Day 145 11/17/13: Poetry Mashup: On The Nature of Shark Attacks

This is a great exercise to defeat writer’s block. Take lines or groups of lines (selected at random or purposefully) from two different texts and combine them in a poem. What’s fun about this is that each text (especially two very different sorts of books) begins speaking in the cadence of the other and correspondences are revealed between music and also subject.

For this poem, I combined lines and whole stanzas/paragraphs from Roman poet/philosopher Lucretius’ imagespoem “On the Nature of Things (circa 1st century B.C.) and a 1975 book by George A. Llano called “Sharks: Attacks on Man.” I loved seeing how these two books spoke to one another—Lucretius discussing the nature of the soul and the body, Llano recounting the sometimes gruesome and terrifying accounts of shark attacks. There’s a tension I found between the fear of death and an attempt to understand the nature of existence thereby extinguishing that universal dread.  Here is a longish excerpt of my “poem”:

All the wounds were full of sand.

The rest of the soul dispersed through all the body

Half moon incisions, leaving the bones exposed

Are we to say that the soul resides complete in each of the pieces?

I dove from the wharf and headed out into the sound.

There was a constant cloud of minnows

Earth, and sea and sky and life in all its forms

From a shark’s point of view all humans must look like dreadful swimmers.

I don’t know if it was a fin or a tail.

I knew it was some kind of fish.

But things are made of atoms; they are stable

until some force comes, hits them hard, and splits them.

I saw the shark throw the woman out of the water and then I saw it grab her again.

I’ve shown that things cannot be made

from nothing, nor, once made, be brought to nothing….

The shark let go disappearing in a cloud of blood.

“Let me die, let me die, I am finished,” she said on the beach.

Words pass through walls and slip past lock and key,

And numbing cold seeps to our very bones.

The reports of men adrift at sea

imitating liquid notes of birds

little by little the men learned

As it was a moonlit night, and during some moments very clear, I was able to observe that strange figures crossed very close to us..until at a given moment I felt they were trying to take away the corpse, pulling it by the feet…I clutched desperately the body of my companion and with him we slid…

For if in death it’s painful to be mauled

and bitten by beasts, why would it be less cruel

to be laid on a pyre and roast in searing flames

or to be put to smother in honey, or grow stiff

with cold atop a slab of icy stone

or be squeezed and crushed beneath a load of earth?

When the body and soul have been divorced

then nothing whatever to us, who shall not be

can happen

Keep close to your companions.

Swim smoothly in retreating.

Keep your eye on the shark.

Day 130 11/2/13: How To Tell A True Shark Story

What a fabulous night of art, conversation and all things shark at the Hero Complex Gallery. My favorite pieces in the very Quint-centric (not a criticism) JAWS-tribute art show, were those that riffed on the movie’s less well-worn lines (although all of the dialogue is threadbare if you’re a JAWS geek), and its unforgettable, but only briefly glimpsed faces.  Aaron Glasson’s “The Harbormaster,” is a psychotropic take on that smiling old salt who emerges, pipe-clenched-firmly-in-teeth from a dockside shed, an oasis of eccentric calm amid the rabid, reward-hungry shark hunters and then is gone.

Gorgeous Jaws-themed cookies, a fascinating presentation by Jaws production designer Joe Alves, insanely life-like replicas of Hooper, Quint and Brody and Ben Gardener’s head. “Smile You Son of a Bitch” closes Nov. 3.  If you live in L.A. and love JAWS or sharks, please go and support the show. You can buy some great art for as little as $20 and support Pangeaseed’s shark conservation efforts.

As transcendently JAWS-geeky as the evening was, the true highlight for me came afterwards when my friends and I were lucky enough to have dinner with Ralph and Cindy Collier and talk sharks and drink wine and eat very late into the evening. The waitresses seemed to linger and eavesdrop as Ralph told stories of unlucky abalone divers of mysterious tooth fragments. I’m delighted and surprised by the ease with which Ralph dismantles myths and clichés about shark behavior. He patiently answered my questions about stories that have long haunted me like the 1959  attack on skin diver Robert Pamperin whose body was never found.  Such cases often support the theory that sharks “eat people,” that the hapless souls disappear down the ravenous shark’s gullet.  But according to Ralph, studies of tides and currents offer a more realistic possibility– the remains are often carried or pulled out into the oblivion of the deep sea.

In “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien writes that war stories are never really about war. “They’re about friendship. Sunlight.”  I would argue that shark stories are also mystery stories about what it means to be animal and human and that like O’Brien’s Vietnam stories, even the true shark stories carry the deep dreamy resonance of myth, of nightmare, of the collision of worlds–human & animal, land & sea, tellable & untellable.


Day 114 10/17/13: Shark Miscellany #2

Today’s assortment of shark (& shark related news):

Five Myths about Fishing

16-year-old spots white shark off La Jolla 

Fatal Shark Attack in New Zealand

The cookie cutter shark strikes again


The Unexpurgated Estuary of “Jaws”

The Edited Estuary Scene in JAWS

Deemed too gruesome for the final film, I’ve only glimpsed a bit of the original estuary scene in “The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws” doc available on the Jaws Anniversary DVD.

The hapless boy scout leader (played by stuntman Teddy Grossman)  has fallen out of his little rowboat, been dragged under, lost an athletic (and still sneakered)  leg.  In the unedited version, we see him propelled by the shark, pushing  Michael Brody out of harm’s way as the fish pushes him out to sea.

Excessive gore aside, I read somewhere that Grossman was a bit too hammy in this scene which could be another reason Spielberg axed it.

It’s still my favorite part in the movie, even its edited form–the, sweet oblivious Grossman (“Hey, you guys need any help?)  trying to tell the boys how to tie a knot while the fin speeds toward him is full of pathos and terror.

I remember staring at a photo included in the JAWS log, (a childhood bible of sorts),  that showed Grossman with blood pouring out of his mouth as thick and dark as chocolate syrup, his eyes cast back at that towering fin escorting him to oblivion. There’s something weirdly religious about the martyrdom and the blood in this scene–the Christian sacrifice in the mouth of the  pagan God.

Day 92: 9/25/13: Afternoon with a Shark Legend

I am still ecstatic from Ralph Collier’s lecture this afternoon at Glendale College this afternoon. Great turn out–students, teachers from all disciplines, and people from outside school–including one dazzled shark nerd in a Jaws t-shirt who sat in the front row, and my dear friend Lisa and her fellow shark fanatic pal, Jack.

Ralph covered some fascinating stuff about shark behavior including “spy hopping” in which white sharks (and apparently oceanic white tips) stick their heads out of the water to check out what’s happening on land and sometimes startle random seals off the edges of rookeries. They also spy hop to calculate which group of seals in the haul-out area might be easiest to sweep into the water via a giant breach. Essentially, I learned that white sharks ain’t dummies. Not by a long shot. They have memories. They make calculated decisions. Ralph doesn’t believe in calling shark encounters “accidents”–he gives the animals volition—whether the intent is to investigate or to launch a predatory strike.

I learned two more disturbing consequences of shark finning:

1. When the discarded bodies of finned sharks are thrown overboard, they sink to the bottom where ammonia leaking from their ravaged bodies destroys coral communities.

2. Increasing numbers of people in Asia who consume shark fin soup are developing neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and A.L.S.  Researchers have proposed that the high concentrations of mercury in shark fin and flesh bind with other neurotoxins and create a lethal toxic compound. Could this new health concern become a powerful force in stopping finning?

Continue reading

Day 91 9/24/13: Ralph Collier’s Awesome Resume

Writing the introduction to Ralph Collier’s lecture tomorrow. This man knows everything about white sharks from their interactions with people to their inspections of inanimate objects and sea birds. He was the first to notice how white sharks roll their eyes during predatory or investigative attacks. The Egyptian Government asked for his help after a series of attacks in the Red Sea in 2010. He’s appeared in 50 documentaries, his work cited in over 300 publications. He’s written stuff on white shark dietary habits, and how they see colors and respond to sound.

It is a fascinating thing—the devotion of one’s entire life to understand the behavior of such an alien creature…. I wonder how one might compare this obsession with sharks to the obsessive drive of the artist?   It’s a question that I’m frankly too tired to contemplate, so here’s a meme:

Codependent No More

Shark Attacks, Consumes Christian Fundamentalists

Shark Attacks, Consumes Christian Fundamentalists

Hoping to settle the long-standing debate about whether Jonah was swallowed by a whale or a shark, Sarah Sprague and Ruth Tippit, two Biblical literalists, eagerly dove into the waiting jaws of a 16-foot white shark armed only with a candle stub and a book of soggy matches. This photo, taken by their pastor, Reverend Foote, shows the brave zealots’ final glimpse of planet Earth—the chum-slick waters off Anacapa Island.

Day 66: 8/30/13: Walking Sharks & Dolphin Saviors

Fascinating stories about everyone’s favorite marine predators:

1. Is Shark fin soup losing popularity in China?

2. Meet the Walking Shark of Indonesia

3. Dolphins Rescue Surfer from Great White

4. 8 Cool and Bizarre Shark Stories from Treehugger

5. Man’s shark attack story is the most boring thing about him