Camp Marmalade
Camp Marmalade
Poetry | $18.95
paperback, 432 pages, 5 x 7.5 in
Publication Date: 2018
ISBN: 978-1-937658-77-9

Part two of an autobiographical trance trilogy: intimate experiments in queer documentary and improvisatory poetics

Camp Marmalade takes the freedoms of trance utterance—unfettered verbal association, explicit auto-ethnography, erotic bricolage—and applies a more stringent sense of time-as-emergency to this liberation-oriented poetic method. Part diary, part collage, part textbook for a new School of Impulse, Camp Marmalade assembles a perverse and giddy cultural archive, a Ferris wheel of aphorisms, depicting a queer body amidst a dizzying flow of sensations, dreams, and sex-and-death distillations—whether sugary, fruity, bitter, expired, or freshly jarred.

To read Camp Marmalade, Wayne Koestenbaum’s second “trance” epic, is to inhabit a mindscape, wordscape, and timespace increasingly rare and vital, in its emancipated sprawl, its dedication to “pleasing the gods of weird language” (think “shame bouillon” or “Yahweh’s glitter”). Like Alice Notley’s Disobedience or Hervé Guibert’s Mausoleum of LoversCamp Marmalade is a fun house of fractal interiorities, via its assemblage of dreams, memories, observations, and idiosyncratic roll-calls (Vivien Leigh, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joyce Carol Oates, John Cage, Robin Williams, and countless others are here, not to mention Alessandro Scarlatti teabagging Jenny Craig). Camp Marmalade’s unfussy, deliberate rhythms and unstinting linguistic care feel like radical acts, offering pleasures of the highest order.—MAGGIE NELSON

Near Camp Cataract, down the way from Port Salut, whether cheese or navvy zone, Wayne Koestenbaum’s Camp Marmalade sits, lemony, curiously positioned, between epic alps and salty, notebook sound, i.e., tidbit commedia. Open to all comers, the camp is helmed by counselors (Duncan Smith, Friederike Mayröcker, and Lionel Hampton among them) who lead adventurers in a smorgasbord of activities, from “incest stardom fantasy” to “semantic depilation,” from “dung oeuvre[s]” to directing “sunlight on slut emporia.” After lewd s’mores, instead of “Taps” the assembled sing “La Juive ‘Boléro’” and call it a night—it’s that kind of place. The “sieve of I am” has never produced a tenderer flower—BRUCE HAINLEY


"A kind of hyperactivity also reduces your chances of being humiliated; moving targets are harder to hit. In any case, Camp Marmalade avoids humiliation chiefly by never settling down. It straddles genres, becoming neither a work of poetry or prose (although it rejects neither). Divided into 42 sections, each sub-divided into small "morsels" of language, the book seems to avoid a thematic focus. Camp Marmalade can be started and stopped at any point. This is another strategy to evade or minimize humiliation."—David Bergman, The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide

"Wayne Koestenbaum plays it cool in his poetry to the degree to which he thinks rigorously with his prose. There appears to be a universal substance at work, at play. In his laboratory of criticism – infectious meditations on Warhol, Jackie Kennedy, opera stars – Koestenbaum boils down artists and public figures he admires to essential qualities primed for emulation. A recent collection, Notes on Glaze, in its unassuming way, elaborates this singular aesthetic by tackling un-captioned, anonymous photographs. Whether called glaze or shine — a lexical shade, an indifference at the sentence level — Koestenbaum maps a liberating path around difficult traditional rules. Surrealism is a key ally. The easy way is to follow intuition, one’s most natural and honest inclinations, even when the path leads to knotted complications, complexes."—CHRISTOPHER WOOD, Fullstop

"If one asked “what is the point of poetry?” there would be an infinite number of answers. But Koestenbaum’s most recent trance books offer a particularly compelling response: poetry is about facing what you don’t want to face and what you’ve always wanted to face at the same time. It’s about amplifying the truths you’ve always known even when you’ve never given them a second thought. Beauty is terror; terror is beauty. The psyche is dangerous terrain, and Koestenbaum is, among all his other accolades, an exceptionally brave explorer."—CODY DELISTRATY, Poetry Foundation

"What is the line between distraction and concentration, and where does each converge? Wayne Koestenbaum’s Camp Marmalade (Nightboat Books, 2018), his nineteenth book and a follow-up to 2015’s The Pink Trance Notebooks, continues to track a poetics of errancy with an exuberance hardly seen in poetry or critical theory yet bearing marks of both. Like the marmalade of its title, the book situates itself on the liminal stage of being suspended, always on the verge of becoming something else and yet also floating, a live-streaming signifier of its own velocity. Koestenbaum, who is no stranger to self-disclosure, here assembles something more performative and also political"CHRIS CAMPANIONI, The Brooklyn Rail

"Prolific cross-genre author Koestenbaum attempts to “assemble an/ entire life from found/ scraps” in this sequel to 2015’s The Pink Trance Notebooks. The stream-of-consciousness form, composed of many very short poems, continues here, congealing into a lengthy work of obsessions and candid ponderings. These fragments and assorted bits of condensed verse reveal a mind wandering from snapshots in a family scrapbook to Sharpie markings at a local glory hole to classical composers. Koestenbaum writes of the erotic, the highbrow, personal defects, Proustian memories, and more, effortlessly sliding between deep cuts and film stills: “brothers, together in tub/ when father leaves,/ experiment with rubber ducks.” Such omniscient contortions and synaptic musings constantly refresh the text and hold the reader’s rapt attention. The collection is propelled by Koestenbaum’s ability to navigate hairpin turns between existential crisis and deliciously naughty sex joke in a single line break. The work is split into 40 sections, but these borders often feel artificial and unnecessary, as this text acts as one fluid unit with the end of one poem never feeling more weighted than any of the fragments that come before or after. Whether referencing La Bohème, Donald Winnicott, bondage gear, Brooke Shields, or a haunting dream of massaging a baby, Koestenbaum’s work entices in all its sui generis, subconscious musing."—Publishers Weekly


Interview with Felix Bernstein for Bookforum

Interview with Ben Shields for the Paris Review

Interview with Shoshana Olidort for LARB