Fisher Poets pour out angst and joy of life afloat"Another poet mounts the stage,
Speaks from the heart, not the page."
Silly or heroic, whimsical or deeply, even painfully personal, the offerings at the weekend's Fisher Poets Gathering, like Harrison "Smitty" Smith's ode to the event itself, brought to life for the sixth year the joys and frustrations of the fishing life.
Crowds filled both downtown venues, the Wet Dog Cafe and the Voodoo Room lounge around the corner, and wandered between the two sites to hear poetry and prose of restless seas, elusive fish and "nets full of hard work, slimy work."
Singer John van Amerongen is accompanied by Jon Broderick on stage at the Wet Dog Cafe, Friday evening. Among the several songs that van Amerongen sang was one called "Don't Be Eating Any Salmon That We Ain't Caught Wild."
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The event again brought in presenters from the West Coast, Alaska and British Columbia. Regulars like Dave Densmore and Holly Hughes shared the stage with first-time Fisher Poets participants such as Joanna Reichhold of Cordova, Alaska, who explained to the audience how she was "raised Southern Baptist, but now I'm a fisher."
"River has no four walls, but a choir to be sure," she recited to the Voodoo Room audience Friday.
Fisher Poets favorite Geno Leech of Chinook, Wash., shared an ode written to Reino Mattila in honor of his 50th year at the helm of the Salvage Chief.
"Capt. Reino Mattila's Last Wreck" painted a vivid picture of the ship's efforts to rescue a grounded barge in a "black, blown-to-rags night" with seas that "shivered her frame and rattled her keel."
"The throb of the Chief came up through his feet, and married the beat of his old Lion's heart," Leech recited.
"Salvage poems - there's not much fishing, but they're plenty wet," he told the audience.
LEFT: John Chandler of Portland reads at the Wet Dog Cafe Friday.
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The Gathering continues to grow in popularity and gather more and more outside attention - it was recently featured in Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Art Beat" program - but it maintains its friendly, informal feel.
Smith put the final touches on a "Moby Dick"-inspired saga of a legendary battle with a monster salmon just before taking the stage. And MC John Kulm of Chinook used the opportunity of some lulls between presenters to share some of his own works, including an ode to a shovel, inspired by his Eastern Washington farming days.
Fisher Poet veteran Christy Phillips Matlock, of Svensen, reads "What It Takes to Get to the Plate." With less time to spend writing this year, she said she was still finishing poems Friday afternoon.
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"I have nowhere to go, there's no farm poetry thing," he told the Voodoo Room audience.
The event again included several workshops for current and would-be poets and writers. Alaska Fisherman's Journal editor John van Amerongen shared hints on writing ballads, while Frank Caldwell, author of several books on Pacific Northwest history, explained some of the dos and don'ts of getting published.
Holly Hughes of Indianola, Wash., again led a poetry critique session that attracted novice and experienced poets, including some on the Gathering line-up. Pat Dixon of Olympia, Wash. told the rest of the group that poetry "helped me heal" after leaving the fishing industry. The poem he offered, "Running," described the anxiety of drifting at night."
"I crawl in and look around one last time. A wave slaps the hull and a chill settles over me," he read.
The countless frustrations of the fishing life are fodder for many poets. Dennis Beam of Richland, Ore., put to iambic pentameter a whole host of suggestions for capturing new markets for seafood, while a poem of Hawaii's Richard King explained to the buyer of some of his fish the lengthy process he had to undertake to get his "dollar a pound."
Other threats to the fishing industry inspired Victoria Stoppiello of Ilwaco, whose poem "This Side of Sand Island" lamented the changes wrought to the mouth of the Columbia River by dredging.
"'Spoils' is a good name for this, for truly they are despoiling this place," she recited.
John Chandler of Portland described the helplessness he felt at the mercy of a drug-addicted crewmate in "Crackhead Joe." while Densmore had the audience laughing at the end of "Fisherman's Dream, or, Be Careful What You Wish For," about a shorebound fisherman's encounter with a love-hungry lady.
"He'd fully met his match, of that there was no doubt. Just like that hapless salmon, he was all spawned out."