Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nonfiction Review: Sea Trails

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Sea Trails: Poems and 1977 Passage Notes by Pris Campbell, a unique book chronicling the author’s sailing trip down the east coast more than thirty years ago.  

Let me say upfront that I am not at all qualified to review a book of poetry.  I haven’t read much poetry since high school English classes and – if I’m completely honest – I often don’t really “get” poetry.  Despite this appalling lack of qualifications, I really enjoyed Pris’ book, which is a unique combination of original poetry, maps, photos, and excerpts from her ship’s log.

Like me, Pris has a disabling chronic illness called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and we’ve become friends in the virtual online world of blogs.  So that’s how someone who reads so little poetry ended up reading Sea Trails.  And I’m so glad I did.

Pris’ collection tells a story – maybe that’s why I liked this book so much when more abstract poetry has failed to reach me.  It’s the story of a dual journey – of both the physical sailing trip  from Massachusetts to Florida (made long before CFS changed her life) and of an emotional journey where she and her sailing partner/lover grew further apart as the trip progressed.  Her poems often reflect both of these passages:


The sky is a woman
suppressing her tears.
I think that woman is me.

She describes the details of her sailing trip and her emotional state through her poems, some longer and some short, like this one:


Courage is docking a small boat
with the current shoving your keel
one way, wind pushing your hull
the other and knowing Superman
isn’t going to show up to help you.

In between  poems, maps, pictures, and ship’s logs fill in the story.  I felt like I was along on the boat with her.  I’ve been sailing a few times with my mom and her husband, on the boat they keep in Stonington, CT, mainly to Watch Hill and Block Island in Rhode Island.  I loved the parts of the book where Pris traveled to these same places I’m familiar with, but the rest of her journey was just as fascinating to me, both in terms of the sailing trip and her personal relationship.

Sea Trails is beautifully written, with informative prose and imaginative poetry that even a non-poetic person like me can appreciate.  I felt like I was along for the ride, enjoying the excitement of the wind in the sails.

92 pages, Lummox Press