Publication Date
Publication Status
Out of print
Poetry by individual poets
Trim Size
216 x 140mm

Of Whales


OF WHALES is Anthony Caleshu’s second book of poems. Melville and Moby-Dick provide a starting point for Caleshu, who uses the author and his most famous book to push the boundaries of the imagination and language. Like Melville himself, Caleshu is a ‘skald, who knows how to appropriate the work of others. Highborn stealth’ (as Charles Olson wrote of Melville). Taking episodes from Melville’s life and work, Caleshu rewrites them to personal and dramatic effect in poems which move between the sea and family home. Some of the most ambitious poems take as their spring board Melville’s own source books for MOBY-DICK; works like Owen Chase’s ‘Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex’ and JN Reynolds’ ‘Mocha Dick: or the White Whale of the Pacific’ are treated to new ‘appropriation’. Melville’s MOBY-DICK has had its share of artist’s using it as a source for their own work, and here Caleshu extends the tradition as he manages to not only rewrite Moby-Dick (word for word, as we find out in one poem) but to venture in the realm of familial relations. Central to the book are poems where a father speaks of Whales (in print; in paint; in tooth, in stone, in coin; in house, in surf, in song, in stars) to his colicky newborn son in the darkest hours of the night. A lucid book which dives deep and away from its sources.

Praise for this Book

‘Only an act of tragic imagination can melt the icicles from Bulkington’s beard, evoke the pestrels and stinkhards, taste a whale’s breath and take artistic electrodes to the texts of Melville’s letters. It is precisely Caleshu’s tragic imagination that strikes such congruence between the brutal world of Nineteenth century whaling and our own protected and protective realities, ‘…the depths under our heads and under our pillows’ to which all thoughts of whales must be returned. This is an ambitious and highly achieved book. Its business is tidal antiphony, warm human currents in cold seawater, moving fast; the pathos of the incarnated whale mirroring strangely our capacity for love.'’ —Tim Liardet

‘A whale in a book ate Jonah; Ahab was consumed by his lust for revenge. Melville identified a new democratic hero, his hands in a vat of sperm oil, lifted beyond common racism and fear by brotherly love. Olson recognised the American worker in an extractive industry, and the Shakespearean stage afloat on the Pacific. Here in a series of brilliant poems that tack around, over and under Moby Dick, Anthony Caleshu explores the humour and sadness of relationships that float through the gene pool. What do the Starbucks generation choose to pass on, father to son?’ —Tony Lopez

‘Caleshu has accomplished a wondrous feat. He has written a book of love letters, screwy soliloquies, and inscrutable homages to Moby-Dick worthy of its recipient. By turns heaving with lightness and bright with heaviness this book helps us strike through Melville's, and thus our own, veil.’ —Mark Yakich

‘Archly historical, deeply personal, wildly allusive, often hilarious and frankly obsessive, Anthony Caleshu's poems inhabit Herman Melville's mind and Moby Dick's body, and out of them, a fearsome new art is born.’ —Philip Hoare

Reviews of this Book

‘Of Whales is a remarkable work in which the author speaks to his infant son, his words given depth and timelessness by the sea that is a part of their family experience, and by the history of whaling that is the book's other theme... The language is allusive, folded in on itself, poetry that lives in the space between meanings. It intrigues, entrances, and entertains at the same time... Caleshu has taken his themes and his literary sources and made of them something new and exciting.’ —Don Barnard, The Warwick Review

‘No other collection of poems is quite like Of Whales – or more accurately named... Like Moby-Dick itself, this book is about much more than whales, and it has its share of serious and personal poems, such as the surprising 'Neither Your Mother's Nor Mine'. Nevertheless it might be hard to get the most from Of Whales if you do not share at least something of Caleshu's obsession with Moby-Dick and all things to do with both whales and the nineteenth century. Which is not to say that the collection is anything less than linguistically nimble and surprisingly varied, a looking glass into a bizarre world where 'life is more wonder than worry' – for most of the time, at least.’ —Rory Waterman,, Times Literary Supplement