Every year, the FisherPoets Gathering brings together fishermen from around the world to Astoria, OR during the last weekend in February to share their poetry, prose, and song and to celebrate the commercial fishing industry. This year’s FisherPoets Gathering featured over 100 performers at 8 different venues, workshops, a poetry slam, and the ever-popular Saturday night poetry contest. For the 5th year running, Oregon Folklife Network staff, students, and volunteers were all there to help document the weekend.
OFN Executive Director Riki Saltzman, Graduate Assistant Brad McMullen, OFN Program Manager Alina Mansfield, students Brandie Roberts and Kayleigh Graham, and volunteer folklorist Tiffany Purn spent the weekend experiencing the events and interviewing fisherpoets, documenting their poetry and their commercial fishing heritage. We got to see a number of fantastic performances from fisherpoets like Harlan Bailey, Rich Bard, Moe Bowstern, Meezie Hermansen, Tom Hilton, Cary Jones, Rob Seitz, and Cowboy Poet-in-Residence Ron McDaniel.
One event that stood out for first-timer Kayleigh Graham was the Strength of the Tides workshop, which focused on empowering women fishermen (their gender-preferred term) and other women who work in maritime industries. Strength of the Tides was well supported outside of its workshop too, with the movement getting shout-outs at performances throughout the weekend and lots of sightings of the new t-shirt.
For graduate student Brandie Roberts, another first-timer who described it as a weekend of “heartfelt expression,” what really stood out was her interview with fisherpoet Harlan Bailey. She writes, “For [Harlan], as with many others, gathering as the collective Fisherpoets means creating a space that staves off alienation and allows transformation – from the quotidian to the symbolic, and the mundane to the meaningful. Harlan Bailey will be back next year, and I’ll be in the audience to cheer him on.
As always, the FisherPoets Gathering is a great chance for fishermen to celebrate their industry and the art that they create in isolation and share as a community. The OFN is proud to attend every year and help document the stories of the men and women of the commercial fishing fleet, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s gathering!