AND THE WHALE IS OURS: Creative Writings of American Whalemen by Pamela Miller

AND THE WHALE IS OURS: Creative Writings of American Whalemen

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Culled from journals kept by officers and officers-to-be on the whaling ships out of New England, Miller's collection of poetry, novels, doggerel, and rhetoric owns the fascination of all naive art, i.e. its head-on-ness, its use of the conventions of more professional work until they get in the way--at which point they are utterly discarded. Whether it's an 80-stanza poetic narrative melodrama or a misspelled and mispunctuated prose account of an Eskimo maiden named Tookalooky, there is about these writings a certain throw of imagination, born of the sea-going circumstances of their non-writer authors and the charm of a tradition half-learned, in this case Victorian literary niceties. (That most of the writers were officers or officers-to-be, explains Miller, can simply be put clown to the fact that these men had less work aboard ship, thus more time to fill electively.) Nothing here, make no mistake, is in any way, shape, or form Melville; and excepting certain lonely odes about the desolation of death at sea, little transcends sentiment and treacle. (For sailors, in fact, there's an amazing dearth of pornography--which, Miller notes, either says something for whalemen or about their expectations that their journals would be perused upon their return.) But when technique is called into play, when they write about whaling (""Sometimes we find it verry nice/ In catching whales among the ice/ For when we get a stoven boat/ We flee to the ice that is afloat"" or ""Now the dreadful thunder roaring/ Hard a port--you stupid ass/ On our head the rain is pouring/ Steady let the mill stone pass""), we receive from this artlessness something documentary and impossible to equal.

Pub Date: Nov. 29th, 1979
Publisher: Godine