Gifts from the Sea: Fisher Poets 2012, part 1

24 02 2012

When I was a teenager, there were a lot more boat kids running the docks than I see nowadays. Fishing time, of course, always came first, and we never knew when – or if – we’d see a dockside friend again. The August coho closure was the one moment of the season that we counted on all our friends being in town, and as one of my oldest friends recently remembered, we looked forward to that time as if it were Christmas.

The processing plant we sold to held an annual beach picnic during the closure. Salmon on the grill, a chance to visit with everyone you’d missed so far that season; this was a big deal, and the boat kids ran all over Halibut Point, wild with delight.

I remember riding the shuttle back to the harbor at the end of one of those picnics, sharing the van with another family. The mom observed that her son had made a new friend that day. About 8 years old, he was matter-of-fact as he replied, “I’ll probably never see him again.”

His response has stayed with me for the past 20-some years. I’ve chosen to interpret his words not as unbearably sad, but as a telling comment on one of the unforeseen gifts of our profession, a lesson that mariners absorb from a very young age.  Long before the world embraced Thict Naht Hahn’s teachings, fisherfolks practiced being present. With coastlines bursting with so many possible ports, one never knows when you’ll tie up with the same friend. We learn to accept good memories and perhaps an occasional radio conversation – mindful that it’s open listening for anyone in range – in place of real-time sit-downs. We learn that though our relationships may be fleeting, they’re no less valuable.


Last night, Cap’n J and I stepped into a new-yet-so-familiar world, when we entered Clemente’s restaurant for the Fisher Poets welcome dinner. I have to admit, we felt a little out of our element, walking into the buoyant crowd, but Fisher Poets Pat Dixon and Rob Seitz welcomed us on in. (I’d been awed by Pat’s reading at Fish Expo about 4 years earlier, and would be a new fan of Rob’s, too, by the end of the evening.)

We bumbled our way to the bar for a beer and a Pepsi, then found seats next to Buck Meloy and his delightful partner Ingrid. She filled us in on her favorite performers and the low-down on each venue; we couldn’t have picked a better table-mate to make us feel welcome.

One of the evening’s early highlights: I finally got to meet Jen Pickett, author of Pick Fish Tales. Since pulling on this fisherman blogger hat almost a year ago, I’ve often felt like a toddler trailing around after Jen. From her diligent posts on her own blog, to her involvement with Alaska Waypoints, this is a woman who knows how to get shit done. I’m paying attention to her work, and suggest you do, too.

As we talked, the one and only cowboy poet, Ron McDaniel, stepped up with some awfully complementary thoughts on our efforts to increase awareness of our fisheries. Then he peered over my shoulder and boomed, “Is that Cap’n J? Ah wahnta meet him!”

After Clemente’s excellent albacore poke and Bristol Bay sockeye fish and chips, I was starting to feel pretty comfortable. And then co-organizer Jay Speakman kicked off the welcome mic. He surveyed the room of about 60, and the most genuine smile spread across his face. “God, it’s good to see everyone. Some of my best friends, I only get to see once a year at this 3 day weekend.”

Following performers made similar declarations. Pat Dixon said he’d updated his Facebook status 15 minutes before hitting the road: “Heading to Astoria for Fisher Poets, the best weekend of the winter.” Another, Fred Bailey, said, “The idea of coming here kept me going all winter.”

With that, I sat a little easier in my seat, and cheered a little louder. Oh – of course, I realized. These are our people.  Among this collection of gifted writers, musicians, and storytellers, we’re all bound by that common thread, the ability to create immediate connection out of our relationship with the sea. We might never see each other again – but thanks to Fisher Poets, we do.


After last night’s initial open mic, I can’t rave enough about the talent here. Amazing writers, poets, and musicians here – and thanks to Coast Community Radio, you have the chance to enjoy them from wherever you are tonight! KMUN FM will be livestreaming the main stage performances tonight and tomorrow, starting at 6 pm PST.  I’ll be reading at the Baked Alaska at 7 tonight and the Fort George Showroom at 9 tomorrow, so I’ll miss some of the main stage performances. If you tune in, I’d love to know who you heard and what you thought.

Coming Soon: Fisher Poets 2012!

8 02 2012

Hey, you guys – it’s almost time for the Fisher Poets Gathering!

Not familiar with FPG? Every February, men and women connected to the fishing industry flood into Astoria, Oregon, to share poems, songs, memoir, and visual art in celebration of this unique livelihood. People come from around the country to take part in this event (from around the globe, in fact: one of this year’s FisherPoets is from Japan) Now in their 15th year, more than 70 artists will be performing this February 24-26.

(Having a hard time imagining a fisherman/woman poet? Veteran FisherPoet and photographer Pat Dixon put together this gorgeous site of past performers and their work.)

Fishin’ folks, writers, storytellers, nestled into bars and restaurants in a seaside town… Some of my favorite things, right there.  So it’s more than a little shameful that I’ve never been to a FPG. Astoria is only about 5 hours south of Bellingham, but somehow, the timing just never worked out. I’ve been a long-distance, wanna-be groupie for an embarrassing number of years now, swooning over various highliner performers from afar. (Yes, I’m lookin’ at you two, Moe Bowstern and Jen Pickett!)

But no more! When, at the end of last season, Cap’n J and I discussed our winter goals, I announced, “I want to finally make it to Fisher Poets this February.” He’s always game for a road trip, especially to the Oregon Coast. (One of his favorite photography destinations, as you can see here.) And just like that, the room’s rented, we’re going, and I’m a quivery mess of excitement.

That quivery mess? Not just about excitement, but nerves, too. As it turns out, sweet readers, this won’t just be my first time in the Fisher Poets audience, but on the stage, too. The organizers generously gave this greenhorn two slots on the schedule (7 pm Friday at the Baked Alaska, and 9 pm Saturday at the Fort George Showroom. Just, you know, if you’re in the area and wanted to stop by.) I’m grateful to be on board, and am eager to learn from the pros.

Between the thrill of hearing some of my FisherPoet idols in person, and the anxiety of filling my 15 minute slots with worthy pieces, I expect the weekend will fly by in a blur of shanties and salt-tinged stories. I can’t wait.

If you’re within range and looking for a fantastic weekend, please join us in Astoria, February 24-26. All of the information is here – admission, scheduling, etc. Info on lodging in Astoria is here. Can’t make it and want to enjoy vicariously? NPR-affiliate KMUN 91.9 FM will be livestreaming the Astoria Events Center performances on Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 6 pm. Wherever you are, you can listen here.


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