I used to hate February. Out the window of my office it's rainy and blowing 15. There's a small craft advisory for the coast, and this is the 20th day in a row it's either rained or snowed. Typical late winter weather for Western Washington. Yet, as I have for the past 19 years, I am crazy excited! This coming Friday, Feb. 24, over 100 performers will flood Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River to attend the 20th FisherPoets Gathering. I look forward to this event every year. It's like a commercial fishing family reunion, with folks coming from the Pacific Northwest and coastal communities throughout the country. We've even had visitors from Japan and Europe. All to read, recite and listen to poetry and stories of the sea. This year we're expecting upwards of 2,000 people to come listen. Tie buoys onto the net, boys!
On Friday and Saturday nights, readers, poets, storytellers and songwriters will take the stage at any one of seven different venues — bars, restaurants and theaters — to present their work to audiences for 15 minutes, then sit down and listen to someone else have a go. Some of us have been doing this for all 20 years the Gathering has been alive; some are greenhorns with something to say. All are welcome, and all encouraged to get up and share their stories and thoughts about what it is they've done or still do. And it's a hoot. I have laughed so hard my sides hurt, and I've choked back sobs. I've seen old salts recite their poetry from wheelchairs and get a standing ovation, and I was present when a 12-year-old girl won the onsite poetry contest to adoring cheers from the crowd. No matter where you are in Astoria on FisherPoets Weekend, you will find something to remember and love.
Check out the Special Events schedule as well. Films, workshops, an old-timers Story Circle and even open mic sessions if you get inspired are available most of the day Saturday.
You can also take bits of the Gathering home. Local galleries display fishing-related art. A silent auction helps raise funds to help with expenses.The performers sell their books, CDs, T-shirts, art, photographs and even fishy jewelry at the Gear Shack each year. And pick up a copy of "Anchored in Deep Water: The FisherPoets Anthology" before they're all gone. Fewer than 20 complete sets remain. But most of all, hang out with the fisherpoets. Visit with friends old and new, and witness how much this event brings us all together around an industry and culture we love and love to share.
So come join us! Rooms are still available at the local hotels, there's always a spot to squeeze in at the venues, and there is a weekend full of salty tales to be heard. Buy a $15 button at any of the venues, and you're admitted to any spot something's going on during the entire weekend. It doesn't get any better.
Find the information about who reads where and when at the FisherPoets Gathering website. If you can't make the Gathering in person, listen in to the reading online at the Astoria Event Center both Friday and Saturday (Feb. 24 and 25, 2017). And if you want some fisher poetry now, check out our online archive, IntheTote.
Here's a poem I wrote celebrating the FisherPoets Gathering:
I slide into this crowded bar
like I’d ease a boat into a slip:
the river is crowded tonight.
ride these aisles like currents.
Tying up to booths,
dropping anchors on barstools,
they open journals like hatch covers–
unsure of how the catch compares.
How many brailers does the rest of the fleet
How many pounds?
Maybe I’ll wait to deliver until morning,
when no one else is watching.
But morning comes and no one cares.
We drink beer, watch the show,
The stories fill the air like jumpers;
words weave to catch them on nets hung deep,
ears cock for the sound of a splash
eyes narrow, looking for hits.
Here comes the next set, and a poet picks up the microphone –
static over the radio, the bar chatter fades,
whispered verses lift us, riding on the back of a swell:
The VHF just said a boat went down with all hands.
Sunrise lit the mountaintops the color of salmon.
…that halibut hook sunk deep into the side of his hand.
The lights of the fleet looked like fallen stars.
She went over when we weren’t lookin’…
A slip of a boot on a wet deck
becomes a slip of the tongue,
and this place fills with salt water.
The speaker pauses,
hangs up the mic and walks away without a look.
In a moment all hell will break loose,
and we’ll live it again in the telling,
but as the story lands on the dock
solid and hard,
we can sense the slightest change of the engine,
feel the gentlest breeze,
hear our own heart beat
in the distance,
in the waves.