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)


  1. Thank you so much, Ed. I posted the concept of Virtual Tours on my own blog with a link to your post above. You make a great 'first leg' of the journey!

  2. I loved this introduction. Sounds like you're embarking on another journey. Your words are very evocative.

  3. so looking forward to reading "sea trails", pris! i'm very sick today and will come back with a "proper" comment soon.

    but thank you to ed for featuring this amazing poet: whether autobiographical or fictitous, pris' poetry never fails to set you on a page-turning adventure, something that is so rare in the world of poems. LOVE TO BOTH OF YOU. xoxoxo ~lt

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hi Pris,

    Sorry having trouble with account name.

    For centuries, people have related stories about the mysteries perceived from the sea—silent gifts with the power to change lives forever. With only the few lines offered here, it is obvious that you are one of the lucky ones to have perceived it. You translate this essence for us, while soulfully blending it with your feelings and the adventure itself.

    I have spent most of my career life in the shipping industry and my son is a sailboat charter captain in the Bahamas and Lac Champlain. At 23 year old, he just bought his first sailboat, 36’ Beneteau, this summer. And this is just a small fraction of my family’s link with the sea. So rest assured, your book will be part of our precious maritime collection.

    If you are on Face Book, please add me as friend and see my Note with the christening poem I wrote for my son’s boat. It’s in an old style to go with the ancient tradition, but from one seafarer-writer to another, I think you will enjoy it.

  6. Hi Audrey...yes, yes, something so transforming in the sea. I know that trip changed my life forever and I still go over when I can and sit by the ocean late afternoon since the rush of water is still in my blood.

    And your son has a great job. I've sailed in the Bahamas and by small boat you see the cays that cruise ships can't reach. An entirely different world.

    I'll see if I can locate you on Facebook. Sometimes tons of the same name come up. If you search for me by my email, in the meantime, you'll go right to my profile whee you can invite me. It's campris (at) bellsouth (dot) net.

    I'm glad you're getting the book. Thank you!

  7. And hi, Laura. I got your email!

  8. Ed, I have only read part of this column, but can tell it's informative and illuminating. I look forward to spending time with Pris' work.

  9. Bravo! The virtual tour is off to a magnificent start. Great job Edward and fabulous work Pris! This is a truely great way to showcase a fine poet and help introduce more people to something well worth reading. Bravo, Bravo!

  10. Agreed, Russell! And thanks so much Pris for making yourself available for this showcase of your work

  11. ed, thanx for your focus on Pris and her heartfelt words. She truly is a talent. With Respect, Chris Bodor,

  12. Thank you again, Ed, for this wonderful feature. I so appreciate the comments each reader has left. So positive and encouraging!

  13. Hesitant Commitments was the first book I bough from Pris and this new collection will be on my next to buy list,
    well done Pris, love your work, Aine,

  14. Aine, thank you. Remember, when you buy, there's a box for special instructions. Tell Lummox you want a signed/dedicated copy. He leaves several copies with me, then emails me when such a request comes in and I mail it from here. Since you're overseas, however, with the postage higher, I don't know if Amazon plus another purchase to get you to free shipping may be more economical.

  15. Ed, thank you for allowing us to appear on your blog. I was really pleased with what you did with the material I sent you. I only hope that your readers will be inspired to buy this great collection by this very talented writer. As her publisher, I can truly say that it is both an honor and a pleasure to be able to offer her work to (what I hope is) a hungry audience.

  16. For those of you who don't know, RD (aka Raindog) is the chief cook and bottle-washer at Lummox. Here's a direct link:

  17. So glad that Pris is getting the attention she deserves for this wonderful book of poems.

  18. Dead Mule..thanks for your support of the book. I still appreciate your great review!

  19. Pris, any time you can the support of a dead mule, you're doing pretty well!

  20. I would surely have to agree with that:-)

    (PS It's a great journal!)

  21. too funny, ed!

    well, i said i'd come back to say what i really like about pris' poetry. the book i read--hesitant commitments, like aine--was a breath of fresh air. through almost every poem was a wisp of sensuality and sexuality, something that seems lacking to me in women's 21st century poetry, at least what i have read.

    but even more exciting to me--if that is possible :>>))--was its sense of adventure, externally in terms of place and internally in terms of pris' profound exploration and her almost innate willingness towards self-disclosure. she is no fool; she knows a good healing when she sees one!

    what was shocking to me as a confessional poet who takes her truth to the "t"... well, a good part of it, pris told me (and i hope to god this okay to say!) was fictional, imagined place, imagined time, though the feelings behind it were true.

    when i first met pris (12 yrs ago?) in a writers' group, she was writing fiction, and suddenly it all made sense: the "story", the "characters". she had taken the best of fiction writing and merged it with the best of poetry! i was spellbound and had umpteen questions for her when i was done.

    hesitant commitments was a total pageturner... i read it to myself and then turned right around and read it out loud to my partner! and he agreed--hell of a story! and sad, mon dieu! it stirred a lot of emotion in me.

    so now, learning about the publication of Sea Trails which is a true adventure, and in reading the outstanding reviews, i can hardly wait to get home to the states so i can order a copy and read it! pris has such a unique talent and, since this is adventure on the high seas (and low :>>)), i imagine it is going to be EVEN BETTER, if that's possible, than hesitant commitments. i can't wait, pris. please save a signed copy for me!

    so proud of you, matey. :>>)) obviously, everyone is.

    ed, a wonderful and refreshing review. the only thing i would suggest, for those unfamiliar with the poet you are featuring, is to reprint (with permission, of course) at least one full poem so that people get a good sense of the writer's style and content. in pris' case, i know this would pique a lot of interest and lead perhaps to even more book sales, which we poor poets certainly can use!

    LOVE ALWAYS, to both of you outstanding poets! ~lt xoxooxxo

  22. I wanted to thank you, too, Laura. Yes, the 'settings' in Hesitant Commitments were places I'd not been but the emotional truth behind those poems was the key. Also my dealings with men in my younger years. That was true. And it's okay to say that. Looking forward to your reaction to this book.

    For samples of some of the poems from this book , if you or anyone visits and clicks on my cover you'll find a paypal button, but under it are some of the poems.

  23. Yes, I think better to honor the press that published "Sea Trails," by having folks visit their site to see sample poems.

  24. wow pris,
    you always inspire and amaze me. this is great!
    much love-hector

  25. Hi Hector!! You do the same for me!


  26. First rate feature on Pris' new book.

  27. ED
    Thanks again for publishing the "tour".


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