It's hard for me to envision a book of poems as a "page turner," but Sea Trails: Poems and 1977 Passage Notes by Pris Campbell is just that. The narrative is about a trip, taken by the author and a man called R, aboard a small boat named Little Adventure. Included within the 100-page volume are not only Campbell’s original notes and recent poems, written 30 years after the trip, but also, for those of us who are undereducated in nautical terms, a glossary of boating terms and asides, such as “How to lay a trot line for catching crabs” (p. 42) — woven into the body but printed on a gray background — along with maps, and a few well-placed black and white photos of the author in her younger days. There is even an entry called “While We Were Gone,” that lists news about Elvis’ death and the launchings of Voyager 1 and Voyager II (p. 88).
The publisher, Lummox Press, has done a nice job of visually separating various book parts. Each part is short enough to keep the reader’s attention, complete enough to stand alone, and relevant enough be truly necessary as a part of the narrative’s whole. There is nothing that does not belong. From Campbell’s note, “How It Began," (pp. 5-6), we learn that she purchases a sailboat, and she and R make the plans necessary for the extended sea-trip. They resign from their jobs, make minor additions to the boat, buy a camp stove and a Porta-Pot, and gather supplies before setting sail.
Then — with the first poem — we are off. The journey takes on life, and this reader found herself living the journey, along with the couple. Campbell is retelling the story in old note and new verse, and I am in search of the vicarious freedom of both travel and ocean. Salt and water, moonlight and wind, become our setting.
I’m ensnared, trapped by increasing
longings to ride that magic carpet
into places different from my own
I let the wind take me.
(“Sea Trails,” p. 9)
The trip that started in Hull, Massachusetts was intended to terminate in New Orleans but ends “suddenly” in Melborne, Florida, when the couple run out of money, health, and tolerance. But along the way, Campbell and R try to rekindle a dying romantic spark. Once “[they] could melt windows, / set trees on fire, make stars / fall from a frozen sky” (“Once Upon a Time,” p 14), but now this is no longer the case. Their romance has been reduced to sex, so that Campbell sometimes speaks with practical bluntness, such as, “I want him in me before weighing anchor” (“Streaking,” p.34) and then waxes hopeful once again with “I pretend he’s an angel washed up over the railing” (“Streaking,” p. 35).