Running his boat, or reciting in theater, Steve Schoonmaker thrives on poetic meter.

The Cordova, Alaska, fisherman lives for his salmon season, reflects on his fishing and blends words into reason. When he’s onshore or working his gear, he doesn’t reach far, for the muse is always near.

We caught up to him at the 21st annual Fisherpoets Gathering in February, as he regaled the throng with his poetry and song.

Schoonmaker, 61, writes poetry that evolves in its themes, from snowflakes to glaciers that form salmon streams. He says that inspiration comes to him in the peak of the Copper River run. But hours are lost to picking fish, delivering, boat repairs and other fun.

So he jots sparse notes, reserved for fall and winter, when he makes time to weave rhyme into yarns that stir the hearts of anyone who’s pulled fish from the water.

Schoonmaker estimates he’s written several hundred poems, and can recite nearly two dozen by memory on a moment’s notice. Last summer aboard his bow picker, Saulteur, the word, “amplified” kept ringing in his ear. No doubt, he’ll give verve to the verb, and grow it to a poem by next year.  — Charlie Ess



First I was a snowflake

Then I was a glacier, then I was a stone, a scale, a fin, then a bone

On the wild wet stone, I shone

Leaking down from the peaks

when I was the creeks rushing,

flushing, flushing out with the silt

pushing banks to the hilt, partially built... from the snowflakes man, rocks

ground to sands in the sediments bands of

bluffs, so sloughed to the Sea

Yea, that was me, grounding,

pounding, pounding nutrients free, free from the Earth, when I

was the surf rolling in, oxygen,

nitrogen and calcium, I was there

when life begun.... so unselfish

I was there those tiny shellfish

feeding the Salmon coming back

then I was their fat depleting,

completing the cycles of Snowflakes falling.... calling into

dangers yawning with the smells

of spawning, where the Ancestors mull, then I was a Gull

I was Salmon’s... torn flesh moistures lull into Sky’s condensation, where I

I was clouds demonstration of the selfless flowering, visibly towering to that

moments empowering, at the threshold of new falling Snowflakes.

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Charlie Ess is the North Pacific Bureau Chief for National Fisherman.

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