This weekend, fisherfolk from Kilauea to Corbett to Kodiak are descending on Astoria to share poems, songs, and stories about the nautical life. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the FisherPoets Gathering is where a unique line of work gives rise to unique writing.
The festival runs through the weekend. And don’t fret if you’re landlocked: you can hear some of the evening’s readings streamed live on KMUN Coast Community Radio.
Jon Brodericks and Jay Speakman
Unlike many beloved Oregon events, FisherPoets one always had a certain self-contained ethos. Started at the Wet Dog Cafe, the festival celebrates poetry by people who fish, for people who fish. If the rest of the world finds them interesting, great, but the organizers have gone out of their way not to become an institution. Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman have been around since the beginning, and they started us off with the story of how this celebration of commercial fishing came to be.
When we started asking around about fisherpoets, one name always came up: Moe Bowstern. Bowstern has been writing and fishing since college. She’s a master artist and rabble rouser, whether it’s putting out her own zine, “Xtra Tuf,” or starting a protest choir called the Amalgamated Everlasting Union Chorus, whose mottoes are “Subversion Through Friendliness” and “The Chorus That’s More Fun To Be In Than To Listen To.” Bowstern joined us to tell us about her first horrific summer as a deckhand and cook on a commercial fishing boat and other stories of feminism on the high seas.
Alana Kansaku-Sarmiento‘s childhood in Hawaii was tied in with the ocean, but she didn’t expect it to become her workplace. So what was is it that draws bright young women to leave school and go gill netting on Bristol Bay? Adventure, of course. Alana plays us a song and shares her perspective on what is most challenging about the work of commercial fishing.
We’ve been following the photographer Corey Arnold ever since he put out his first book, “Fish-Work: The Bering Sea,” in 2011. Somehow, he’s managed to bring a camera along for the life of a commercial fisherman, capturing a world where waves loom like mountains, “noble” bald eagles scavenge through dumpsters, and fish piled up like snowflakes. Arnold’s ability to capture beauty in the harshest of landscapes has since won him gigs with “National Geographic,” “Outside,” the “New Yorker,” and practically every other major magazine. Arnold’s exhibition “Aleutian Dreams” runs at Imogen Gallery in Astoria through Mar. 6. He also has work on view at the Charles Hartman Fine Art gallery in Portland and at the Portland International Airport’s concourse corridor.
Lloyd Montgomery has been fishing Alaskan waters since before they were actually Alaskan waters: he was just a kid, during the pre-statehood days of the 1950s, learning to fish and going out on boats with his stepfather. Lloyd fished professionally for 48 years — mostly out of Cordova, Alaska. The writing he shares at FisherPoets touches on all sorts of things: from tribal ways to the inner lives of salmon, the quirks of life on the water, and the two plane crashes he survived.
Maggie Bursch caught our ear Friday night in the Voodoo Room, when she won over the audience with a psuedo-fish rap and a rowdy tale of getting hit on in a bar by a man her grandad’s age. Unlike many of the fishers who spend time in Alaska, Burch grew up there to a fishing family. She read us a poem about how her mother offered her and her sister up to the sea.
Part of the fun of the FisherPoets Gathering is watching writers go head-to-head, including in the first ever poetry slam this year. The winner, Seattle’s Captain Dano Quinn, joined us to read his winning poem, “Changes,” about the gentrification of the Seattle waterfront.