Madeline Ruzak & Rebecca Pace
The 23rd Annual Fisherpoets Gathering brought hundreds of patrons to Astoria, Oregon, late February — including the Oregon Folklife Network’s own Riki Saltzman and two of the University of Oregon’s Public Folklore students, Madeline Ruzak and Rebecca Pace. During their time volunteering at the Gathering, they were able to listen as poets shared years of experiences and memories through poetry and song. Listening to fishermen from all different walks of life perform also gave the students a window into why they began writing about their lives off-shore and how they used writing as a means to form connections with others while at sea. Subjects varied: some were humorous while others were poignant, some reflective of past experiences while some looked ahead, some were cautionary tales while some were a call-to-action towards environmental issues, such as off-shore drilling at the Pebble Mine depository in Bristol Bay, AK, and its effect on the fishing community.
The students heard and documented poems, songs, and even the annual on-site poetry contest, which can be entered by anybody, not just fishermen. Four interviews were conducted at the Columbia River Maritime Museum as willing poets discussed their work, what the Gathering means to them, and why they return yearly to perform to enthusiastic crowds. As a result, the OFN’s collection of FisherPoet interviews is 45 strong, dating back to 2012.
The weekend was an enlightening experience and an overall unique means to express the fishing profession and community. A very special thank you to Michelle Abramson, Erica Clark, Todd Waterfield, Mariah Warren, Riki Saltzman, Oregon Folklife Network, University of Oregon, and Fisherpoets Gathering.
Documentation of the 2020 Fisherpoets Gathering was part of OFN’s North Coast Folklife Survey, which was funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and matched by the UO Folklore and Public Culture Program.