Edited by Harold D. Jopp and R.H. Ingersoll
Shoremen is a collection of stories, excerpted novels, and poems from writers of the Eastern Shore, Maryland (not so much Virginia). One of the most impressive things about this collection is that the collection includes contributions from the 1600-1900s. While the collection’s first half is entirely prose and the second entirely verse, a helpful table of contents showing the authors in chronological order offers readers a readily-made alternative pathway through the anthology. I tended (without 100% fidelity) to approach the book in this way, working my way up through the centuries.
I found this book a satisfying read, no doubt because I moved to the Eastern Shore last year and am currently helping teach a 5 week summer Salisbury University Environmental Studies Course in which students and faculty travel across Delmarva and see the peninsula from “a water’s eye” view of a kayak. Reading “Chesapeake Calendar” and “Crab Talk” (both within this anthology) while actually sitting on the small porch of Gilbert Byron’s preserved cabin is an ideal reading experience. And to expand on that; this collection seems best suited to those who spend some time in the various guts, cuts, and meanders of the Eastern Shore’s many rivers, fields, and forests. Those who do so will experience “Chesapeake Country” (as the ubiquitous scenic byway signs call it) through the lenses of a long literary tradition. Readers will find classics like Ebenezer Cooke’s satirical (and perhaps accurate) “Sotweed Factor” and excerpts of “the Floating Opera” by John Barth, but also many lesser authors (in every sense of the word).
From the collection that Jopp and Ingersoll have assembled, that tradition is marked by romanticism for place, and the loss of place. In the stories and poems of the likes of Sophie Kerr, Lynn Meekins, and George Alfred Townsend, you get this recurring paradox: the shore is a place of constant change (and threat of losing traditional ways of life and the bounty of the Bay), but also one that is a solace of permanence and natural bounty, or a backwater resisting any change at all. In this sense the writing of the Shore is often typified by a king of elegy; a reverence for a place that seems foredoomed somewhere off in the horizons of time.
Nostalgia is a bittersweet part of such elegies, and nowhere does the grotesquity such nostalgia can assume come out more than in the many stories that address the days and legacies of slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The anthology represents overwhelmingly the perspective of white landowners, and the accounts of slavery, the Civil War, and racism are extremely limited. As the collection dates from 1974, I wonder why Jopp and Ingersoll would have even bothered to include _multiple_ stories from Edmund Goldsborough, whose contributions to this collection are racist and derivative, even for their time of publication.
So… if you’re going to be on the Eastern Shore this summer, take some time to read some of it’s literary voices (oh, but just skip the excerpted novels in this anthology because who the hell wants to read 30 pages of a 300 page book? It’s pointless!).
Availability: SMCM, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Shane D. Hall
Challenge: Small publisher: Tidewater Publishers