It was the 16th annual FisherPoets Gathering, a weekend that saw about 70 commercial fishermen and women assemble from across the country in Astoria to read poetry, tell stories and sing songs about their occupations.
“You see things that a lot of people don’t get to see,” Jon Broderick, co-founder of the FisherPoets Gathering, said of working as a fisherman. “It’s not just the fish. It’s the work we do and the people we know.”
In “Lost at Sea: After the Man in the Tote,” Aadsen, of Bellingham, Wash., told the story of a U.S. Coast Guard rescue she witnessed after the fishing vessel Kaitlin Rai went down off Cape Edgecumbe, Alaska, in early September 2012. One of the crew members survived by floating in a fish tote, or plastic bin, for more than 24 hours after the boat sank.
“Fishermen are never a stronger community than in situations like this. When tragedy cuts one of us down, we all bleed,” she read, focusing on what it felt like to hear that the ship’s crew was missing.
She described the Coast Guard rescue swimmer descend from the helicopter and hoist the lost fisherman safely aboard: “What does that first moment of physical human contact feel like?” Aadsen read. “Had the man in the tote wondered if he’d never again feel touch other than the ocean’s assault, the wind and rain’s stinging slap? Or had he maintained hope through the night’s darkest hours?”
Speakers on stage told many stories throughout the weekend: tragedies and triumphs, homesickness, sleep or the lack thereof, the pride of a first boat, the physical labor, the friendships. Audiences listened to limericks about white gulls, poems on Frankenfish, stories of heartache and songs of the sea. And all of it focused on the art of fishing.
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