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.