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.
Flask wagged.

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.



1: Loomings

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:
In! In!
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:
Less orderly
more desperate

Call me whatever you like –
but if you don’t follow you’ll never see.



23: The Lee Shore

Bulkington’s Out

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.

Why stay?



All works published by the Glasgow Review of Books are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and the journal reserves the right to be named as place of first publication in any citation. Copyright remains with the poet.


  1. […] only just started my own version of such a thing, when I published the first three poems of Sailing without Ahab in […]

  2. […] Sailing without Ahab for the Glasgow Review (April) […]

  3. […] with it a bit. I published two smalls sets of poems with the Glasgow Review of Books. The first in April 2017, included a title poem for the project, “Sailing without Ahab.” The second, in May 2018, […]

  4. […] the project in the Glasgow Review of Books, with the editorial support of the great Tom White. The first in April 2017 introduced the project with three poems, including “The Lee Shore” about shadow-hero […]

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The Glasgow Review of Books (ISSN 2053-0560) is a review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised publishers and practitioners, and to maintain a focus on issues in and about translation. The review has a determinedly international approach, but is also a proud resident of Glasgow.

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