Sailing by Ravens
A reading by Holly J. Hughes
April 12, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham
This Saturday evening, former Alaskan salmon gillnetter, mariner, editor and naturalist Holly J. Hughes shares her latest book of poetry, Sailing by Ravens (University of Alaska Press, 2014) as part of Village Books and North Cascades Institute’s Nature of Writing Series.
Using a variety of poetic forms, Hughes deftly explores how we find our way, at sea, in love and in life. Hughes draws from more than 30 seasons working at sea, offering a lyrical view of the history of navigation, plumbing its metaphorical richness. From the four points of the compass, Hughes navigates “the wavering, certain path” of a woman’s heart, learning to trust a deeper knowledge. This collection offers wisdom culled from direct experience and careful attention, taking us with her in her quest to chart her own course. “How will she learn to ride the swell, let the earth curve her?” This poet’s questions open us to possibilities as vast as the ocean.
Sailing by Ravens is a deeply moving portrait of a sailor and her ocean. It’s a look back at love and loss and the Alaskan fishing life. It’s a history of sailing and navigation, a study of a dissolving marriage, a gorgeous map of the body and desire. It’s an impressive book of forms and an ingeniously crafted whole. Holly Hughes takes on the familiar metaphor of the ocean, then makes it necessary and new. I’m awestruck.
–Kathleen Flenniken, Washington State Poet Laureate, author of Plume and Famous
Hughes is a recipient of a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship and residencies at Hedgebrook, Centrum and the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including Dancing With Joy: 99 Poems (Random House), The Poet’s Guide to Birds (Anhinga Press), Working the Woods, Working the Sea (Empty Bowl Press), and America Zen: A Gathering of Poets (Bottom Dog Press).
She teaches writing at Edmonds Community College, where she directs the Convergence Writers Series and received the Excellence in Education Award in 2012. She has also spent over thirty summers working on the water in Alaska in a variety of roles, including commercial fishing for salmon, skippering a 65-foot schooner, and more recently, working as a naturalist on ships.
Some samples from Sailing by Ravens:
Steering by Monarchs
She forgot the instruments and steered instead
by butterflies knowing nothing human could be that sure.
~Alison Hawthorne Deming, The Monarchs
Fog thick enough to lick, horizon a blanket,
pearl gleam of sun. Sure, the sea trips
the mind, conjures creatures but what’s
this dusty heartbeat of wing?
First one. Then another. And another.
How to account for this river of wings
flowing south through generations?
She watches the monarchs drift—
cloud of orange and black—
Western mind says discount,
but knows better than to dismiss.
She abandons the instruments,
tracks by dusty heartbeat,
joins the wavering, certain path.
Sailing by Ravens
They have no chart, no sailing directions.
Instead three ravens to find Iceland.
Planks creak, sails shudder in unseen wind. At the tiller,
Floki faces astern, watches the Faroes diminish
to flat line of horizon. They ride a barrel stave of latitude,
sight each night with the husonatra the Guiding Star.
On the first day out of sight of the Faroes, Floki released a raven.
Lifts dark wings into an empty sky, an exclamation point,
wings off, shadows another ship’s wake home.
On the second day another raven is released. Circles, a question,
lights upon the ship’s mast, an answer. On the third day,
another raven climbed to a great height, flew off purposefully to the west.
A raven can see land ninety miles away.
Floki could see the raven to a height of 5,000 feet.
What next? Black V of wings diminishing
to a period, winging toward certainty
in bone, feather. Floki leans against the tiller,
traces faint calligraphy across the blank slate of sky.
Holly J. Hughes’ most recent book of poetry, from which she’ll be reading this Saturday, April 12 at Village Books. The cover is from a painting by Evon Zerbetz.
Leading photo: Holly Hughes, happy. Photo by Isolde Pierce.