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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Harrowing saga of the El Faro sinking, Ha Jin’s poems of being outsider

This undated image made from a video by the National Transpor-tation Safety Board shows the stern of ap file photo

The story of the El Faro

Boston journalist Rachel Slade’s harrowing, moving first book, Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro’’ (Ecco), out this week, tells the story of the sinking of the El Faro, a 790-foot container ship that went down with her 33 crew members during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015.

When Slade, an architect by training who studied political science, first read about the ship and the storm, she got a tingling sensation. “I’d been looking for a story my whole life,” she says in a telephone interview, “that covered technical questions, design questions, that had political components, and a human narrative element.” This was the story she’d been waiting for.


The book is a few things at once: It is a taut adventure tale of what it is to be on a large boat in a violent ocean (as part of her research, Slade took a container ship from Italy to the United States). It is a portrait of the ship’s crew, particularly the flawed Captain Michael Davidson and the better-to-laugh-than-cry Second Mate Danielle Randolph. And it is a history of shipping in the United States and how corporate pressures can trump safety concerns amid the increased vagaries of storm forecasting in an age of global warming.

The depth of research and reporting, and Slade’s skill at pacing and selecting the telling details produce a richly detailed narrative, tense and sad and true. She talks of the pull of the ocean: “You realize how small you are,” she says. “The world is so much bigger than us. It’s humbling.” Slade will read and discuss the book at the Brookline Booksmith on May 16 at 7 p.m.

Ha Jin releases new poem collection

Ha Jin, poet, fiction writer, and director of Boston University’s creative writing program, wrote the poems in his latest collection in Chinese first, then rewrote them in English. A Distant Center’’ (Copper Canyon), published this month, steeps in a sense of displacement, of lives spent navigating elsewheres. With plainspoken wisdom and understated elegance, he offers insight and advice on moving through an unknown world. From “The Long Distance Traveler”: “If you are/ blazing a path, do not expect to meet/ a fellow traveler.” From “Talent”: “Get up, move quietly, and leave/ all the clamor behind.” There are wrens, toads, snowfall, roads, roots. And a quiet sense, despite inevitable pain and loss, of optimism: “As long as you are alive/ there will be miracles,” he writes.


Mass. Poetry Festival marks 10 years

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, bringing more than 150 local and national poets to Salem May 4 to May 6 for a full schedule of events including a small press and literary fair, poetry slams, panels, and scores of readings. Poets include Duy Doan, Kaveh Akbar, Rhina P. Espaillat, Carl Phillips, Dorianne Laux, Sonia Sanchez, Nick Flynn, Jenny Xie, Lloyd Schwartz, Jenna Le, and Ansley Moon, among others. Many of the panel discussions are timely with a social justice bent, including topics such as “Circling the Earth: The Poetry of Refuge and Sanctuary”; “Resisting the Erasure of Our (Im)Migrant Roots”; “KabuMerikanas: Women in Cape Verdean American Culture”; and “The Poetry of Predation: Women Poets on Writing the Poetry of Misogyny, Abuse, and Violence.” Passes are $30, and a complete schedule can be found at


Coming out

Somnambulance’’ by Fiona Smyth (Koyama)

Welcome to Lagos’’ by Chibundo Onuzo (Catapult)

Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl’’ by Diane Seuss (Graywolf)

Pick of the week

Liam Buell at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, recommends The Correspondence’’ by J.D. Daniels (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): “Mr. Daniels has not simply murdered all his darlings; he has tortured them in his basement and let them bleed out while taking notes on the patterns formed by the blood. He is self-effacing and honest because it is both right and difficult to be so. If your eyes have grown accustomed to the wool that shrouds your vision of this life and your place in it, I could not recommend a better book to help you regain your sight.”

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at