18 10 2012

Friends! Are any of you in Oklahoma? Or do you have extended communities that reach into the Sooner State?

If so, please don’t miss the chance to check out FISH, a multimedia art exhibition presented by the University of Oklahoma School of Art & Art History and the Lightwell Gallery. The exhibition will be open from Tuesday, October 23 through Wednesday, November 7. (Visit UOSAA for more location/time details.)

What’s the connection between a landlocked university and an examination of global fisheries? With their rich farming history, Oklahomans know about the long, arduous road of getting food from its point of origin to people. So do fishermen. Curator Cedar Marie took a “stream to plate” approach with FISH, inviting viewers to “consider how we tend to our relationships with the food we grow, harvest, and consume,” while also shining a light on one of our planet’s most diminishing food sources.

Longtime readers may recall this summer’s call for submissions. Thanks to an enthusiastic response, FISH presents “a compelling range of perspectives on the culture of fishing. Interpreted broadly, the artworks in the exhibition include sculpture, painting, video, and good old-fashioned storytelling, among other media, from both U.S. and international artists.” That range of fish-related perspectives includes water management, environmental/habitat concerns, historical depictions, sustainability, gender, safety, community awareness, and education.

(You’ll see some of Hooked favorite people/groups exhibited in FISH: Fisher Poet/Xtra Tuf ‘zine author Moe Bowstern, the Sitka Conservation Society’s Fish to Schools program, Rebecca Poulson, and Cap’n J. View a complete list of artists.)

I have to tell you, I seriously considered hopping on a Greyhound to be able to stroll through this show. Studied the calendar and everything, but it wasn’t meant to be this time. So, sweeties, if any of you are in the Norman, Oklahoma, vicinity, I’d love to hear your report. And if you’re in the area AND you’re free at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, October 30, give yourself a treat and attend the legendary Ray Troll’s public lecture.

FISH’s curatorial statement says this: “Visiting Guggenheim Fellowship artist Ray Troll’s quirky images based on the latest scientific discoveries bring a street-smart sensibility to the worlds of ichthyology and paleontology. His drawings and paintings are also a delightful commentary on the fishy behavior of humans.” That’s all spot-on. Ray is an Alaskan icon, forever immortalized as the artist behind “Spawn Till You Die.”

(Ray’s also to be credited for keeping Joel and I clothed. We recently figured about 80% of our T-shirts and hoodies are Troll-isms. Case in point: writing this, I’m wearing his salmon yin-yang sweatshirt. The man’s cornered the market for the Southeast Alaskan uniform.)

As much as I’m a fan of FISH’s artists, it’s the story that really gets me. On the heels of World Food Day, FISH promotes a critical message of being connected to our food sources. As a fisherman, I’m grateful for all of the time, labor, and passion that Cedar Marie has devoted to our industry and our stories. Many thanks, Cedar, and big congratulations on seeing your vision to fruition. I’ll be cheering FISH from afar, hoping that some of Hooked’s friends will share their impressions with us.

Hooked Searches for Time & Space (& Takes a Little Break)

3 05 2012

One of my lit star heroes is Ariel Gore. As a social worker, I pressed Atlas of a Human Heart into the hands of the young women I worked with, one after another. And a ragged copy of her guide, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead, has staked a firm claim on our boat’s tiny bookshelf, going on its fifth season aboard the Nerka. (Extra points of awesome: an interview with Fisher Poet/’zine  Moe Bowstern appears p140-147!)

Before You’re Dead begins, “Everybody knows it because Virginia Woolf said it: You need money and a room of your own if you’re going to write. But I’ve written five books, edited three anthologies, published hundreds of articles and short stories, and put out 35 issues of my zine without either one. If I’d waited for money and a room of my own, I’d still be an unpublished welfare mom – except they would’ve cut my welfare off by now. It might be nice to have money and a room (or it might be suicidally depressing – who knows?) but all you really need is a blank page, a pen, and a little bit of time.”

Given that Ms. Gore’s words are near-holy to me, I’m embarrassed to admit my recent struggles. Our return to Sitka has been balm for my soul, but hell on my writing. Finding a place to work has been tough. I haven’t made a single sentence of progress on my memoir. The challenge of writing A Whole Book – even one page, one freaking word at a time – feels agonizingly impossible, like riding a unicycle with a flat tire up Everest. Blogging, so seductive with its short story capsules and immediately gratifying writer/reader exchanges, wins my attention every time.

Some days I think Bear should be my ghostwriter.

I chewed on discouragement for weeks, before finally ‘fessing up to my writing buddies. Of course I should’ve turned to them sooner. Beyond generous encouragement and support, they deftly flipped my frustration into a fun writing prompt.

Kari wrote, “Hearing about the places you’ve been forced to write kind of cracks me up. (The laundry room, the payphone room.) Maybe you should use that as a warm-up for your writing sessions. Spend five minutes describing your writing space of the moment. Then post to your blog!”

Pam seconded that idea. “A blog about where you find yourself writing these days is sure to be humorous and uplifting. Your readers will empathize, you’ll get good feedback and have a good warm up, and the positive feedback will carry you through starting what seems to be impossible now.”

These are seriously good friends – as well as excellent memoirists and bloggers. Check out Kari’s blog, Rhymes with Safari, and Pam’s, Putting on my Big Girl Panties.

Their suggestion was well-timed. Just hours earlier, I’d committed to give someone four chapters by the end of May. Breaking my word to this person isn’t an option. So I’m going to step back from all other projects for the coming weeks, fully surrendering to halibut fishing and chapter writing, chapter writing and halibut fishing. For the most part, this hiatus will include Hooked. Necessary discipline for distractible me, but bittersweet all the same. More than readers, you’re friends. I’ll miss our frequent conversations.

But a quick warm-up to get the words flowing, occasionally sharing my often-ridiculous surroundings with you before diving into the chapters, after surfacing from halibut bellies… That might be manageable. We’ll see. Apologies for the radio silence, friends, and many thanks for your understanding and patience. I hope to see you on the other side of the mountain.

Armpit deep in halibut.

Writer friends… Does this sound familiar? What are your favorite writing prompts? Any personal tricks you use for breaking your projects down into manageable pieces? How have you gotten through these funks?

Cap’n J Takes the Stage: Fisher Poets 2012 Onsite Poem Contest

29 02 2012

After my Saturday performance at the Fort George Showroom, Cap’n J, Ashley and I braced ourselves against the biting cold and hustled over to the Astoria Events Center. The 2012 Onsite Poem Contest would kick off at 10:30. Emceed by two of my lit star heroes, Erin Fristad and Moe Bowstern, I didn’t want to miss a minute of it.

We’d learned about the contest on Thursday night, when the programs were distributed. Page 6 issued this challenge:

During the pre-performance Saturday afternoon calm, I’d seen one Fisher Poet after another, studiously hunched over a tablet, scrawling possible verses. “Have you written your poem yet?” several asked, and I shook my head.  No, not this time. I wanted to learn how things are done and cheer everyone else on this year.

If you’re imagining the Events Center as a sterile behemoth of a convention hall, that’s not the place we shivered into. A single-story square in the midst of downtown, we were met by a bar on our left, low balcony seating on our right, and about 300 people squeezed into the folding tables and chairs between us and the stage.

Photo by Pat Dixon

The crowd was unyielding as Moe wrapped up the Saturday set, so we stood against the back wall to enjoy her performance. I glanced over at Cap’n J and saw he had his serious face on. I knew he’d been disappointed that we’d missed Ray Troll’s band, the Ratfish Wranglers, the night before. Now, scheduled opposite the poem contest that I wanted to see, we were going to miss them again.

I leaned into his frown. “Are you upset?”

“Do you have a pen?” he countered.

(Do I have a pen…Really, dude?)

I handed him the Murray Pacific ballpoint from my right hip pocket and he grabbed the loose paper on the table next to us, a single sheet torn from a yellow legal pad. Lips moving silently, he scribbled madly while Moe sang and the crowd cheered.

“Quick – what rhymes with ‘joy’?”

“Boy, toy… Wait – are you writing something for the poetry contest?”

Co-organizer Jay Speakman and I had tried to lure Cap’n J to the afternoon story circle, unsuccessfully. This was the first I’d heard of his desire to participate. As he stared at the paper before him, we heard Moe shifting gears, calling all of the contestants forward.

“Got it!” With a final scribble, and perhaps as much to his amazement as Ashley’s and mine, Cap’n J rushed to the stage.

About 15 participants lined up as Moe and Erin explained how this worked. Everyone would read their poem once. Audience applause would determine who made it into the second round, and, along with the MC’s, who was the final winner.

Astonished to see Cap’n J in the line-up, Ashley and I elbowed our way forward. One by one, the poets stepped up to the mic, introducing themselves by name and home port. Almost exclusively male, they spanned the coasts: Alaska, Washington, Oregon. New Hampshire, Rhode Island. Japan, too. Written from the perspectives of captains, deckhands, even a pair of deck gloves, each poet uniquely wove in the required line, “work is our joy.” All remarkable in their own way, the combined talent was impressive.

Some were especially clever. Nancy Cook’s poem gave a nod to the video games she hadn’t played since 1983: “Work is our joy…stick.” And Rich Bard summed up a clueless crewmate, “She’s a real piece of work, is our Joy.” Some rewarded by raucous laughs, others with appreciative murmurs, we roared and stomped the Center’s wooden planked floors for everyone who had the courage to get up there.

And there he was: Joel Brady-Power, Sitka, Alaska.

Photo by Pat Dixon

I was so stinking proud of my best buddy.

He claims he was terribly nervous, but we couldn’t tell. And the room went crazy for his poem, and it wasn’t just his sister and me making all that noise. After a winnowing that cut the contestants down by half, Cap’n J made it to the second round.

Things got tougher from there. Moe declared that all of the finalists would have to take off two pieces of clothing – “And hats don’t count!” she hollered at our token cowboy, Ron McDaniel. Once more, each contestant stood at the mic, and the crowd roared for their favorite.

So… maybe you’d like to hear Cap’n J’s second go at the mic?

Forgiving my shaky hands, it’s a great video. But if you’re somewhere you can’t play it right now, here’s the text:

It’s the days when the mountains speak

and the sun’s poetry paints the sky

When the fish are thick and the ocean’s flat

and there’s not another boat in sight

And sure there’s days when the storms crash and thrash

and toss our boats around like toys

But thanks to a fisherman’s selective memory

our work is still our joy.

Not bad for 10 minutes before showtime, huh?

We celebrated everyone who’d made it to the second round, clapping as a line of gifted wordsmiths stepped down. “It’s never enjoyable sending people off-stage,” Moe lamented, and then two poets remained before us.

One was Hillel Wright, a writer who’d come all the way from Okinawa. (In addition to traveling the greatest distance, Hillel had triumphed over the most adversity to attend FPG. After making it to the States, he was in a car accident in Oregon. Thanks to the organizers’ quick rallying, FP Tom Hilton brought Hillel to Astoria.)

And Hillel’s co-finalist was… Cap’n J.

Ashley and I exchanged looks of stunned pride, as Moe announced, “Okay, Joel, I’m gonna send you out on the runway.” With an embarrassed smile, Cap’n J shuffled to the front of the stage, arms swinging at his sides. “All right, those of you who loved the poem of Joel, stand up!”

And that was where I watched an awesome event shift into something near-sacred. My sweetheart had never before experienced that kind of all-about-you public praising from a roomful of strangers – people who didn’t “have” to say they liked his words. Few of us have experienced such ceremony, and fewer still know how to receive it.

Joel managed to hold his ground for 8 seconds (I know, I’ve got it on video) before stepping away. But Moe was having none of that. As the crowd continued to cheer, she shook her head, pointed a finger at him, and boomed, “You GET BACK out there, Joel! You stand there, and you TAKE what they’re giving you. Take that in, Joel – OPEN your arms wide! That’s right, everybody, GIVE it to him.”

For the next 22 seconds, I watched my partner stand prouder than I’d seen in our almost 8 years together. He stood taller, his back straightened as if he’d never gone crabbing, and glowed. I wondered what could be achieved in this world, if every one of us experienced that wild public approval just once in our lives.

This time, when he stepped back, Moe acknowledged the challenge. “Thank you, Joel. That’s a hard thing to do in this culture.” That stage might as well have been covered in shiny paper and ribbons, as great of a gift as she gave him that night.

Hillel replaced Joel on the runway. With snowy hair combed back from dark eyebrows, a red flannel shirt and wrist brace, this gentleman exuded panache. The crowd went wild as soon as he stepped forward, and he twirled his gray sweater overhead like a professorial Chippendale dancer.

“Hillel Wright, you are the winner!”

And with Hillel’s blessing, here it is, the 2012 FPG Onsite Poem champion, “Cod Cheeks and Fried Baloney.”

A Yankee once fetched up in old Newfoundland

Where the beach is grey rock instead of white


Where rain falls in April and snow falls in May

And dories and islanders cover the


Where oldtimers cringe at the scent of a phony

And breakfast is perfumed with frying baloney

*          *          *          *          *

Where fiddlers always play the tune and dancers clog the beat

And cod cheeks make the gourmet dish and squid inks spice the meat

The Yankee thought the Newfies crude, but they said “Well me b’y

“Ye may think that we ‘aves no fun, but eh – work is our j’y!”

Friends, please join me in an Alaska-sized cheer for Hillel Wright, Cap’n J, and all of the 2012 Onsite Poem contestants! Immense talent, creativity, and courage; I feel privileged to have heard each of them.

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.


It’s Not the Work that Makes Fishing Hard….

16 11 2011

When new friends learn I’m a commercial fisherman, their eyes often drop in an almost-unconscious survey. What they see – a petite, 5’2″ female – doesn’t match the burly machismo touted as an industry requirement. “But isn’t that hard work?” is a frequent response.

I struggle to answer that question. Yes, the work is physically demanding, but many of us take perverse delight in pushing our bodies beyond their presumed limits, learning that our force of will can be greater than our height, weight, and gender. How to explain the far more daunting mental challenges?

Enter Moe Bowstern. One of my longtime literary heroes, Moe’s been author/editor/publisher of Xtra Tuf, a zine chronicling the stories of commercial fisherfolk, since 1996. She’s a legend on the Fisher Poets’ circuit. It was here that I found her prose poem, “Things That Will be Difficult.” I read it aloud, and as I read, my heart shifted into my throat and my mouth went dry with recognition. These days, I have the luxury of crewing with like-minded loved ones, but that wasn’t always the case, and her words rang painfully true. Though she described the challenges green deckhands experience, Moe nailed exactly what I’d struggled to articulate.

Yes, fishing is hard work, and these are some of the reasons why.

(Posted with immense gratitude to Moe Bowstern for her eloquent words, and her willingness to see them re-posted on Hooked. She’s amazing; buy her zines and follow her work here.)

Things That Will Be Difficult 

(Originally published in Xtra Tuf #6, The Greenhorn Issue)

It will be hard to never know what is going to happen next or indeed what is happening right now. It will be hard to not understand what is going on for days, weeks. The entire first season. It will be hard that everyone else knows how to do everything, and they know that you, the greenhorn, can do nothing right. It will be hard to have no opinion worth attending. It will be hard to have no one around to whom you can say, will you please explain that whole knot versus miles thing again?

It will be hard to look at the fish hold and see an undifferentiated mass of fish, while your crew mates are separating fish into five distinct species. It will be hard to wake up in your tiny little bunk in the pitch-dark fo’c’sle in the middle of a scream with your crewmate shaking you by the shoulder, telling you to shut the fuck up, we’re trying to get some sleep. It will be hard to dream that you are in a coffin every night.

It will be hard to cook two or three meals a day, every single day and have no one ever ever not once say thanks. It will be hard to get the hatch cover off. It will be hard, if you are a woman, to struggle to do anything new without having some man come and take the tool from you and do it. It will be hard, later, to hear yourself described as lazy when you’ve given up doing anything because some man takes over everything you start doing. Except the cooking.

It will be hard if you are a man, to understand why your female crewmate, who started out so friendly, is so silent now, when you are only trying to help.

It will be hard, if you are a woman, to go two weeks without speaking to another woman, to only see a woman as a faraway figure clad in raingear on a distant boat.

It will be hard, if you are a man, to read a poem or draw a picture without having another man call you a faggot or a pussy. It will be hard, whatever you are, to go for weeks without a touch, a caress, a hug, a kind word. It will be hard, if you are queer and a man, to never let anyone know who you are. It will be hard, if you are queer and a man, to work all summer and never dare to get drunk with your friends and crewmates lest your resolve fail and you act, after which you will be called ‘the kisser’ in harbor legend forever, and you will never return.

It will be hard, if you are queer and a woman, to keep it to yourself lest you scare away the few women around you, and bring closer the men who have rented a specific video they think you might have starred in. It will be hard, if you are a woman, to walk onto a boat filled with men watching porn and see your friends among them. It will be hard, if you are a man, to refuse to watch porn with those men. It will be hard, if you are a woman, to remember that you are pro-porn.

It will be hard to keep everything to yourself, buttoned inside your head and locked in your heart. It will be hard when you go without laughing for so long.

It will be hard, if you are a man, to go without seeing a woman except as a faraway, raingear-clad figure on the stern of a distant boat. It will be hard when you realize you are helplessly hot for your crewmate. It will be hard when you realize that the skipper has a crush on you and your crewmates hate you for the special treatment you didn’t ask to get.

It will be hard to find joy. It will be hard to make it through those last twenty days of August. It will be hard to regress to the childhood frustrations of not knowing how to do anything, even the simplest thing, without anyone to cheer you on when you finally figure out the simplest thing–tying a knot you are supposed to know, fueling up without spilling a drop.

It will be hard to be green. To hurt all over your body and have nobody care. To see whales — whales! — and when you run in to tell your crewmates they are irritated at their interrupted naps, they who have seen a thousand whales, they to whom a whale is a fishing obstacle.

It will be hard to return to the boat for your second, triumphant season, and realize that you are still a greenhorn. It will be hard to find a place alone, where no one can see you cry or masturbate or read kid’s books. It will be hard to look at the beach every day and never set foot on land, fifteen days, twenty days.  To live in thirty-eight or forty-four feet with three or four other people, that will be hard. It will be hard to watch yourself become your worst possible self, to understand eventually that all along the problem was you, and even with this epiphany, you can’t stop being that self.

And then, finally after it’s all over, and you are back home, wherever that may be, among those who love you, who praise you, who hug you and laugh at your jokes and always say good morning–then you will find that beyond all reason, you are homesick. A truck will belch diesel as it passes you and the stench will transport you to a moment in a quiet bay, fueling up at your favorite tender. Everything will be too fast and too loud, there will be too many people everywhere. You will develop an affinity for men with beards. You will learn how to spot a working fisherman,  a fellow. You will miss the boat. You will miss the ocean. And that will be hard.

And you, sweet readers? Does this ring familiar for the fisherfolk among you?  Those of you on land, are there places you’ve experienced similar struggles?

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