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Maritime non-fiction / Memoir

The Merchant Navy in vibrant verse

A Bucket of Steam, by Captain Joe Earl

Image on landing page: Captain Joe Earl today. Taken from A Bucket of Steam

book_a_bucket_of_steam_white_frame_web.jpgA Bucket of Steam is both a memoir and a work of the imagination – a little gem of a book where the author reflects on his own seafaring life and tells other maritime stories, all through the medium of poetry. The author even uses verse on the back cover to explain the book's title and invite readers in:

We were sent for a bucket of steam, or bread for the Panama mules –
Mariners on board took us for lubbers and fools.
But these shellbacks are heroes, now veterans of an age.
I wrote about seafaring men – please read and turn the page.

There are comic poems, thoughtful poems and laments, with tales of historic ships and the Merchant Navy in wartime as well as evocations of life at sea, as in these verses taken from the longer poem Tankermen:

If once you were a tanker man you recall those torrid days
Of seamen at their best and worst in so many ways.
You steamed those tankers up the gulf to where the deserts meet
To load the oil in Aberdan shimmering in the heat.
Tanker men were 'nutters' in mariners' folklore,
Imprisoned in an 'oil can' and rarely went ashore
So it wasn't so surprising they were characters or quaint
Eccentric were the pump men – as teetotallers they ain't!

Also very welcome is a section of photos from various stages of Joe Earl's seafaring career, which looks like it was a lot of fun.

A minor quibble with the book is that the poems are all arranged in alphabetical order of title rather than by topic, and there's no contents page or index, so the reader has a job to do if searching for poems about the Second World War, for example. But the poem chosen for the very last page – The Coronavirus – brings the story of Joe Earl's life very aptly up to date, and here's a verse we can all relate to in 2021:

Here I am, locked down again with loss of liberty,
Not in some foreign jail or freighter far at sea,
But in our home like millions more with captive company
And biding by a strict routine that's safe for you and me.

A Bucket of Steam
By Captain Joe Earl
ISBN: 978 07223 50539

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