Jack Tar’s Lady Parts by Charles Rammelkamp


By Lynette G. Esposito

This slim remarkable volume of forty-five pages of poetry published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company of North Carolina,  relies heavily on the readers’ response to suggestions from the contemporary mindset. For example, the title of the volume, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is suggestive but instead of being the suggestion it is the referral to the women in Charles Rammelkamp’s life and to women’s “sea” lives in history. This twist of what is expected and what is presented reveals itself in the poetic themes of courage, betrayal and resolution in the book’s three sections: Wives, Prostitutes, and Transvestites.

Rammelkamp details the trials of sailors’ wives in the first section Wives.  He not only paints a picture of history while employing short story techniques in each poem, he also unmasks the vulnerability and resilience of women on both a literal and metaphorical sea as seen in two companion poems: Saving the Horatio, May, 1815 and Loss on pages 10 and 11 respectively. In Saving the Horatio, May, 1815, the captain thanks the women on board for making a sail that can plug the hole in the ship caused by hitting rocks so it can get back to a safe port.  The men are bailing water while the women make the plug.  In lowering the sail, a man is lost and abandoned to the sea in a one for the many scenario.  In the companion poem, Loss, the viewpoint of the widow is explored and ends with the lament
                        and even though Captain Dillon praised the women
                        for saving the ship,
                        all the accolades and honors of the British Navy
                        could never console me for my loss.
In the second section, Prostitutes, Rammelkamp explores betrayal.  In the lead poem,  Fleet Marriage, 1750, on page19, the narrator details meeting a sailor just home from the sea.   In the opening line, she says Jack’s ship’d just come in and in the middle Jack gets restless and goes back to sea.  The last three-line stanza reveals the betrayal by Jack.
                        Jack said he loved me,
                        when he went.
                         I said, yeah, I know.
On page 24, Molly Poole Changes her Mind shows a woman able to take care of herself by working as a prostitute until she is beaten unconscious by a client who doesn’t pay. She gives up her day job and goes to the Female Penitentiary for Penitent Prostitutes at Stonehouse to be rehabbed.  In the course of the treatment, she trained to wash clothes, clean and say yes ma’am. After working to exhaustion, she changes her mind.  Society has betrayed the narrator and she makes clear how she feels in the last two lines of the poem.
                         Fuck that.  .After three weeks, I sneaked away one night,
                         went back to the ships to take up whoring again.
In the third section, Transvestites, women wear many masks to survive at sea. In the poem J.C. Dickinson, Surgeon’s Mate, and the Amazon, 1761 on page 27, an unnamed woman who was thought to be a man, is discovered on the toilet and her gender is revealed.  Because of her gender, she is off the boat. On page 42 in the poem Christopher Hughes Outed, the narrator posing as a man so she can work at sea confesses she is a woman.  The fellow sailors she confesses to promise to keep her secret.  The last stanza provides resolution.
                         After a couple of days,
                        the rumor died a quiet death.\
                       Once again we were all complaining
                        about the awful food—
                        and how we did not get enough of it.
The book is a pleasurable read of poetic vignettes which resurrect, in verse form,  harsh judgments on women as they try to earn their livelihood on and off the sea.  Rammelkamp uses history as his palette as he explores the plight of different types of women and their circumstances in history..  His approach is not judgmental which is a relief and the poems are clear and precise.
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

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