Monday, November 16, 2009

"Sea Trails," by Pris Campbell, A Review


This is the latest installment in the "Poet Series," a Thirteen Blackbirds feature which presents contemporary poets, their work and impact on the poetry scene. To view all articles in the "Poet Series," just click on the button in the right column at Thirteen Blackbirds.

Pris Campbell’s new book, Sea Trails, is a visual and evocative account of a six-month adventure down the Atlantic coast in a sailboat retelling in poetry what prose could never accomplish. Published by Lummox Press in 2009 (100pp, perfect bound, glossy color covers), the book counterpoints original sea-logs with verse constructed years later. “This wasn’t a traditional poetry book,” Pris confesses, as she recounts pulling together log notes 30 years after the fact. In the foreword, she recalls the ambivalence and irony of taking to sea with a man referred to as R, in the throes of a failing relationship. The poems found in Sea Trails are every bit a part of this tenuous sway in and out of hope and sorrow as they are a sweeping canvass of sea life and adventure. In “Small Craft Advisories,” a poem that describes the peril of an impending storm, it’s not hard to see this push-pull, especially in the closing two lines: “Our boat peels back her hull, reveals inner scars./ My heart laid open, she already knows mine.”

Sea Trails succeeds in giving the author a rare view of two worlds, coincident, colliding and told through one voice. You get the feeling you’re on the boat in rough waters, or lazily creeping into a harbor at dawn. But you also find commonality in shared experience, the nadir of triumph alongside the growing sense of something coming to an end. It’s this thread of sadness mixed into the experience of being at sea that gives the poems life as well as originality. Nowhere is this more clear than in the tiny poem “Crabbing,” which so aptly portrays in sparse verse and metaphor the dysfunctional relationship of the two mariners:


He still catches me
With the same old line,
The worn bait.
Just as I see light,
He nets me again.

Is Sea Trails to be thought of as a catharsis? Perhaps. There is a dominant theme here of lost love, and the author readily admits to the reader that she wasn’t entirely ‘out of love” at the time of setting sail. Yet, a closer reading of the poems provides ample evidence of personal triumph and overcoming. In “Sea Speak,” we have a poem that openly confesses what the author has learned from the sea: "how to lay down a trot line", "haul hungry crabs"; "that fish gasp" and "sea grass cries," and that "heaven is right here in these blue waters." More importantly, to give credence to her soul’s most important unction, she has learned, “how love of the sea can rush right through you with the wind, until your heart is translucent with joy as intense as pain."

42 poems, log entries, sea notes, technical descriptions, Sea Trails has much to offer, not only for the ruddy sea-farer, but also for landlubbers and poetry neophytes. What is compelling in these poems is the consistency of voice, the sensual and calming verse with easily identifiable themes, descriptive accounts laid down alongside deep-seated emotional stress and an almost real-time resolution poetically shaping in front of the viewer. The net result is something quite beautiful and alluring.


Have you’ve seen a recent upswing in your inspiration to write poetry or would you say that your interest in writing has sustained over many years?

I can’t say I’ve felt a recent upswing. If I were to make a painting of my creative swings, it would be a landscape filled with hills, valleys, mountain peaks, gorges, and deserts mixed in-between. Sometimes I feel as if I’ll never write again. Nothing comes, then suddenly a faucet opens. Images appear. A sentence runs through my mind and I know a poem is trying to be born. I love it when that happens.

Who are your favorite classic poets? Favorite modern poets?

I think I’ll always love Alfred Noyles. I memorized The Highwayman when I was 14 so I could recite it to myself anytime I wanted. Carl Sandburg is another. His language moves me deeply. From "The Backyard"…

Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.

What a beautiful image. Almost haiku in nature. Others are William Carlos Williams, Frank O’Hara, Pablo Neruda, T.S. Elliot. I could go on. Modern poets? Harder since the list is even longer, but I love Sharon Olds, Anne Sexton, Lucile Clifton, Li Young-Lee, Rebecca McClanahan, Maya Angelou, so many of the underground poets. I like honesty tied in with a big dollop of outrageousness in the poets alive today. I like daring poets. Courageous poets. Gentle poets, too. If I start naming contemporary poets I know personally and love, I’m bound to leave someone out.

Who or what inspires you to write your poetry?

The best answer is that I honestly don’t know. Sometimes a chance comment. Other times the fragment of a dream or perhaps a memory. Something that happens during the day. I don’t consciously say ‘Now I’m going to write a poem about that’. The birthing of a poem usually surprises me, so ultimately speaking, from my psychologist’s shoes, I would say that something below my level of conscious awareness begins communicating with me and I take it down. I’m sure you’ve heard novelists comment about their characters taking on a life of their own. It’s much like that with my poems. I try not to control the poem too much in that early stage. Later comes the time for pruning out the excess, rewording to say better what I want to say, working with meter and other poetic devices that may enhance it.

What helps you write poetry?

Patience and courage. My fear of what people would think hampered me in my earlier writing, especially with some of my more sexual poems. When I could let go of that, my poems improved. The patience comes in waiting out the ‘desert’ parts of the landscape and not trying to force a poem for the sake of writing one.

What is your ‘goal’ or aim in your writing?

Ultimately it’s to write my truth. I also like it when my poems resonate with others, when a person can say that he or she can relate or can see something through different eyes because of my poems. One of the most rewarding kinds of feedback I’ve gotten from Sea Trails is when non-poets write to tell me they loved it. Of course I like for my poet peers to like my writing, too, but it’s wonderful to be part of bringing an interest in poetry back to a more general reading population.


Pris Campbell’s full-length book of poetry with accompanying log notes, Sea Trails, was published in the fall of 2009 by Lummox Press. Abrasions, her first poetry book (perfect bound, published by Rank Stranger Press) now has only a limited number of copies left. A chapbook with Tammy Trendle, Interchangeable Goddesses was published by Rose of Sharon, a press run by S.A. Griffin, editorr of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, and David Smith. Pris’ latest chapbook, Hesitant Commitments, was released fall of 2008 by Lummox Press in its prestigious Little Red Book series. Pris has many poems appearing excellent poetry journals such as: Chiron Review, Main Street Rag, The Cliffs: Soundings (print), Boxcar Poetry Review, Empowerment4Women, In The Fray, Blackmail Press, Peshekee River Poetry, Limestone Circle (print), Poems Niederngasse, Erosha, The Smoking Poet, Remark Journal,The Wild Goose Poetry Review, Main Street Rag (print), Thunder Sandwich, The Dead Mule: An Anthology of Southern Literature, Rusty Truck, Short Stuff, International War Vets Poetry Yearly Anthologies (print), Small Potatoes, MiPo Quarterly, MiPo Weekly, OCHO (print) Dakota House, Verse Libre, Tears in the Fence (a U.K. print journal), The Oregon Review, MindFire, Passage Through August, Simply Haiku, Haigaonline. Moonset (print), Sketchbook , Ink, Sweat, and Tears and several other journals. Her poem in the spring 2007 issue of Boxcar won the Peer Award for the issue and has been nominated as one of three by that journal for a 'Best of the Internet' Anthology. Pris has three Pushcart Prize Nominations 2008/2009.


To order Sea Trails, click here: Lummox Press
To view Pris’ popular blog, click here: PoetInspire
Link to Pris reading from Sea Trails click here: Sea Trails Reading (video)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nominated for Pushcart Prize


I've received word my Poem, "Two Sides of Self," was just nominated for a 2009 Pushcart Prize. Here's a link describing the award: The Pushcart Prize and here's a link to the poem, published in the April 2009 issue of the Shine Journal (click here).


Friday, November 6, 2009

Poems in OCHO


My poems, "Dialectics of Reason and Doubt," (p17) and "Dark Thoughts That Illumine," (p44) just appeared in the latest edition of OCHO. If you look closely at the cover, my mug is pictured along with some other poets, painted by Didi Menendez, editor and publisher (middle, first row). Click here to view OCHO: link to OCHO


Monday, September 28, 2009

Another Review for "Night Fires."


From Troubadour 21, Writers and Artists in the 21st Century. You can find it here: TROUBADOUR REVIEW OF NIGHT FIRES


Review in Oranges in Sardines. Click Here
Once in the magazine, go to page 30-31 (review actually on page 28-29)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Casting the Nines

Well... nine, nine, o-nine just passed, and with it one of the most innovative poetry projects in years. Casting the Nines is a nine-poem-by-nine-poets chapbook on the topic of the number nine (what else?), released by the nine poets on nine, nine, o-nine to nine strangers with the sole instruction to read the poems and pass it on to eight other individuals. Each poet dated and inscribed the first line and all subsequent readers have a place to sign and date and pass it on. The chapbook's concept was invented, designed, improvised and published by Jennifer Bosveld of Pudding House Publications . A call for submissions was made and poems selected by Jennifer to appear in the book. I had a great time giving "Casting the Nines" to street walkers in Cambridge, MA on a beautiful evening with my wife Susan and Golden Retriever Sofie. I think it was a good move having them come along... so much solicitation nowadays, everyone's pretty wary, but nothing so disarming as a two-year old Golden. I had two opening lines: "Do you like poetry?" and "I'm a published poet." The first worked much better (I wonder why!!). Apart from nearly getting a ticket by Cambridge police for an illegal lane change on the ride over (hey, it seemed legal to me)... everything went smoothly. After the snappy retort, "No, I hate poetry," one couple insisted I read my contribution out loud ("Ninth Curl of the Helix), which I did with a great result. The gentleman no longer hates poetry and said he would read the book with great interest. Lots of other stories, but bottom line, it was a great idea which seemed to resonate with folks. Pudding House is thinking of following this up with a much larger endeavor involving the free dispersal of a much larger number of poetry books and going with interesting and provocative themes. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review of My Book, "Night Fires" by O & S


Oranges and Sardines, one of the top poetry journals with a print and online platform, has just reviewed my first book of poems, Night Fires. I hope you can stop by their site and read it. After you go to their site, click on the page advance arrow at the end of the page sequence and the review is on pp. 28-29.

Click here: Oranges and Sardines' review of NIght Fires.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Just Received Copies of My First Book of Poems

Just received author's copies of "Night Fires," from my publisher (Pudding House Publications), which was a semi-finalist for The Journal Award (2009), also known as the "Charles B. Wheeler Prize." This is an annual competition to select one poetry maunuscript for publication, sponsored by OSU poets. I'm elated with the printing and the cover art. They did a great job. There are 30 poems in the book, a sort of reflection on early events and circumstances that were important to me in my childhood and early adulthood. I hope I was able to provide a different look at what are no doubt common and perhaps identifiable themes. You can order the book directly from the publisher for $10 (not including postage): Pudding House Publications/ 81 Shadymere Lane/ Columbus, OH 43213, or find it at their website: I also am offering, on a first-come, first-served basis, inscribed copies from my own pile sitting in the study. If you want to reserve a copy, just email me at: and/or send $14 (postpaid) to Ed Nudelman/125 New Balch St./ Beverly, MA 01915

Here's one of the poems from the book:


My father abandoned me.

Left me for hours
with the Saturday morning weirdoes
on Pike Street to watch gorilla
movies one after another
while the poker star
went upstairs following smoke
or downstairs or across the street.
God knows where he went
to play his cards.

When he finally returned
I’d be on a swivel-chair
next to the popcorn machine

where a pal from his war
made sure I was discreetly
sequestered, cool and dry
and bleary-eyed.

When I got home, the smoke
from my cigarette-laced clothes
still reeked. And worse,
the gorillas kept on dying.


Friday, January 23, 2009

January Poem of the Month by Grace Cavalieri


What I Won
by Grace Cavalieri

The sack dress was in style then
with a single strand of pearls.
The sack dress was designed to see
the body move lightly beneath.
That's why I wore it to my first poetry
contest in Philly,
leaving my four-month old at home.
Of course my husband had to
drive, as nervous as I was
so he waited in the car all
day while I sat in the big room, first time out
since I found my mother
dead and then had a baby two weeks later.
My husband stayed all day in that
car in the snow. I won first prize about
wanting my mother but
it was said much better than this,
as you can imagine, to win first.
It even began with notes upon a phantom
, although The Poet
said what do we know of lutes now?
But what did he know of
walking into her bedroom and finding
her a pale shade of lilac.
That just goes to prove I guess I was talking
about the wrong thing in the poem,
and The Poet was surely on to something.
I have to say I looked wonderful,
gaunt with grief and colitis, 1956,
hurrying across the street
where my husband was waiting to take me home,
the first wrong victory in my hand.

by Edward Nudelman

“What I Won,” a poem by Grace Cavilieri, takes us through experience’s strongest gift, memory, to illustrate how something sought (such as a poetry prize) can fade and lessen in importance in the face of sweeping grief or hardship. Grace provides us with a very specific account traveling with her husband to a poetry contest, with fear and trembling, allowing the seamless movement of the poem to inform us, and herself, of what really matters and what is supremely valued.

The title of the poem, as well as the first few lines, draw attention to perhaps a physical object or prize that might be won. The speaker is dressing for an important event and is taking matters very seriously (‘sack dress in style’, ‘pearls’, ‘designed to see the body move lightly beneath’). Her anxiety over having to go to Philly (we are not told from which city of origin, but the assumption is that it was a fairly long trip) is couched in ambivalent terms. We’re told her husband had to drive (‘as nervous as I was’), but we’re not told if her fears were directly related to having to read, or something quite different, such as an emotional issue or even a physical impairment.

Nearly midway through the poem, however, we learn the crux of the speaker’s difficulty in which she exclaims: “first time out since I found my mother dead and then had a baby two weeks later.’ We find several lines addressing her husband’s loyalty and the speaker’s obvious regard for his willingness to come alongside her in her travail. The speaker will return to this important aspect of support and care later in the poem.

The poem seems to turn, midway, on the phrase, “I won first prize about wanting my mother…” said abruptly and perhaps sarcastically, with the qualifier, “but it was said much better than this… to win first.” Here the speaker is organizing thought around the ambivalence of winning something obviously of importance (poets live for this), while at the same time having to deal with a devastating loss. The close proximity of her mother’s death, the birth of her child, and the poetry contest all mix in to add dynamic suspense to this poem.

The second half of the poem deals with a fictitious poet, referred to as simply, The Poet, and interestingly given a male gender (perhaps to distinguish from a metaphor of the speaker interacting with a mirror poet, or self, though this could still be true). The speaker uses this device as a sounding board to discuss with us the poem which she presented at the contest, which began "with notes upon a phantom lute." While this appears to be a reference to her mother’s death, it could also stand alone as a metaphor for the evanescence and changeability of joy or peace (the lute being a reference to that which could supply either). The speaker goes on to tell us that The Poet asked, "what do we know of lutes now?” What can good things do for the grief-stricken? How can nice words, sleep-aids, poetry awards assuage the pain of loss? In addition, one could ask, how can poetry itself help? The Poet wasn’t there, and so he can’t identify with what happened (the speaker implies, 'But what did he know of walking into her bedroom and finding her a pale shade of lilac’).

The conversation heightens near the end as the speaker goes back and forth rehearsing her arguments before the anonymous Poet. In a moment of either self-effacing doubt or monumental clarity, the speaker throws up her hands, saying: "That just goes to prove I guess I was talking about the wrong thing in the poem, and The Poet was surely on to something.”

The ending, comprising an extremely personal and vulnerable introspection, provides the reader with what they need to take this poem into their world of experience. We find a tired, worn-out, ill person, ‘gaunt with grief and colitis,’ ‘hurrying’ back to her husband who will take her home and continue to love her, even if at that moment she holds in her hand the very emblem of the conflict and dissonance expressed in the poem: ‘the first wrong victory.”

“What I won” is a strikingly intimate poem that lets the reader experience along side the speaker revealing aspects of her emotional life, if only from a snapshot event on one day in Philly, in 1956. It is a poem of love and constancy as much as it is self-discovery. We are privy to the evolution of understanding in the speaker’s heart. What becomes of value necessarily diminishes that which never had value. But much remains. Throughout the poem the speaker is careful to remind us that her husband not only accompanied her, but brought her, waited for her, and finally took her home. The speaker doesn’t ask for sympathy in the loss of her mother, presented as fact. The poem could have gone down that road and reproduced a thousand similar themes. Not that the crystallization of what really matters is not vividly presented here. But the power and excellence in this poem lies in the understated values of love and companionship portrayed, hard commodities to find in this world; but once found, sufficient to assuage the worst of grief.

Brief Bio of Grace Cavalieri
Grace Cavalieri is the author of several books of poetry and 21 produced plays; she founded and still produces/hosts public radio’s “The Poet and the Poem,” now in its 32nd year, now from the Library of Congress. Her new book is Anna Nicole: Poems (Goss183:: Casa Menendez, 2008.) She is book review editor for The Montserrat Review and a poetry columnist for MiPOradio. Her play in progress, on Anna Nicole, is “Beverly Hills, Texas.”


Monday, January 12, 2009

Does it take 10,000 hours to be a great poet?


Malcolm Gladwell, in his most recent book, Outliers, suggests that it takes 10,000 hours to become great, to obtain a critical mass that could allow, say, a young Bill Gates to leverage what he learned during that time into the global giant that is Microsoft. The Beatles didn’t start out great, he explains, but invested and amassed 10,000 hours of hard work into their craft before things took off.

Much can be said about innate ability. About being in the right place at the right time. Networking. Being introduced to the right people just at the instant you have something to offer them (imagine if Einstein hadn’t been accepted into the American scientific milieu). All are factors that can increase opportunities for success. And yet, all are short-cuts, in a sense. How often do any one of these, in particular, play a prominent role in success? A strong argument can be made (and Gladwell makes one) that there is a far more important ingredient.

Elbow grease, a nearly forgotten commodity in today’s ‘give me’ generation, may be the greatest benefactor to success. Does the math work in the literary world? If it works, then how does one measure success in art, when there are so many different motives one might claim to pursue it seriously?

Not by the almighty dollar, we're quick to reply. Number of publications? Number of books? Do you have tenure in the Literature department at a major university, teach at a community college? Do you have your own poetry blog with thousands of viewers? Most agree that these factors, while certainly contributing, are not prerequisites or determinants in establishing quality and value with respect to matters in the art world (I'm generalizing here, but bear with me). We all know of exceptions to the rule (ourselves, for example), and are quick to point out that intelligence, or academic ardor (institutionally speaking), though perhaps useful tools, are not in and of themselves, key players in the universe of art and artists.

Thanks to internet, we have a 100 million experts. Who’s to judge who’s good and who’s bad? In poetry, for example, which poems deserve to be pushed to the fore and celebrated (if this were even possible), and which avoided at all cost? The hyperbole of such an exercise, to be sure, is distasteful. And yet, I think this is what we do to some degree on a moment by moment basis (especially on the net). From what I’ve seen, most writers care deeply about what they write, and they care about getting better. Most are open for critique. However, many don’t seem to want to seek it out proactively. But looking for critical analysis from peers may be jumping the gun. There may be a much simpler route to success.

I like Gladwell’s 10,000 rule. It puts a stronger emphasis on the value of learning a craft, a talent, even a gift. It puts a premium on rehearsing, on honing, on editing, on revising (not to discount stream of consciousness writing, extemporaneous models, etc.) It’s clear we’d do better to read 100 pages for every page we write. Or a 1000 pages. If you write poetry, then read poetry. Read about poetry. Read about the lives of poets. Read history, when a poem about an historical event strikes you deeply.

Write and rewrite. Show your work to experts, consultants, friends, your dog or cat. Success? Everyone has their own models and values of what this means, but most kid themselves if they reject the ideal. All the writers I know, and I know a good deal, care deeply about what they write, and if they understood what it took to get better, they’d move in that direction. Expectations for success can be incremental and modest; or they can be quantum leaps, the sky’s the limit.

Most who write know they need to spend more time working on their craft. Improvement can be measured a million different ways; but, in the end, little improvement is possible without contributing energy into the equation. Does it take 10,000 hours to write a great poem? Probably not (that’s a lot of hours)… but as you approach that kind of commitment, you’re sure to reap a lasting benefit in the development and mastery of your craft.