SAILING WITHOUT AHAB: AN ECO-POETIC VOYAGE – PART ONE
ECOCRITICISM NOW: The essays, reviews, and poetry collected in this thread trace responses to the interlinked terms nature, ecology, and ecocriticism, all of which have come to occupy increasingly important roles in a number of everyday and academic discourses over the last few decades. The “now” of its title is therefore not only a mark of the interest of certain contributions in the development of ecocritical theory (ecocriticism at this moment in time), but also an injunction, a call for more. This thread is co-edited by Tom White.
By Steve Mentz
What would happen if the Pequod’s American voyage steered its course onto the Word Ocean without anyone at the helm? What if the ship’s glorious plurality – multiracial, visionary, queer, conflicted, polyphonic, playful, and violent – sailed without its domineering Captain? Instead of binding themselves to the dismasted tyrant’s rage, the ship’s crew would seek only what it would find: currents teeming with life, a blue-watered alien globe, toothy smiles cetaceans bring back from vasty deeps. Treasures await those who sail without Ahab.
This planned cycle of 135 poems – one for each chapter in Moby-Dick – launches into oceanic chaos without the stabilizing mad focus of the Nantucket captain. Guided by Ishmael’s waywardness and curiosity, these poems seek an alien ecopoetics of marine depths, the refraction of light, the taste of salt on skin.
“Sailing headless into chaos” leads to disorientation but also discovery. We’re not seeking only one thing. We will find many things.
Proem in place of “Extracts”:
Sailing without Ahab
We left without him.
It was snowing. The next day was a holiday
we thought it better to encounter offshore.
No one thought much about him
as we sailed out to sea.
I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t confusing
to sail headless into chaos
and never to feel that burning drive
or the pegleg’s tapping rhythm
on the wooden deck.
In the end I think only unmad Pip missed the Captain.
The Quaker mate drank his coffee.
Stubb chewed his pipe.
Tashtego’s eyes swiveled so’west toward Gay Head.
Daggoo glared out to sea.
And Queequeg sought the unmapped true place.
But I alone –
this time truly alone –
forgot to tell the tale.
Damp drizzly November
Listen to the rain!
It knows what’s coming.
Those tiny wet fingers that you can’t feel because
with the slightest human touch they dissolve
splash-tapping on my window, just now,
tear-shapes command me to embark.
There’s no escape from hypos but hydration:
I must go into it, onto it, out beyond to where
there is nothing but blue-green alienation,
a wonder-world teeming with phantoms
and with life.
Come with me onto that doomed ship
but a different way this time:
Call me whatever you like –
but if you don’t follow you’ll never see.
23: The Lee Shore
There’s a pause just at journey’s end –
a still point, landfall, feet touching ground.
Voices and noises surround you.
An unsettling place, footfall.
People looking a certain way.
Shipfall: still floating?
In darkness the dock buzzes possibility.
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