Saturday, November 28, 2009

Virtual Book Tour: Pris Campbell on Sea Trails

(super-quick update: I'm doing pretty well and have just been focusing on enjoying the holidays, the crash is easing and I'm catching up on some things)

I am very honored today to host a virtual book club stop for author and poet Pris Campbell. Her new book, Sea Trails: Poems and 1977 Passage Notes, is out and here's Pris to talk about her book!

What prompted you to write Sea Trails?
Actually, I never set out to write a book. I wrote Streaking, a poem based on the New Jersey leg of my 1977 trip down the east coast in my Tanzer 22 sailboat. A terrifying storm hit the night we headed for Atlantic City and I tied it in with the deteriorating relationship with my partner whom I refer to only as R. The poem was published in Empowerment4Women and tucked it away under my other publications.

I soon realized how much I enjoyed writing that poem, so I wrote more, based on other aspects of the trip. I started a sailing poems folder. From time to time, I would add to the folder. One day I looked at the poems trying to decide if I wanted to submit a batch to a journal and suddenly recognized that a book was actually trying to write itself. I dug out my old scrapbook from the trip, with photos and snippets of small charts from the area guidebooks along the way, then pulled out my old log books. Yes, I still had them almost 30 years later. I began going through the log notes and writing more poems as they spurred more specific memories. It seemed natural at that point to add snippets of the log notes since they provided a good transition between the poems. I merged and smoothed them out for better reading.

I still didn’t have confidence that it would be taken seriously with log notes, so I sent it to Lummox first with them removed, but mentioned what I’d done. Raindog said they actually sounded intriguing and asked to see them. He liked the combination and Sea Trails was born.

What prompted you to get into poetry in the first place and when was that?
I’ve loved writing since my childhood. In the sixth grade my class put on two plays I wrote and I started a novel when I was 14. My writing was set aside, except for occasional short stories or articles, for a number of years when I went to graduate school then began a career as a Clinical Psychologist. In the mid eighties I couldn’t suppress that longing anymore so began working on a novel in my spare time. I was in my second attempt at a decent one when I was hit by CFIDS, also known as CFS or ME/CFS, in 1990.

This illness isn’t just about being tired. All sorts of cognitive/neurological problems come with it. In many ways I felt as if I’d had a stroke, but didn’t have one. I had balance problems. I was swimmy dizzy. My thoughts were jumbled. My short term memory was shot. And on top of that light and sound were so overstimulating that my options were totally limited for about the first 8 years. When I finally found a doctor who was able to help me get some of these symptoms under control and deal with what was left, I was able to sign onto a computer for the first time. This was 1999. At this point it was as if I’d lost everything, so when I found a haiku site and found I could write some terrible semblance of the form you can’t imagine how overjoyed I was. Be it small, I’d found a way to be creative again. As I improved more, I moved on to free verse and found my real niche there. This was in late 1999.
Bit by bit my writing began to improve. I started to publish and things continued from there. I had always loved poetry and we had poetry books in my home as a child but I’d never imagined myself writing a poem.

So here’s the short answer…yes, yes, it’s wonderful to do creative writing. Haiku and free verse are so very freeing. Both can lead you to your wabi sabi.

Since you have CFIDS, what inspires you to write these days? Is it different than before you got ill?
My inspiration for writing hasn’t changed. As I said before, I write for the joy of it. I always have. I rarely write about being ill, although sometimes I do. I write about whatever seems to push itself into my mind and demand a hearing. I write funny and I write sad. I write sexy and I write about loss of sexiness. I write about other people. I write about myself. I write about aging. I write about a teenager’s loss of innocence. And I write about the sea. My body may be trapped, but my mind still runs free.

Do you have any advice for people (poets or otherwise), reading this?
I would first say never put off the things that are really important to you. Nobody knows when life is going to throw a curve ball. I left a secure, well paying job to make the boat trip I write about in Sea Trails. I suppose I could’ve waited but something kept urging me…’do it now’. I’m so glad that I did.

If you do get stonewalled, once you grieve your losses, which is important to do, find something, no matter how tiny, that give you happiness and do it. When CFIDS first hit, my mind was a mess. It felt in many ways as if I’d had a stroke. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t remember names for things. I couldn’t remember something as basic as how to make a sandwich. That doesn’t even take into account the incredible muscle limpness, the dizziness, inability to keep my balance or the nausea that made me throw up every day for the first year. Right now, my hands are so weak that I have to write a few lines of a poem I’m working on, stop, put it aside for a while, then start again.

In 1999, I met a poet on the CFIDS forum shortly after I’d begun my first attempts at free verse. She’d taught herself basic html and designed her own website from scratch. My first reaction was, ‘it’s impossible for me to do that. My mind is too shot’, but I found a site that gave html instructions and printed them out. It took me three months to learn what I could’ve learned in 3-4 days in the past, but I did it.
My last doctor always reminded me that I may be a tortoise now, no longer the hare, but that the tortoise won the race and never forget that. I would repeat that advice to readers. No matter what roadblock you run into, find a way around it. If you run into more roadblocks, create a new plan. Never let anything stand between you and your pursuit of something you love.

One last question: With all of the poetry books for sale right now, what makes yours unique?
I like the fact that my book tells a story. I think that’s fairly unique. The reader can travel along with me by way of poem, log notes and charts on my trip. I think most people have a sense of adventure in them, even if it’s not an urge to go to sea. Also, the book tells the story, in counterpoint, of the deteriorating relationship with my partner on this trip. So, we have two stories progressing at the same time. My feeling all along is that this is a cross over book, one that will appeal to nonpoets as well as poets. I’ve had this feeling confirmed when people who don’t even read poetry, much less write it, have read the book and tell me they can’t put it down. Poets have told me the same thing. I love it when poetry can move over to reach a wider group of readers.

Thanks, Pris! And now, here she is, reading a selection from her book, Sea Trails:

Sea Trails by Pris Campbell can be purchased directly at and clicking on the book cover. It can also be purchased on Amazon. If you’d like a signed copy, please buy through Lummox Press and instruct us that you want it signed.

After you click on the cover at Lummox, you’ll get a paypal button.

Please feel free to discuss, ask questions and leave comments below! Thank you for attending this stop on Pris' book tour!


Renee said...

This is great, Terri. It has been very interesting to read about Pris and her book. It gives us all hope to achieve our own dreams.

Toni said...

Terri - It's so wonderful of you to have posted this book tour for Pris. I celebrated by buying the book. I can't wait for it to arrive!

Pris said...

I didn't realize you'd posted it yet. Thank you thank you! And I was glad to see your note that you're doing better.

And Toni, thanks for buying the book!

RD Armstrong said...

Terri, thanks for hosting "our" book. I hope that we'll get a good response from your readers (I was pleased to see the comments from Renee and Toni - validates why I thought this would be a great place to showcase her poetry).

cfswarrior said...

Hi Renee-

I find it inspiring also especially because she overcame some intense symptoms and wrote the book anyway!

cfswarrior said...

Hi Toni-

I love the idea of a virtual book tour. The book looks wonderful (I haven't read it yet but purchased a couple copies).

I'm so glad that you bought a copy also!

cfswarrior said...

Hi Pris-

I left a comment on your blog Saturday but its quite possible that I did something wrong so the post didn't show up.

Thank you-yes I'm back to my baseline thank goodness. I appreciate your concern-it means a lot.

cfswarrior said...


I hope it gets a good response also. This is the sort of thing that inspires hope in people.

I'm honored to be part of the virtual book tour.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

cinderkeys said...

These are good questions. I've wondered how anyone can stay creative in the face of pain and fog. I'm happy that it's possible.

Pris said...

Thanks again. With these blogs I've had comments disappear, too. I check your blog regularly , though, and there I was!:-)

Cinderkeys, it's not easy to write with your brain swirling, but I'm also inspired by Laura Hildebrand, author of Sea Biscuit, who wrote with the room turning in circles and a small fridge in her room for times when she was too weak to get to the kitchen.

Sue Jackson said...

Oh, my gosh, I didn't know that Pris had published a book - how wonderful! I'm not very into poetry, but this sounds really interesting. What a great experience, taking a sailing trip like that!

And I am enormously inspired by the accomplishment of writing a book when she was so severely ill! You're an inspiration to us all, Pris!!


Pris said...

Thanks, Sue. This is my first full length poetry book. I have one earlier shorter book and two chapbooks. I just write slowly. I wrote the poems in this book over the course of a year (as well as writing other poems for journals at the same time), and then took another year to add in the extras and hone the poems. We are tortoises now, but we get there:-)

Toni said...

Pris's book came two days ago. I thought I'd post my impressions here since it's through Terri's virtual tour that I learned about the book. I haven't read it all (reading is a slow slow process for me) but I've looked through it all and read about half of the text. This is a wonderful book! It's part memoir, part adventure, part instruction manual (on sailing -- that's the part my husband loves), and the icing on the cake are Pris's poems. Then, as an extra treat, there are pictures of her 1977 trip from Boston to Florida on a 22-foot sailboat (which my husband says is very small for such an adventure). You'll even see Pris at the helm!

You follow her trip through her journal entries and then, through her poetry, come out of the mundane world and into the creative one. The poems and the journal entries fit seamlessly together. Her poetry is sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes beautifully descriptive of a particular incident, sometimes so moving that that you'll get goosebumps (at least I did).

You'll feel like you're not only on a sail-boating adventure with her, but on life's adventure. What an inspiring book! Thanks Pris.

Pris said...

Thank you so much! I'm glad you like the book (and it takes me time to read things, too). Thank your husband for reading it, too.