“As vast, mighty, glorious, and dangerous as the oceans that surround us, this was a book that shook me, dove, and soared—a monumental work from a writer at his peak, a writer whom I would follow to the ends of the earth, forever.”—Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters, Run Me to Earth, and The Mountain
EastOver Press is proud to announce the publication of The Legible Element, a collection of essays by award-winning writer Ralph Sneeden.
The Legible Element is a lyrical memoir of a life lived in and out of the water. In his first book of essays, Sneeden combines poetry and prose in a search for the origins of his passion for buoyancy and immersion.
The collection’s narratives about surfing, sailing, fishing, scuba diving, and swimming are earthly dispatches from an ongoing voyage fueled by joy, longing, loss, and humor. Water provides the language of the essays, functioning as both a lens and mirror for the author’s exploration of the act and outcomes of writing itself. As Sneeden says in the preface, “…it’s writing that ultimately needs to rip its own temporary swath, churn the surface of memory into something that seems more permanent.”
The Legible Element will have you wallowing, floundering, and then swimming happily for your life off the shore of your own preoccupations before you even realize you’re adrift.
“Excellent writing is most often driven by obsession. Par excellence is The Legible Element, Ralph Sneeden’s astonishing book of water-borne essays that explore what it means to immerse oneself in nature while also raising a family and living a life in literature. This book will fling you from shore to sea and back again in search of perfect aquatic moments. Spoiler: all of them, but never are they enough. Read just one page and beware of the undertow.”—Jennifer Acker, author of The Limits of the World and editor at The Common
“Ralph Sneeden’s The Legible Element explores a lifelong impulse to counter the institutions and strictures of existence on land with a ‘tactile, bodily’ connection to the water. His essays covering his relationship with the ocean and various inlets, reefs, streams, and ponds—guided by his deep immersion in these environs—are elemental, cerebral, sometimes dangerous, and completely enrapturing for anyone with a love of wild, liminal places.”—Alex Wilson, editor, The Surfer’s Journal
“The Legible Element surfs and skates and swims its way to rare truths. Water is at the center of Ralph Sneeden’s worldview, and poetry is the center of that center. These are a poet’s sentences, a poet noticing the world even as he lives in it, language creating a world apart. These essays are profound—you’ll want to follow this voice wherever it goes, and where it goes is a kind of mortal delight: a companion for the quiet hours, wisdom, solace, big ideas, song.”—Bill Roorbach, author of Summers with Juliet, Temple Stream, and Lucky Turtle
Sneeden’s poems and essays have appeared in a broad range of magazines and literary publications including AGNI, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Harvard Review, The Common, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The New Republic, Southern Review, Southwest Review, and The Surfer’s Journal. His work has also been featured multiple times on Poetry Daily and in The Second Set, a jazz poetry anthology edited by Yusef Komunyakaa and Sascha Feinstein. The title poem of his first book, Evidence of the Journey (Harmon Blunt, 2007), received the Friends of Literature Prize from POETRY magazine/Poetry Foundation and was also runner up for the Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers. In manuscript form, the book had been a finalist for the Walt Whitman Prize (Academy of American Poets), Yale Younger Poets Prize, Brittingham/Pollak Prize, Kathryn Morton Prize, Wick Prize, and New Issues Prize. His latest collection of poems, Surface Fugue, was released by EastOver Press in 2021. In previous manifestations, Surface Fugue was a semi-finalist for the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize, the May Swenson Poetry Award, and the Cider Press Review Book Award. With degrees from UMass Amherst, the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury, and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, Sneeden is also a recipient of an emerging artist grant from the St. Botolph’s Club and fellowships from MacDowell, Columbia University, and The American School in London. He has taught high school English for almost forty years, most recently at Phillips Exeter Academy (1995 – 2022), where he was the B. Rodney Marriott Chair in the Humanities. Born in Los Angeles in 1960, Sneeden has spent most of his life in coastal New England, where he lives with his wife, Gwen, surfs year-round, and sails.