I meant perpetuate—as if our duty
were coupled with our terror. As if beauty
itself were but a syllabus of errors.
Troy Jollimore's first collection of poems won the National Book Critics Circle Award, was hailed by the New York Times as "a snappy, entertaining book," and led the San Francisco Chronicle to call him "a new and exciting voice in American poetry." And his critically acclaimed second collection expanded his reputation for poems that often take a playful approach to philosophical issues. While the poems in Syllabus of Errors share recognizable concerns with those of Jollimore’s first two books, readers will also find a voice that has grown more urgent, more vulnerable, and more sensitive to both the inevitability of tragedy and the possibility of renewal.
Poems such as "Ache and Echo," "The Black-Capped Chickadees of Martha’s Vineyard," and "When You Lift the Avocado to Your Mouth" explore loss, regret, and the nature of beauty, while the culminating long poem, "Vertigo," is an elegy for a lost friend as well as a fantasia on death, repetition, and transcendence (not to mention the poet’s favorite Hitchcock film). Ingeniously organized into sections that act as reflections on six quotations about birdsong, these poems are themselves an answer to the question the poet asks in "On Birdsong": "What would we say to the cardinal or jay, / given wings that could mimic their velocities?"
First Nights offers vivid descriptions of the natural world, and the joy found in moments of quiet, alongside intimate depictions of new parenthood. Campbell grew up on the remote, sparsely populated islands of South Uist and Eriskay in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, and First Nights is filled with images of the islands’ seascapes, myths, wildlife, and long, dark winters. But the poems widen beyond their immediate locations to include thoughts on sculpture and mythology, Zola and Dostoevsky, and life in English cities and French villages. In the poems on early fatherhood, the geography shifts from coastal stretches to bare, dimly lit rooms. Stripped back, honest, and immediate, these poems capture moments of vulnerability, when the only answer is to love.
Combining skilled storytelling, precise language, an allegiance to meter and form, and a quiet musicality, these poems resonate with silence and song, mystery and wonder, exploring ideas of companionship and withdrawal, love, and the stillness of solitude. The result is a collection that promises to be a classic.
Guided by formal and syllabic constraints, the poems become in part an exploration of how form affects content and how other poets have approached the sonnet. The poems, which are very attentive to rhythm and sound, are often in conversation with historical, philosophical, artistic, and literary sources. But at the same time they engage directly with the present moment. Like the construction scaffolding that year after year goes up around buildings all over New York, these poems build on one another and change the way we see what was there before.