Entry begun on Delta Flight 4470 from JFK to Cincinnati, Saturday, May 2, 5:40 pm
Even more than the Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum, you had to be there to catch the full flavor of the Moby-Dick Marathon at the Covington Public Library. This library is generally open from 10 to 5 on Saturdays and from 1 to 5 on Sundays, so branch manager Julia Allegrini and her staff have been very generous to us in opening up the building from 9 am to 9 pm on both days so we could hold our 24-hour Marathon Reading of the novel. On Saturday morning they let our organizing group in at 8:45 so we could bring in supplies, set out food, and arrange the reading room in time for our first reader to say “Call me Ishmael” at 9 am sharp.
The early morning food was brought by Kitty Beckerich, who had been one of our master chefs for the Emily Dickinson Tea Party in February. She was our Aunt Charity for the Moby-Dick Marathon, bringing freshly baked breads, homemade cookies, and white chocolate whales on board before the first word was read. She also helped me get the library’s twenty-cup coffee pot brewing for our early readers, with coffee that Rebecca Hudgins of Sigma Tau Delta had brought last week.
Our first reader was Emma Rose, and it was great to hear her reading from the opening chapter while I was still attending to this and that. We were fortunate to have two excellent volunteers to help with the morning shift, Minadora Macheret from the Associated English Graduate Students and Chuck Wickenhofer from the Loch Norse creative writing group. One stayed at the reception table outside the reading room to sign in our readers and distribute catalogs to our student artists, while the other sat in the reading room to help the readers keep track of our place in the novel and to indicate the beginning and end of each ten-minute reading period. That whole dynamic went very smoothly both days, and I am very grateful to the successive pairs of students who covered each shift.
Readers could read from their own edition of the novel if it was a complete edition, but I had ordered five copies of the Longman Critical Edition to have on hand for anyone who wished to read from it. I chose this edition for two reasons. First, it is the edition I have used for my own courses since it was published in 2007. Second, it reproduces the map of The Voyage of the Pequod that Kathleen Piercefield had created in my Spring 2004 class and then revised for Longman edition by creating the version Emma Rose and I had installed in the Local History room of the library.
The twelve readers who read ten-minutes segments of the novel during the first two hours typified the variety of readers this Marathon attracted. From 9 to 10 am, Emma Rose was followed by Veronica Mitchell, a retired high school English teacher from my Fall 2013 class; Steve McCafferty, an English teacher, headmaster, and professor who was one of my first students at NKU in the 1970s; Jo Anne Warren, a Bellevue neighbor who is a Mercantile Library member; Jeff Markham, a high school English teacher from Illinois who would be presenting the work of his students at our Symposium at NKU on Monday; and Andrew Johnson, Emma Rose’s boyfriend.
From 10 to 11 am, Roger Auge, a retired journalist from my Fall 2013 class, was followed by Beth Schultz, myself, Sam Otter, Jeff Markham again, and Susan Christy, an excellent reader I had never previously met. This kind of dynamic, between local and out-of-town readers, and among students, teachers, and general readers of Melville, continued throughout the day.
Later in the morning on Saturday we were blessed with new food deliveries. Thomas Thompson, Emma Rose’s father, another of our Dickinson chefs in February, had prepared two large serving trays of pasta salad. Danielle Wallace, who had created the Moby-Dick tea set now in the display case just outside our reading room, brought in several flavors of the Cappy caramel corn that her family produces, along with large glass jars to serve them in. I was happy to meet her friend Pete, who came with her.
One logistical challenge we had on Saturday morning was to monitor the main entrance of the library. The library had supplied a only skeleton staff to open the door for us at 9, so we were responsible for stationing someone at the main entrance to let in any readers who arrived before the library opened for the general public at 10. Our system for covering the front door must have broken down for a few minutes, because when Moby-Dick artist alum Christopher Roach arrived in advance of his 9:40 reading slot, he was not able to enter the building. He came back after the building opened at 10 and was able to sign up for later time. In the meantime he helped Emma Rose and me install his larger-than-life charcoal self-portrait Walking with Ahab on one side of the partition that separated the Marathon reading room from the area in which we served the food and projected the four Moby-Dick films that were part of the exhibition.
Christopher’s drawing had been designated for this interior space because of the possibility that its frontal male nudity might offend one or more library patrons, and we were grateful for his help installing it. Christopher is now a lawyer in Northern Kentucky, nine years after he created his Ahab project in my Spring 2006 class. The peg leg he had made and walked on in conjunction sith his self-portrait was now a conspicuous feature of the library’s rock garden in front of Kathleen Piercefield’s Queeequeg in his own proper person.
By the time Christopher Roach read at 12:20, Ann Harding, our English department secretary, had come in to replace Minadora in the reading room. Soon after that Rebecca Hudgins from Sigma Tau Delta relieved Chuck Wickenhofer at the reception desk. Ann stayed all the way until we closed at 9 pm and Rebecca was able to stay until 6:30, so we were in good hands for the rest of the afternoon. It was a great pleasure for me to hear students and friends, past and present, read from the novel, and then to walk with them through the show. The sequence of readers posted below includes Tammy Muente, assistant curator at the Taft Museum of Art; John Braden, a former Douglass and Melville student who has now completed an M. A. in English; Jessica Wimsatt, a more recent Douglass and Melville student whose work Reliance is in the current show; and Abby Schlachter Langdon, a member of “The Class that Never Ends” with three of her body casts in the Covington show. Everyone has his or her own body language when reading from the book.
Of course when I got a chance to take a photo of a student artist with one of her or his artworks in the show, I took advantage of that. Most of these I caught after the artist alum had read in the Marathon, but Jordan D’Addario, a former English major currently at University of Cincinnati Law School, was babysitting a two-year-old, so she was only able to come in to pick up her catalog. Her artwork was near that of Jessica Wimsatt on one of the third-floor cabinets, and Jessica herself is an English major who will be going to law school next year.
Among my long-time friends who read in the early arfternoon were Bob Newman, a Cincinnati civil rights lawyer I’ve known since 1976, and John Alberti, my long term English department colleague at NKU, who is currently director of our M. A. program. John had just come from our 25th annual Women’s Walk to support our female athletic teams at NKU. This is the first one I have missed in all those years.
During the readings from 1 to 5 on Saturday afternoon, Dustin Enockson, director of the NKU bookstore, was selling books and catalogs near our registration table outside the reading room. From the variety of people standing, sitting, and walking beyond his display table in the photo below, you get some sense of how busy the Covington library is on a Saturday afternoon. When the library closed to the general public at 5 pm, we Melvillians missed the varied stream of people we had seen throughout the building.
All of the time that readers and artists were coming and going, Caitlin Sparks and Jay Gray from Numediacy and David Shaerf and Adam Gould from Michigan were catching interviews for their respective video projects. David and Adam had reserved a meeting room down on the first floor where they interviewed artists and speakers from 1 to 5 on both days, but I was so busy I never made it down there on Saturday.
Late in the afternoon on Saturday, Matt Kish and his wife Ione Demasco both read while Rebecca Hudgins was on duty. They were soon followed by three of my student artist alums, Kathleen Piercefield, Caitlin Sparks, and Keianna Troxell Gregory, whose Ahab Family Portrait was on the top shelf of our display case.
Having the library more or less to ourselves for the last four hours allowed plenty of room for exploring the art and enjoying each other while staying attuned to the continuous flow or words. Michael Gallagher, a two-year veteran from “the class that never ends” in 1996-97, was here to read, and he also helped out monitoring other readers after Rebecca had to leave. Ashley Theissen, who flew in from Texas in order to speak in our pedagogical panel on Monday, also read this evening, soon being followed by Tonya Krouse, her chief mentor here in the English department during Ashley’s undergraduate years. Arriving as the evening’s last reader, local artist Tom Lohre surprised us in the form of Ahab. Unfortunately, I don’t have any images of our evening personae, because the battery in my iPhone ran out and I had not thought to bring my charger..
The final reading of the evening took us a page and a half into chapter 61, “Stubb kills a Whale.” This chapter is for many readers the emotional turning point of the book. At the beginning of this chapter (where our reading ended this evening), we see a large, black sperm whale “spouting his vapory jet . . . like a portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon.” In the action that follows (with which we began our reading on Sunday morning), this whale is chased, harpooned, and lanced until his spout runs bloody and “gush after gush of clotted red gore” shoots into the “frighted air,” showing that “his heart had burst!” With Matt Kish’s permission, I will reproduce here the drawing he made of the bursting heart passage on June 13, 2010.
It was a very satisfying experience to hear the first half of the novel being read by 72 successive voices while so much else was going on in the library. Most of the readers spent time with other readers and were impressed by the artwork that was spread throughout the building. Patrons of the library who were not here for the Marathon sat in on the reading from time to time and asked their own questions about the artwork on display. I felt we had accomplished much of what we hoped for on this Marathon day and was very much looking forward to the second day.
Emma Rose and I had been here for the twelve-hour run and would do so again on Sunday. It was a great pleasure for us to spend quality time with so many of the student artists and alums whose work we had reproduced in the catalog and installed in the exhibition, and it was great to see our two film crews and our guest speakers from the night before mixing with our student artists in the presence of their art.
When I was writing the first draft of this entry on my flight home from JFK on the evening of Saturday, May 2, our plane made a tight turn on its approach to the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport that revealed a beautiful vista of the bend in Ohio River where its opposite shores are connected by the Big Mac bridge near the Comfort Suites through whose window Caverlee had taken her photo of the same bridge one week before.