MadHat Press

The Mirror Test by Dan Campion

The Mirror Test


A “mirror test” is a behavioral test of self-recognition and self-awareness in non-human animals and human infants. What if the underlying behavior is that the world is a “game of mirrors”? The Mirror Test looks at facets of this question through a gallery of poems, many previously published and many appearing here for the first time, written from the 1970s through the 2010s, a period, like every other, given to, and also madly fleeing from, self-reflection.


A Dan Campion poem can step
    into the room
like that most insouciant of facts: Bogie

    came from
a blue chip family.

    —Paul Carroll (1981, in “Walking to a Poetry Reading by My Students”)

The delights of Dan Campion’s poetry rest with perceptions closely rendered and the poetic amplitude each allows—a branch, a finch, a hand curled across the arm of a chair, ordinary or surprising scenes. Each image is an occasion for reflection, a beginning. There are a variety of forms used here, all exceptionally well-wrought, though most notably Campion has, without fuss, recovered the sonnet as it was used by the Romantics as a vehicle for taking the emotional and mythic weight of the immediate. The Mirror Test, explicitly a test of an animal’s self-awareness, is also, momento mori, a way of testing for a faint breath on the glass, at once self-awareness, awareness itself and survival.

—Michael Anania

The Mirror Test is every bit as reflective as its name suggests—and brilliantly so. In language both spare and richly precise, Dan Campion offers indelible views of animals, art and artifact, history, landscape, and more, while encouraging us to take a hard yet compassionate look at ourselves. In the title poem and many others, he also muses directly on what it means to see and be seen. Campion’s use of poetic forms—sonnet, haiku, sestina—is masterful. His range of tone, from wry to wrenching, keeps the reader pleasantly off balance. Among many standouts in the book are “Jubilate Lupo,” a political sendup of Christopher Smart, and several poems, including “Suffusion” and “Fedora,” that provide a touching slant on bereavement. Reading The Mirror Test, you may well recall a famous looking-glass from another book; like Lewis Carroll, Campion serves up a world of fresh perspectives you’ll be glad you climbed inside.

—Melissa Balmain

Whether he writes of birds, paintings, photographs, fishermen or keychains, Dan Campion’s poems are rendered in sparkling, visionary detail, coupled with a witty sense of form (many are rhymed sonnets). Yet, this remarkable precision is underscored with a central question: do our perceptions actually read the book of the world, or are we staring into a mirror, reflecting back our own desires for connection, beauty, significance and safety? “You don’t belong” a blackbird tells him. But the menagerie he constructs—from the genetic materials of self, other and that tantalizing realm beyond both—invites us to join the poet in making meaning, whether the world’s blank stare acknowledges our efforts or not.

—Jerome Sala

Dan Campion’s poetry reveals a formal sensibility that is unusual in poets today, particularly among the younger ones. The clear intelligence underlying them is apparent, and the sense of precision the work demonstrates—word by word and line by line—is impressive.

—Barry Silesky (1983, in a review of Calypso in Another Chicago Magazine)

Campion’s poetic evolution over the past twenty years is illuminating. Rooted in a rich tradition of Franco-Hispanic surrealism (he has contributed to a contemporary French-American anthology as well as Hispanic Journal), his early work shows an influence of what might be called “surrealist-collage,” the clear statement of unrelated details and their juxtaposition, with the implication that the reader is to assemble them.
    This influence, which goes back at least as far as Baudelaire, Nerval, and Rimbaud, Campion has never entirely abandoned, which is all to the good. They give his formal advances, in the late eighties and nineties, a ragged energy and dense detailing unique in contemporary poetry….
    Campion’s poems, like all such deeply innovational work, are deeply traditional, radical in their reaching back, down, beneath the real, to language’s slippery roots, sly morphemes. “This way,” say the signposts, “to magic, this way madness. This way, sanity.”
    Witty, slangy, elliptical, funny, Campion’s poems are above all readable. They’re work; but they’re nice work (if you can get it). They’re difficult in the way that poems should be difficult: Not arbitrarily, not from the laziness or caprice of indolent authordom, but because of the inherent nature of their subject matter….
    Campion’s poems have surfaced in a multitude of periodicals (everything from Oink! to Rolling Stone to Poetry; though there’s only one collection of his verse). He’s one of a number of relatively young poets who are formidable technicians, and have constructed thereby that quality impossible to fake, an individual voice. His poems are dense relicts of deep interior acts, iron-shavings combed out into graceful patterns by the magnetism at the core.

    —John Mella (1998, in Light)

The Mirror Test 
by Dan Campion

$21.95, paperback, 148 pp
ISBN-13:  978-1-952335-79-2


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