Poetry in the waves

In anticipation of this year’s FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore., Pat Dixon sent me a lovely piece of poetry.

Then he sent me another.

I have a feeling this could go on and on. Moments like these remind me of how much I love my work. If only I were so lucky as to lounge over poetry every day.

2015 0224 FisherPoetsI asked Emilie Springer — who will be on stage this year and who contributed her story for our most recent North Pacific Focus quarterly — to share with me her thoughts on the Gathering: “I think sometimes, the fishermen (my dad, my brother, my husband included) roll their eyes at us (the ones doing the writing),” Emilie wrote. “But, I personally think the storytelling is really critical to the culture of the industry. Regardless of whether or not they (the fishermen) want to call themselves a culture. They are.”

As I said to Emilie, people should write about what they know. And while it may seem like regular life to some people, nothing worth writing about or getting on stage to talk about, it’s just those sort of regular, everyday things that are hardest to write about and come to life in poetry and prose. It’s the magic in the mundane.

Yesterday, I read a piece by another inspiring fisherpoet, Tele Aadsen, on being a woman in a fisherman’s world. I’ve read this prose before, or at least a version of it. But a piece of art this carefully knitted together is worth a second look.

Those of you lucky enough to attend the Gathering this year will have just one chance to absorb each of the fishy tales you’ll hear during the three-day celebration that starts Friday, Feb. 27. At least until Pat puts together another anthology.

Here’s one of the pieces he shared with me. Thanks to all of you for sharing your other craft, whichever it may be, it’s the art of fishing.

FisherPoem

I slide into this crowded bar
like I’d ease a boat into a slip:
the river is crowded tonight.
Fisherpoets
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
have tonight?
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,
and listen.
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, ride 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 the stars fell to the ocean.
Pea soup.
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.

About the author

Jessica Hathaway

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 13 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

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