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 four-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.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR PRIS
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 BIO
Pris Campbell’s first full-length book of poetry, Sea Trails, was published in the fall of 2009 by Lummox Press. Abrasions, a chapbook, was published by Rank Stranger Press now has 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. A nice surprise at the end of 2008 was a Pushcart Prize Nomination.
IMPORTANT LINKS TO CHECK OUT (active links)
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)