The Literature of the Littoral

DSC_0010 DSC_0012The Literature of the Littoral


The Littoral Zone is the space between the high water mark on the beach and the actual water’s edge.  Literally, the life on the edge.

Here in the Keys, there is an abundance, almost a consuming gradient of the littoral that surrounds, encompasses, and encapsulates the human experience.  Surrounding every key, every hammock, every sandy bar, is a 360 degree line of littoral.  It’s everywhere, ringing you like a fishing net, snared but alive, struggling to free yourself but unable and mostly unwilling to let yourself be unleashed from its saline pull.

Writers throughout the ages have pilgrimaged to this archipelago of art. From it’s earliest inception they were perhaps drawn by the tenuous balance of tiny tidal pulls that gently tug at the thoughts and musings buried beneath their consciousness, unaware of their motivations, but inexorably reeled in like the Tarpon that teem beyond the surf-line of the littoral.

The list is storied, impressive, daunting:

Hemingway, Williams, Corcoran……..

It would seem that to be a writer worth ones, excuse the expression, salt, one must have a continued connection to, or have done an extended stint in, Key West. There is something here, just out of the mind’s reach, that beckons the wordsmith in men to try and put it to paper if only to clarify it in their own mind.

It lies in the littoral.  That narrow band of eddying change, seasoned by salt water and seaweed, decorated with starfish and human detritus; the living melding seamlessly with the dead and dying, all forming an intoxicating, briny brew of thought and inaction.  Changing but ever unchanged.

It is a soothing place…….the littoral.  A rough reflecting pool with no image.

Humans seek it out instinctually, strolling the defining line of beaches everywhere, not knowing why or really where they are but drawn to it, compelled, compulsed, completed by it in a primal, soul-satisfying, meal-like manner.  Some gather shells and stars, hoping to maintain their connection to that nebulosity upon their return to normal; placing them on shelves and gazing upon them with a desire to return to the feeling they had at their capturing moment.  Others dig deeper, like metal detectors questing for gold, they mine their minds for meanings, messages, motives that would explain their longing and their lingering in this in space between time and tide.

Hemingway wrote of the sea; that would seem a natural extension beyond the littoral, tales of drama and conquest and apparent courage.

Tennessee tended towards the shore side of the littoral; intricate, intensely personal images of human demons and land-locked inner anchors.

Tom Corcoran wrote life; lived in its messy, mysterious, methodology yet definitely land-based and somehow sea-surrounded.  Literarely, littoral.

As I settle into my life on their island I wonder about them, often.  I wonder at their personal sources of inspiration and intrigue.  I read their words, stroll their streets, and align myself in the alleys of their world, still here, still haunted, still stories to be ferreted out; and I imagine their lives.

Dissolute or Dissolution.

A drunk or an aqueous solution?

Most, if not all, of the writers who made Key West their home were dissolute.

Drunk. Definitive partakers. Devoid of governors that could tamp their inhibitions and intakes.  Its what makes their writing compelling.  We can immerse our selves in a reality we rarely, if ever, partake in but become the vicarious voyeurs we all love to inhabit.

But in their specific dissolute distractions, did they become dissolutions?  Did the hard, tangible, chemical essence of their core dissolve so completely in the alcoholic solution that was their medium that they became the chemistry equivalent of a lab experiment and their work, the treatises that we, their sartorial professors in absentia, grade and re-grade with every reading.

Are the great novels of the Greats simply the original Hangovers I through III merely in wait of screen treatments and Hollywoodizationalism?

Are there greater truths to be winnowed from the littoral, this space of minimal tides and maximal living?

If so, where does one look? Under the rotting sea kelp?  Between the grains of sand? Beneath the blown-out flip-flops of Buffet-blasting bacchanals?

The great stories are somehow, from this timely vantage, easy to see.  Large. Bold. Manly, if you will. Obvious, if you choose.

I wonder about the smaller stories yet to be written. More delicate in detail, more intricate and intense in essence.  Hidden, for now, like DNA was in the time of the writers before, waiting to be magnified into magnificence.

A new breed of literal……..from the Littoral.

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