“Fish Streets before Dawn: Poems” by Rick Campbell

In a new collection by accomplished poet Rick Campbell, Fish Streets before Dawn: Poems (Press53 2024), evocative settings underscore themes of aging, the fragility of life, and inevitability of change and death.

The first section is titled “Alligator Point” after the Florida gulf front community where Campbell lives. “The Wild Lament of Saint Teresa” describes the narrator coming upon a dead loon at nearby Saint Teresa beach following a storm. The poet alludes to other poets who encountered similar epiphanies upon discovering dead wildlife, Eberhart’s groundhog and Stafford’s deer. The poem ends with “wind slinging a rain shroud / like a slow, soft parade,” an image which further evokes Bryant’s famous poem “Thanatopsis” and its “innumerable caravan, which moves / To that mysterious realm” beyond life. Campbell’s strong images and allusions turn an ordinary event in nature into a powerful philosophical musing.

Other poems in this section examine a rusted-out smoker that “collapsed in fire and rust,” neighbors whose names are not known and the isolation that suggests, and starfish thrown back into the ocean in hopes they will survive. Campbell’s accumulated images build an accurate picture of the Panhandle coast: sandbars, cast netters, minnow buckets, shell roads, tides, and waves. This is not the Florida tourists know. It is Old Florida. Pre-Mouse Florida. Campbell paints an evocative picture of coastal life:

The fog is thick over the State Park

like it’s coming out of the sand

pines, stepping softly like a bobcat,

like the coyotes that howl in the evenings

when the sun falls again and again.

In a section, titled “Other Places,” Campbell takes readers along on his travels to places far from his Alligator Point coast. To downtown Pittsburgh with lighted storefronts of Gimbels and Horne’s and trolley cars. To Rochester, Minnesota, listening to “Hendrix, Duane, / and Stevie Ray.” To West Virginia, where Calabrian miners died in the Monongah Mine disaster. To South Florida, where the narrator tries “to remember a place that never was.” To Indiana, to meet relatives for the first time. To Big Sur, where butterflies lie in the grass “almost still as wildflowers.”

One of the most poignant works in the collection, “Another Story of Ash,” recalls the narrator “carrying my brother, / bone, skin, hair, teeth, nails / in a box.” He scatters the ashes in the little League field he and his brother knew as children:

The soot and ash days are gone,

My brother knew this game better

than he played it; he’s left the life

he screwed up. I remain,

lucky. No good reason to outlive

a hard fastball, and everything

this broken life threw at us.

In short, Fish Streets before Dawn reveals an experienced poet at the top of his game.

Rick Campbell

Rick Campbell is a poet and essayist living on Alligator Point, Florida. His most recent book is a collection of essays, Sometimes the Light (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.). Poetry collections include: Provenance (Blue Horse Press); Gunshot, Peacock, Dog (Madville Publishing); The History of Steel (All Nations Press); Dixmont (Autumn House Press); Setting the World in Order (Texas Tech University Press); The Traveler’s Companion (Black Bay Books); and A Day’s Work (State Street Press). His poems and essays have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Georgia Review, Fourth River, Kestrel, Alabama Literary Review, and Prairie Schooner. He’s won a Pushcart Prize and an NEA Fellowship in Poetry. He teaches in the University of Nevada-Reno’s MFA program.



Little Wing on a Distant Radio

(A new poem by Rick Campbell, printed with permission)


On a bridge over Blackwater Sound

nothing but the pastel sky west

and dark water below.  Winter

sunset more glorious than we likely deserved.

We were as high as South Florida gets

when a guitar from a Miami station

sent a riff, almost lost in the metallic echo

and wind, a hint about a god of light,

a voice from the heaven that was no doubt

out there in Florida Bay where the falling sun

drifted across a hundred islands. Slide riffs,

sweet in the honey. Who’s this, I asked.

Sometimes the radio, like god, does not answer.

The song played in my head for the rest of the night.

Largo, Islamorada, Matecumbe Key.


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