Gillnetter, mariner and naturalist Holly Hughes has experienced first-hand the practical and philosophical consequences of navigating difficult waters. In Sailing by Ravens, she gathers wisdom gained from 30 seasons working off Alaska's shores, weaving personal experience and her love of the sea with the history and science of navigation. In this exquisite collection of poems, Hughes deftly navigates “the wavering, certain path” of a woman’s heart, finding that sometimes the best directions to follow are those that come from the natural forces in our lives. These meditations offer waypoints for readers on their own journeys.
These poems of the sea begin with a school girl’s fascination for “the blue sea holding captive all the land” and end as the seasoned sailor learns that “even the old charts/ can’t navigate the wild shoals of your heart.” Along the way we are shipmates through days of fishing, sailing, loving, and losing as Hughes navigates the lure, lore, and loneliness of a sea that is both natural force and metaphor. I love Sailing by Ravens with its salt of the sea, salt of our deepest lives.
—Gary Thompson, author of One Thing After Another
Hughes has worked these poems into a cycle that begins and ends on inward looking notes, but that ranges widely in the pages between, exploring navigation and life on the high seas as an essential aspect of the human experience. Collectively, the individual pieces manage to convey both the enormity of the planet and the universe beyond which setting sail opens one up to, while capturing the stiflingly claustrophobic feel of being in a tiny craft alone on the ocean. . . . This is a remarkably well composed, tightly written collection of brief poems that open up worlds.
—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Hughes uses every aspect of the sea – navigation, map making, sailing – to chart her poetry. Hers is a record of Alaska’s fish industry and the strong hearts that steer it. Yet, the book is about vulnerability at sea – with all the remote sensing which that entails; and, how the work of living its boundaries and their challenges justifies our inner discoveries.
—Washington Independent Review of Books
It’s a rare pleasure to come upon a book so well crafted, so unified in theme, so honest and true to a poet’s heart. Sailing by Ravens is a remarkable voyage. Book passage as soon as you can.