Monday, July 21, 2008

Winner, Poem of the Month: Pris Cambpell


I'm very happy to present a brilliant poem to you by Pris Campbell, an accomplished poet with a long list of published poems. Her poem, "Undertow," is a great example of controlled use of energy in the form of sadness and identification, which the reader takes in and tries to accomodate all through the poem. It leaves you with an easy feeling. It delivers!


I expected my father's death
to draw the sea to my feet,
the water threatening to bear me
away with it--not mother's.
Our voices were constant coils
of disagreement; my hair was too long.
I was too thin. My clothes were too tight.
My mish-mash of dishes would never do
if the relatives came down for Christmas.
I lived 'in sin' with a man, traveled with him,
tossed away my bra to her mortification.
After my knees buckled
and this illness pinned me to my bed of thorns,
the core of metal between us softened,
became a pillow to rest our heads upon, but
she slipped quietly into that undertow
and I was left alone on the beach, a girl again,


This powerful and compact poem builds on
layers of dysphoria which the narrator recalls
from early maternal influences up to the present.
Interestingly, the poem opens with a reference to
the speaker's father, whose death was anticipated
to take a much larger toll (at least when compared to
grief experienced through her mother). We find a
metaphor of the sea, which in this case, 'threatens
to bear me away with it." A sense of instability and
loosened underpinnings, early on, is evinced, that
appears to be superseded by her mother's constant
jabbing and attacks on self esteem ("my hair was
too long, I was too thin, my clothes were too tight").
But we're not looking at generation gap here, or the
dystopic imaginations of an adult making hyperbole
of what otherwise might be considered adolescent
bewilderment. What really hurts, and where the
poem turns on both tone and importance, is here:
"After my knees buckled and this illness pinned me
to my bed of thorns, the core of metal between us
softened:" a serious physical problem, as well as
obvious deep emotional injury (the two are
all too often inextricably related). Interestingly,
this malady somehow brought an apparent softening
in the Mother-daughter relationship, that was
tragically, short-lived. Thus, the force in the poem
is set up and springs as the narrator returns to the
sea metaphor and its ever-present pull, expressed
as 'that undertow." The language here puts the
effects in the dynamic range. This is not something
that just happened, but a process over many, many
years. And it hearkens back to earliest memories,
with her father, and now operating to pull her mother
back under. It's not hard to imagine, though never
stated, the tacit idea that the daughter has to deal
with these same negative forces. The striking
reversion, in the closing line, to a childhood day
at the beach conjures up images of a real drowning
and hammers home the heat of the poem in blazing,
enervating sadness. This poem brings one startingly
close to the edge of shared experience and allows
for just the proper amount of detachment (in tone)
to enter into the narrator's strife, but not be overcome
by its negative pull.


Pris Campbell, A Brief Bio

Among other journals and anthologies, Pris Campbell's poetry has appeared in Poems Niederngasse, Boxcar Poetry Review, MiPo (digital/print/radio/OCHO), Thunder Sandwich, The Dead Mule, Empowerment4Women, In The Fray, The Cliffs: Soundings, and The Wild Goose Review. She's been featured poet in a number of journals and appeared on PoetryVlog, a site for video poems run by George Wallace. She has two chapbooks: Abrasions and Interchangeable Goddesses (Rank Stranger Press and Rose of Sharon/3 Virgins Imprint). A third chapbook, Hesitant Commitments, will be part of Lummox Press' Little Red Book series. A former Clinical Psychologist, she's now sidelined by CFIDS. She lives in the greater West Palm Beach, FL , with her husband. More of her poetry can be found at her website poeticinspire and her MySpace blog



  1. Ed,
    Thenk you so much for featuring my poem. It was interesting to read your commentary and see this from someone else's eyes. You did a good job of slicing through the words to see the many emotions and events interwined in what I wrote.

  2. Amazing, thank you for posting! Congrats Pris!

  3. Great poem, and wonderful explication: "close to the edge of shared experience," that seems like quite an achievement and quite a goal for poetry.

    Scott Owens

  4. i know pris, mon dieu! many, many years ago we were both members of cfs-creativesisters on yahoo. i am so happy to see her again, and creating such powerfully affecting work.

    dear pris, what a wonderful poem! you tap deeply into the mother-daughter relationship and then hit us with the loss of it. plus, we have a bittersweet taste of how chronic illness touches our most intimate relationships. a close friend of mine is right now dealing with these very issues, and i will forward her your important poem.

    i must read your chapbook soon!

    lovingly, ~laura tattoo

  5. The poem is powerful. I would like to suggest one area where understanding could be clearer, where I might write:

    "...away with it.

    Not mother's.

    Our voicers were constant coils...."

    That, for this reader, would accentuate the difference between beginning the poem with a father and sliding into a mother's understanding, supply a strophe break where I feel it's needed.


  6. How true that we expect the father's death to completely rock our world and it does, but the mother and daughter/son relationship brings us so completely into the cycle of birth, death, resurrection that magnifies our existence. This poem is a stark reminder of that cycle.

  7. Lovely poem - transcends details to offer shared experience and solace.


  8. that's cool Laura, you should send her a note on her myspace account which is linked in the article. Pris is also on facebook

  9. H...

    I like your suggestion regarding an edit on Pris' fine poem. I'm sure she'll be interested in looking at that

  10. Thanks for the edit suggestion. Duly noted.

    Laura, I hope you check back! I've wondered what happened to you over these years. I just followed your profile link and there's no contact information. You inspired me to learn html coding and create my first website. Contact me somehow. I don't want to post my email address publically, but you can get me if you follow this note back to my profile on!

  11. I appreciate Pris using enough detachment so as not to rip our hearts out. I came away from this piece feeling good. I liked it very much. Thank you for featuring her. TerryAnn

  12. I can't believe how much you covered in one short, succinct poem, Pris. Deaths of both parents, history, illness, and the cycles of life and grief in the oceans foam and undertow. The simplicity of the language you use to express your feelings catches us until we are all feeling that undertow together, as well as the shining beach and the diamond-dancing seawaters.

    Thank you, Ed, for finding this great poem, and for your wonderful commentary.

  13. I find the juxta position of a fluid state ( associated with the father's death) and a solid state ( the metal and coils describing the relationship between mother and daughter)an interesting use of differing metaphors. That sense that in one relationship their is some sense of expected engulfment whilst in the other there is a sharpness of edges ( I read the coils more as metal springs rather than something organic or rope). Of course the use of the word thorns later in the poem brings to mind for me a sleeping beauty situation the castle surrounded by coiled thorn bushes which may be my particular baggage that we all have with certain words or I was steeped in fairy tales from an early age.
    The change of the relationship from a solid to a softer and eventually fluid state in death resonates I think with many who have experienced the strange alchemy that can occur when something 'emotionally big' ( death, illness, loss) happens between two people, be it parent/child, lovers, friends etc to change how things were to how things are.
    personally I would have been happy for the poem to end with 'alone on the beach' as this leaves the reader seeing the water's edge as that boundary between death and life and that sense that once our parents die we are the next generation to stand at the edge. I take it as read that the grief is there ( weeping)as the poem is suffused with grief and the state of being abandoned and left helpless which is epitomised by the use of the word girlis also already in the subtext( undertow of the poem). Lovely poem, one of those little moments that encapsulate not only the sense of loss when a parent dies but how this is woven through with the emotional journey we all take when we become adult and we have to fathom and explore how that adult to parent relationship plays out.

  14. Great comment and analysis, Writearound. I really like this kind of input!

  15. Thank you all for the comments and yes, Writearound, a very insightful view of my poem. And you were right...when I wrote this, the coils I imagined were metal.

  16. This is a stunning write - heartfelt and heartwrenching. Sylvia Plath immediately came to mind with the way in which the father is introduced. Thank you for sharing your talent. Superb writing!


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