12 thoughts on “Stars Beneath The Ships – Oliver Smith

  1. “These stories contain sailors marooned, or exiled on islands; boats afloat, adrift, beached, or wrecked.”

    A luxurious, very tall, slender, hard-shouldered, stiff-paged turning, bending back with swellings of paper and wonderful noises in the spine, split-spar-sharp dust-jacket, ocean-blue marker ribbon, decorated with artwork at either end, 90 pages, 101 copies, six titles, the first one being poetry…

    Deeper Flowers Thrive

    First published in Spectral Realms 4, edited by S.T. Joshi.

    A fine poem with the Swinburning or swimming of the firstborn Eve “Among the wrecks, sponges, and sulphur worms” et al.
    It also contains the word ‘dehiscent’ that I first learnt a few years ago from the writer D.P. Watt.


    “Among green shrub leaves weeping into the water the remains of a boat half submerged in the dark waters.”

    …giving credence to this book’s earlier promise of a shipwreck gestalt, together here with a character’s having mistakenly (and temporarily?) grounded his boat on a mudbank. But the thrust of this Carib story of an island, when, near the Prohibition, perhaps, where an Englishman called Mulbey enjoys a lazy life but needed to investigate ducal accounts at an old colonial house in the wilds, and eventually in interface with an albino crocodile and Voodoo possession, possession not only of people but also of Christianity itself. It is a well-written yarn, highly entertaining, if melodramatic. And it didn’t seem to matter that there were a noticeable few minor typos in it. Around the mulberry bush of swampy voices, the art of butchery pitched against that of chefdom, a priest on a bike and the geographical name Merdemal. (Mer de Mal, or Merde Mal?)


    “‘You know each day a memory leaks from my head,’ he says, ‘it is carried away like a page caught in the sea.’”

    Not melodramatic as the first story was, in fact not a yarn at all. No gestalt for this book, so far, other than its own pre-advertised one of wrecks and beachings. This is a rhapsody, a rapture, ABOUT a gestalt, the pages and flotsam gathered together from the broken pieces of text at the beginning. “…the flotsam and fragments of a million books.” An incantatory refrain of a few words that need to be fitted back into the meaning of a trillion others? It is an apotheosis of many dreams and fictions, uniquely and paradoxically tempestuous yet smoothly beautiful palimpsests of the island’s Cal, Miranda and Will of Shakespeare, Tv’s ‘Lost’, cinema’s ‘Forbidden Planet’, Borges, Clark Ashton Smith (any relation?), together with various mutant forces intervening, but eventually the main force, for me, is Krohn’s Pelican.


    “It’d be ok if the soup would stay still.”

    The previous story is remarkable in an often experimentally narrative way, one worthy as a potential major work for further study. This story now, a Moby-Dickian epic, is also remarkable but in a different way. It FEELS like a major classic if indeed what happens in it is to be believed as breaking new ground in literature’s visions. A sea story in which I literally felt sea-sick as it conjures up this whaler ship’s outward journey with grog and turtle soup, a well-characterised cast of sailors in a pecking-order that becomes subject to mutiny, and a vision of the nature of God, the various denominations that worship Him, a painting of His supposed true image, et al. The evocatively descriptive concept of the huge whale that they end up violating and hauling back with their hawsers to their home port in the light of that vision of the nature of God and his angels is too inspirational to spoil by describing it here. I was mightily affected by this yarn’s overall vision. I would be interested to hear others’ views about it. It arguably takes the Eucharist to new levels! Or a massive possession similar to that in the first story?


    First published Land’s End, InkerMen Press 2008

    “; you cling to my hand as pale as a funery lily.”

    …which is perhaps appropriate, as this evocative vignette of the eponymous feminine visitation to the narrator with her own sea-wrack, replete with images from this book that the text illustrates, is also funerary with eels and a World City of “senile eccentricity”, her lying in the bath smoking Gitanes, the tension between a yearned-for fun or funery visit to the seaside where I live. Seaside and suicide are only a few plankton short of each other, I guess.

    “Why, Magdalene? Why is the fridge full of tropical fish?”


    “…wheat-coloured hair framing the ocean and sky reflections in her eyes.”

    Young Gabriel is tempted into skiving from school with slightly older Jemma, into the derelict aerodrome area , along the Hawsbrook Stream et al. Gabriel worries that her official boy friend might object…
    Despite some more minor typos, this is exquisite material, it really is, and I was utterly captivated by its style’s vessel of words alongside the scabby vessel co-opted along the stream. Requited and unrequited in one gulp, I guess.
    A perfect ending to this whole gestalt package of words and book. The grotesque and rhapsodic wrackery of its currents. Visionary and narratively grabbing.
    Possibly the perfect blend, too, of any book’s design and its words, even among similar such blends belonging to this publisher’s books. Must be around a hundred of them so far?


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