Fast-Fish & Loose-Fish

Entry begun Sunday, June 22, 9:45 am

The Morgan is at Tisbury Wharf in Vineyard Haven waiting for us. She arrived on Wednesday afternoon on a beautiful sail from Newport, reported by Tom Dunlop for the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. The Sirius towed her out of Newport, with the Morgan taking on more of the wind as they moved into and through Vineyard Sound en route to the Haven.  Dunlop found “the sound of the vessel moving through the water one of the greatest pleasures I have ever had.” On this transit, the Morgan passed many of the landmarks she will be passing, in reverse order, as she sails into New Bedford next week: Cutty Hunk, Sekonnet Light, Gay Head, West Chop. By noon she was “officially in Vineyard Sound,” but Dunlop “could just barely make out Gay Head” in the haze. As seen in the photograph below from the Gazette’s Mark Lovewall, “there is beautiful glittering water, sharp little waves on the top of the big rolling waves.”

The Morgan on Vineyard Sound, June 18, 2014.  Photo Mark Alan Lovewell, Martha's Vineyard Gazette

The Morgan on Vineyard Sound, June 18, 2014. Photo Mark Alan Lovewell, Martha’s Vineyard Gazette

Here they “dropped the towline and began sailing.” Dunlop is amazed at “how quiet the vessel is now that it is under her own sail. There is just the whistling of the wind and the hushed sighing sound of the wash breaking away from the bow. The ship has a lovely long, easy motion in the sea as it heels every so slightly to the right.” While sailing on the open sea, the Morgan was a “loose-fish” (in the language of chapter 89 of Moby-Dick). Now, at Tisbury Wharf, she is a “fast-fish” awaiting those of us who will board her on Tuesday evening in advance of Wednesday’s scheduled sail.

I think I’m mostly ready for the trip. I’ve got the blog up to date. The Art of Seeing Whales exhibition will need only fine-tuning. I’ve got my silken sleeping-bag liner and new laces for my boat shoes. I got a refresher on using my GoPro from a helpful clerk at Target yesterday. And I have just finished sorting out fifteen new Moby-Dick prints on metallic paper that Robert Del Tredici sent to be considered for the art exhibitions I hope to organize to accompany the production of the Moby-Dick opera in Cincinnati in June 2016. Del Tredici did his first body of Moby-Dick drawings in the 1960s and he is still at it. These new pieces, like their predecessors, are both fast fast and loose—tethered to Melville’s novel through a text that appears in the drawing, but free in the spirit of invention and interpretation. The text embedded in the image I am posting here is from the New England Primer as quoted in the “Extracts” section of Moby-Dick: “Whales in the sea / God’s voice obey.” The multitude of whales in the sea, the plenitude of life and imagination, the overwhelmed sailor trying to take it all in from a masthead rocking at a pretty severe angle—all of these elements make this a perfect “bon voyage” offering for my upcoming voyage.

Robert Del Tredici, Whales in the Water, 2014.

Robert Del Tredici, Whales in the Sea, 2014.

Entry continues at 1:45 pm

I just got back from a meeting with Matt Kish. He brought me the eleven new drawings we had commissioned for the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford, plus one additional drawing as a bonus. I will feel like a courier for a high-end museum as I carefully transport them to the Whaling Museum tomorrow. He had sent me digital images of all twelve, but to slowly turn from one to another during a relaxed conversation with the creator was for me as pleasurable as it was for Tom Dunlop to feel the motion and hear the sound of the Morgan for the first time. Matt is so articulate that I half-wished, afterwards, that I had asked to record our conversation. But there are times when it is better to be simply alive, not archival.

Matt Kish with two brand-new drawings in Bellevue, Kentucky, on June 22

Matt Kish with two brand-new drawings in Bellevue, Kentucky, on June 22

These twelve new images are decidedly loose-fish compared to each of the 552 in his Moby-Dick in Pictures. None of them is tied to a text. He has left himself free to range through the entire story and to present each character in what he feels is his essentials, stripped of the limits imposed by any text, scene, or physical setting. Christina, Melanie, and I should have a great time deciding tomorrow which of the twelve to feature in whatever space will be available in the Center Street Gallery at the Whaling Museum. Matt and I were both on tight schedules today, but we both had time for me to take the above photo of him with two of the new drawings outside of Avenue Brew, the coffee shop two blocks from my house in Bellevue, at which me met. Devotees of the novel will be able to identify the subject of each.

Entry continues at 4:00 pm

After entering the above passage about Matt Kish, I drove over to the Cincinnati Public Library to see John Campbell present his still-evolving project from my recent Emily Dickinson class to members of the Cincinnati Book Arts Association at their annual exhibition. He had a large, engaged audience as he explained the many dimensions of Dickinson’s life and art that inspired this proliferating project, represented here by a large artist sketchbook in a glassed-in case and mural-sized enlargements much too large for a case. I was able to see the wonderful image on the back cover of the sketch book (featuring Emily at a piano and magnified fly) much better than during the limited time available during the class presentation in April in the Honors House.  

John Campbell with three Dickinson drawings, Cincinnati Public Library, June 22, 2014 copyright John Campbell

John Campbell with three Dickinson drawings, Cincinnati Public Library, June 22, 2014 copyright John Campbell

John is not done yet, and he is firing on all cylinders, so there will be much to choose from when we have our Dickinson Valentine’s Fest in February (and when Emma Rose begins to design our Dickinson catalog after finishing the Moby-Dick one.

When Emma Rose and I met on Friday afternoon, she was able to show me screen shots of the mock-ups for the first few pages of the Moby catalog. The catalog will be chronological according to the course in which each student was enrolled, so it will begin with Fred North, the Moby student in 1994 who was the first to ask if he could submit a painting rather than a research paper as his final project. Fred, like most student-artists in the catalog, will be represented by two facing pages in a horizontal (“landscape”) format. 

Screen shot of mock-up for the Fred North entry in the Moby catalog

Screen shot of mock-up for the Fred North entry in the Moby catalog

Emma Rose is using the InDesign program inn advance of publication by Blurb. As you can see, her current mock-up for Fred features both of the Lee Shore paintings he submitted at the end of the semester.  In one, the voyage of the “lee shore” sailor is confined within Fred’s motorcycle jacket,.  In the other, a tiny sail is barely distinguishable amidst the Turneresque immensity of sea and sky.  Emma Rose’s current page for Fred also includes photos I took of him and his family at the 1996 exhibition of Unpainted to the Last in Evanston, Illinois, and extracts from his artist statement for the two paintings. I will be eager to see the new catalog spreads she will have ready when I get back from this trip.

 Fred’s two Lee Shore paintings are a perfect illustration of the difference between fast-fish (sailing within a motorcycle jacket) and loose-fish (the open ocean). Fred’s artist statment emphasizes the passage in “The Lee Shore” in which Ishmael makes this declaration: “But as in landlessness alone resides the highest truth, indefinite as God—so better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be dashed against the shore, even if that were safety!” Ishmael dedicates this chapter to Bulkington, the fearless spiritual quester who leads the Peqoud into the open ocean but does not survive the voyage, thereby becoming Ishmael’s “sleeping-partner” shipmate.  Fred, who was probably in his early forties when he took my class, died much too early, early in this century. He, then, and Shawn Buckenmeyer, now, have become my sleeping-partner shipmates for next week’s voyage.

I wonder if Fred ever imagined that I might one day be sailing on a real whale ship. He gave me a pencil drawing as a present for the course that I have just come across when gathering material for Emma Rose to use in his catalog entry. He has drawn me high up in the right hand corner, propelled by the collision at the lower left in which sperm whale has stoved in a whale ship (and knocked a book called “Becoming Stella” out of my hands). But this is not intended as an unhappy image. I have a big grin on my face, and the text behind my head says: “SO MUCH FOR DAMP, DRIZZLY NOVEMBERS IN MY SOUL!”  The drawing in which Fred sends his teacher sky high as the whale breaks up the whale ship is an extreme manifestation of the questoin with which Ishmael ends chapter 89: “What are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”


Fred's sketch of me as a present for the 1994 course

Fred’s sketch of me as a present for the 1994 course






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