The Real Thing

by | Jan 3, 2024

When you sit down with Rosaria Campbell there is a sense of authenticity, a grounded feeling, a calm that settles in and makes you feel like you are in the presence of someone who is comfortable with herself and her writing. It is hard to describe. But one thing is for sure – she is the real thing. 

Rosaria has been interested in writing since she was a teenager growing up in Campbells Creek, Newfoundland. Throughout her education in the field of agriculture in Newfoundland, Quebec and Manitoba, and working for the NS Agricultural College in Truro, she fit writing in when she could. She also found time and sought out many opportunities to take writing courses, workshops and participate in mentoring programs. Rosaria has had the fortune to be taught by a slew of outstanding Atlantic writers, including Christy Ann Conlin, Anne Simpson, Brian Bartlett, Sue Goyette, David Helwig and Alistair MacLeod.

Since her retirement in 2020, she finally has time to devote to her own work. She has been doggedly working to ‘get her writing brain back’. She writes daily and is part of a small North Shore writers group that meets when they are able. This group, as well as volunteering on the board of the Elizabeth Bishop Society, gives Rosaria a sense of community, where she can engage meaningfully with other writers, receive feedback on her work and be invigorated.

Rosaria is an eclectic and inquisitive creative. She is interested in many different genres of writing – poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, as well as scientific writing. As a result, she has many writing projects in process – 3 novellas, a short story collection, a number of poetry sequences.

She doesn’t think there are any continuing threads running through her work. Her novels are stand alone, written in different time periods, addressing different themes, with a variety of characters. She likes to explore possibilities and is willing to challenge herself to support the needs of each story. Rosaria is adamant that she get the characters right. She strives to give them enough consideration and the strength to go beyond her expectations and the reader’s.

Rosaria often uses the writing of other authors to help develop her craft. 

“I look to specific writers or works for a particular type of inspiration, or help if you will, and the inspiration or help comes at odd times, and in odd ways that are hard to explain. It can come from fiction, poetry, drama, or non-fiction. Right now I am stuck on a piece of fiction set in the past, so I am going to go back to read authors/poets who give autonomy, but also grace and dignity, to characters and events from the past. So I’ll start with Alistair MacLeod, as I have not read his work in a while, and then see who turns up after that.”

Rosaria firmly feels that we need to know our literary heritage and has been immersed in a wide range of novels and texts to enrich her understanding of the creative process. As with her writing, Rosaria’s reading list is varied and challenging. She devours everything from English and Russian classics to creative non-fiction and scientific journals. Right now she is enjoying neuroscientist Iain McGilichrist’s The Matter With Things

Rosaria acknowledges that the Elizabeth Bishop Society and the Elizabeth Bishop House in Great Village have had a great influence on her development as a writer. The Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia was founded in 1994, in Great Village, Nova Scotia, to celebrate the life and work of the poet Elizabeth Bishop. The EBSNS seeks through its various activities to reclaim Elizabeth Bishop as a Nova Scotia writer, thus enriching our literary and cultural heritage. Rosaria has been able to take part in EBSNS readings and has been exposed to, and learned from, many writers from all over the world.

Rosaria’s other love is music and it too has influenced her writing. She is inspired by the Slow Air Celtic music of Duncan Chisholm and James Webb.

This Duncan Chisholm piece that inspired her poem “Constellation”

Examples of the Slow Air tradition:

“Liam Clancy (now deceased) was the best voice around on how poetry in the Celtic tradition sounds when read properly. These two selections, coupled with a song in the same theme, probably explain the poetry’s sound and music better than I can. It is a very different form/tradition and music/sound from performance and slam poetry, and less well known. I don’t emulate it in all my work, of course, but it is often in the background when I work on a particular type of piece.”

Constellation (From “Slow Airs”) by Rosaria Campbell

At first only a 

scattering of lights, alone 

each without meaning. 

Later it is something new, 

a becoming then 

becoming again what we

believe it to be, 

unfolding for the ready

eye on a dark night. 

From Sestina for October’s Order  by Rosaria Campbell

Above these clouds, above this fractured morning order,the sun is rising.  

In the autumn light a heart beats what the mind knows.

The geese fly south in the October sky: loud, and clamorous, and free.

So far, two of Rosaria’s short stories have been published in the literary journals, Fiddlehead and Prairie Fire, one of which was nominated for the prestigious Journey Prize. Now that she has more time, what are Rosaria’s goals in the next few years?

Foremost, she would like to continue work on her many writing projects, especially the poetry and novels, and see them published. Rosaria thinks ‘story’ is fundamental to human existence. As such, she wants to explore other forms of communicating beyond the written page, perhaps using sound, rhyme and space to adapt stories for other presentations, like spoken word or drama. She is open to new ideas and ready to immerse herself in possibility.

Pay attention to this writer. Go to events in our area where she is reading. Look for her publications. Support her on her creative journey. You will be the richer for it.