By Meaghan Menzel
Tom Martin, the owner of the Bookplate, said that he and Edward Maxcy former senior academic advisor and associate dean of students at Washington College had been trying for about a year and a half to have author Chris Campanioni visit for a reading in Chestertown. Maxcy said that they had hoped to schedule the event so Campanioni could visit WC, but the Literary House calendar was already full. So instead, they held it at the Bookplate on Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. Campanioni is the author of a book of poetry, “In Conversation,” and a fictive memoir titled “Going Down.” He has also written poems and short stories that have appeared in several literary magazines.
“Going Down” and “In Conversation” are in a sense Campanioni’s memoirs. He said anything you write is “always going to be memoir because good writing is based on skin and sensation and memory, and that’s you… It’s always going to start with memoir.”
According to Maxcy, “He is a lecturer at two universities in New York City, he is a professional model and actor, and he is a sports enthusiast and a professional sports writer.”
Campanioni was raised in New Jersey and is currently living in Brooklyn. His mother is Polish, and his father is Cuban.
According to Campanioni, some people have either a fascination or a hard time seeing someone involve themselves in both writing and modeling.
“When I was in second grade, I realized I wanted to be a writer,” Campanioni said. He ended up working as a journalist for many years. Meanwhile, he got involved in modeling at first as a “summer hobby.” He had completed his undergraduate studies at Lehigh University and had nothing to do after graduation, being so used to a full schedule.
“I accompanied a friend to what they call an open-call…and I ended up booking a “Cosmopolitan” job.” In the end, both of these jobs would influence poems in his book “In Conversation” as well as the story for his novel “Going Down.”
At the event, Campanioni first read from “In Conversation,” which won the 2013 Academy American Poets Prize at the Lincoln Center. In regards to Campanioni’s reading, Professor Crystal Kurzen said, “I was interested in him talking about the form of his work and the language he likes to use.”
“One of my goals for this book [“In Conversation”]… was to kind of create a dialogue between the poems on the page but also to re-evaluate how we view language and how we read language on a page,” Campanioni said.
He uses different forms for different poems. For example, one poem resembles footnotes and another mimics a tape recording and how it can repeat certain lines when rewound.
“I’m hoping to show readers that there’s more than one way to read a text… you have the agency as the reader to kind of make your own story,” he said.
One of the poems Campanioni read was called “Billboards.” This poem incorporates his experience in the fashion industry. He work-shopped this poem when he attended Fordham University for graduate school and received positive responses to it, leading to the development of “Going Down”
“I started to feel more comfortable…in a sense that I felt that…people might be interested in writing about the differences and more importantly the vast similarities between the journalism world…and the fashion world,” he said. While both industries may seem different on the surface, Campanioni said both are rendered very similar “by this idea of fabrication.”
“We don’t like to think of fashion and journalism as one in the same, but in many ways it is all based on a perception…a promise or an expectation whether it’s a promise of this is what’s actually happening in the world in terms of journalism, or a promise of a certain lifestyle that you can somehow aspire to if you wear a certain garment… but it’s a promise and an expectation of a fantasy that’s not attainable otherwise else.”
“Going Down,” according to Campanioni, has almost a “Charles Dickens-esque coming of age” quality to it. “At the same time I’m really interested in these ideas of what happens to a person when that person becomes a commodity and is brought and sold and traded just like any other commodity,” he said. “What happens to the aura of that person when the image proliferates?”
Overall, Campanioni’s works reflect his experiences in the fashion and journalism industries. “I didn’t know at the time there was something there,” he said. “So it was just life happened. It just kind of fell in place.”