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The Girl Aquarium | Bloodaxe Books

Jen Campbell

The Girl Aquarium

Jen Campbell

Publication Date : 25 Apr 2019

ISBN: 9781780374499

Pages: 65
Size :216 x 138mm
Rights: World

Semifinalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards 2019 (Best Poetry category)

Shortlisted for the poetry category of the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards 2019

Jen Campbell’s first collection The Girl Aquarium explores the realm of rotten fairy tales, the possession of body and the definition of beauty. Weaving between whispered science and circus, she turns a cracked mirror on society and asks who gets to control the twisted tales hiding in the wings.

‘This blistering poetry collection explores showmanship, the so-called freak industry, fairytales and spectacle – and, in fact, it doesn’t so much unpick these things as smash them to pieces and make them new… I love so much about it: how it kicks against tropes of disfigurement, how science jostles against fantastical circus, how it explores the way in which girls’ bodies can be sites of both self-discovery and exploitation. It is defiant, bold, brilliant. As the penultimate poem states, “Smash this circus to the ground”.’ - Elizabeth Macneal, The Guardian (Top ten books about circuses and spectacle – No 2: The Girl Aquarium)

‘When I think of some of my favorite contemporary poets, Jen Campbell always jumps to the top of my list. Campbell writes about themes around queerness, disability, and disfigurement, often intersecting these aspects of her identity with her love of fairy tales. Campbell’s word choice is perfection, and like all great poetry, when her poems are read aloud, they gain a new life. Her readings of her work are stunning. Her latest collection, Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit, comes out later this year [2023].' - Kendra Winchester, Book Riot (Top 8 books by disabled poets for Poetry Month), on The Girl Aquarium

‘Jen Campbell explores deformities, disability, and definitions of people, language and places. She reassembles accepted theories, ideals and conventions, and, like plasticine, re-forms them.’ - Carla Rosa Manfredino, Times Literary Supplement

'The Girl Aquarium, Jen Campbell’s first collection, creates a thrilling world in which consumption plays its role in destruction – but through the consumption of self-mythology and archetypes. The twisting of the fairy tale allows Campbell to explore consumption and projection, and fight the amalgamation or commodification of these archetypes (the mermaid, the princess, the angel, the witch) through constant metamorphosis. The collection has a menacing quality, with each piece working like a rite or spell, naming and invoking.' - Elizabeth Ridout, The North

‘It’s all about girls and bodies and nature and beauty and fairy tales.  There’s darkness and there’s love and friendship.  I loved the themes running through it and how they were able to connect the different poems together to weave this story… I really loved this.’ – Sanne, Booksandquills (My 10 Favourite Books of 2019 video), on The Girl Aquarium

‘This is the first poetry collection by Jen Campbell and is a body of work which leaps out at the reader and grabs him/her by the scruff of the neck… She looks at the world through her own personal and rather wonderful lens.  I look forward to reading more.’ – Chase Magazine

'Poetry of innocence and wonder. Poetry of darkness and deformation. The poems about girlhood experiences are daringly original.’ – Daljit Nagra

'These poems push and pull you, making strange bedfellows of butchery, freaks, and the inner lives of girls. Her roller-coaster of vivid images threaten to tear the paper.' – Melissa Lee-Houghton

'I am impressed by the boldness, close to wildness, of Jen Campbell’s imagination. As well as being fascinated, I take her very seriously.' – Christopher Reid

'A collection of work that fizzes with linguistic dexterity and original phrasing. Campbell produces a distinctive and absolutely daring poetic space of her own.’ – Ahren Warner

'These poems are not for the faint-hearted but, wow, what a poet.' – Michael Mackmin, editor of The Rialto

‘I can’t help shivering as I read it.’ – Alice Oswald, on ‘On Crucifixion’


I miss doing events, so I filmed this video

Frustrated with not being able to get out and about during the pandemic, Jen Campbell does an online launch event for The Girl Aquarium two years after the book came out – marking Disability Pride Month. She introduces and reads a selection of poems from the book, and talks about the ways in which her poems draw upon fairy tales and explore attitudes towards disability, and how disabled people were exhibited in fairground and circus freak shows in earlier times.


Jen Campbell reads ‘Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’

Jen Campbell reads her poem ‘Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’ from her Bloodaxe debut collection The Girl Aquarium.


Jen Campbell reads ‘Girl Lunar’

Jen Campbell reads her poem ‘Girl Lunar’ from her Bloodaxe debut collection The Girl Aquarium.


Jen Campbell reads ‘Netted’ (in Geordie)

Jen Campbell reads her poem ‘Netted’ (in Geordie) from her Bloodaxe debut collection The Girl Aquarium.

Jen Campbell on the Waterstones vlog

Jen Campbell in conversation with Will Rycroft of Waterstones talking about her first poetry collection The Girl Aquarium, and also queerness, dialect (in her case Geordie/Mackem) and why Hollywood is obsessed with disfiguring its villains and how this affects people with disfigurements.


Ireland & EU: Click here to order from Books Upstairs in Dublin

USA: Click here to order from Indiebound or


BOOKS BY Jen Campbell

Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit

Jen Campbell

Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit

Publication Date : 21 Sep 2023

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Jen Campbell Readings

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Jen Campbell's joint online launch for Please Do Not Touch This Exhibit is now on YouTube.

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Jen Campbell's The Girl Aquarium in The Guardian

Jen Campbell's The Girl Aquarium in The Guardian

Jen Campbell's debut The Girl Aquarium featured in The Guardian's Top Ten books on circus and spectacle, June 2021, & Book Riot's top 8 books by disabled poets for...

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