaring pop music,” signaling the poem’s final turn. By doing this, the narrator is now yanking at your heartstrings since it’s undeniable this poem’s central theme is longing for his fiancée. Then there’s one more allusion to United States’ society when the narrator laments, it “could be Long Beach/ if I didn’t know she is/ 7000 miles away as we/ wait for two governments/ to agree on when she/ can safely return to me.” This is when Campbell shows his masterful poetic ability because he ends the poem with the biggest detail of them all. This point reveals the magnitude of the narrator’s despair, his dire want of reuniting with his love, even though the obstacle is bigger than Goliath on steroids.

THE FINAL SECOND

Ending “A Street in Haikou” this way shows the universality of what many experienced during the COVID pandemic. And if you look at the table of contents, you’ll also understand the poem was written in July 2020, or it depicts what he was feeling at that time. I’d like to believe it was written in July 2020 to capture the feeling of having your fiancée so far away and not by choice. There’s also this sad, longing tone to the poem since no one knew the true extent of coronavirus’s ability to kill or when it would be safe for society to return to normal. 

Many poems in Kingfisher Flowerman show the same expertise as “A Street in Haikou,” but getting into that subject would be a disservice toward Mr. Campbell’s hard work. It’s like everything is a metaphor working to deliver the message, covering what seems to be a central theme about losing love and finding it only to go through the PTSD of losing it again. Overall, this made it a beautiful read. Even the kingfisher aspect, the word appears in the title and as Campbell’s middle name. I was surprised to learn the kingfisher is a bird, and after geeking out on it, I feel as if this may be Mr. Campbell’s spirit animal. No wonder nature comes up in many of his poems.

This book seemed like a compilation of Campbell’s work, starting in 1982. Each poem has a date or year in parentheses, and this gave them the sense of connection as if chronicling his evolution as a man, husband, father, son, citizen, and one with the cosmos. As you read them, you’ll realize some allusions from the beginning poems become magnified when they come up in later poems. Even the poem I focused on, as you read, you’ll realize how this poem builds off the ones that came before and helps to build the impact of the ones you’ll read later in the book. Kingfisher Flowerman by Don Kingfisher Campbell is filled with well-written multilayered poetry depicting an impressive range of topics.

Thank you for reading our in-depth book review about Kingfisher Flowerman by Don Kingfisher Campbell. We are not affiliated with the publisher, but here’s the link to pick up a copy.

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E. R. Sanchez is the author of Fried Potato Press’ first young adult thriller, Petaco Dreams, which will be released Fall 2024 after the rewrite, new title, and new cover. He also has poems and stories published online and in print. If you’d like to read his work that was published online, please click here to go to his Stories and Poetry Section.

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