by OFN Graduate Research Assistant Em Knott
Set against the backdrop of turbulent sea-water, storm-battered row houses, and a charming downtown, the FisherPoets Gathering is held annually in Astoria, Oregon. This three day event allows commercial fishers from all over the world to gather and perform original poetry, prose and songs. The Oregon Folklife Network sent graduate students Adrienne Decker, Julie Meyer, and Em Knott to the Gathering to document the event and conduct interviews with the performers.
The men and women interviewed expressed their opinions concerning gendered interactions among fishers, environmental activism, and belief and spirituality. These themes were also echoed in their writing.
But it was in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning that we, the graduate students, got to sit around a table with a multi-generational fisher family and their friends, that we gained true insight into life as a FisherPoet. One of the friends was discussing the performance she gave earlier that night. She confessed that she had terrible stage fright but she loved coming to FisherPoets to perform. She joked that it was an “addicting kind of terror”. The other fishers around the table laughed, and joked, “so is fishing”.
On Saturday afternoon we conducted interviews in the upstairs loft of the Lightbox Gallery. As we worked our way through the interviews, one of the constant themes was disaster stories. So we asked: what is it about fishing that continuously brings people back to it year after year, even as dangerous as it is. The resounding answer we received is that they loved it, and that they couldn’t imagine a life where they weren’t fishing.
Commercial fishing is an addicting kind of terror. Our informants continuously spoke of how the weather would be perfect and then, not an hour later, there would be swells towering a hundred feet over their heads. Their creative work reflected this as well. The poetry, prose and songs described the dangers of their profession as they wrote about waves crashing over the decks of their ships, and fellow fishers being catapulted into the icy water as the ship bucked with the raging waters.
Whether it is in a boat in the waters of the pacific or standing up in front of a crowd to perform, there is an element of addicting terror.
Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman, founders of Astoria’s FisherPoets gathering, will soon be performing and teaching in Eugene!
Thursday, May 1st at Cozmic Pizza:
Music and Poetry Performance: 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Writing Workshop: 4:00 – 5:30 pm
Friday, May 2nd at the U. of O. Longhouse:
Performances, conversations, and oral history of the FisherPoets Gathering: 12:00 – 2:00 pm