Words Washed in with the Tide: FisherPoet Fieldwork in Port Townsend

by Julie Meyer, Folklore Graduate Student

On a drizzly Thursday afternoon in March, I threw my camping gear into my car and headed north towards Port Townsend, Washington, with my dog and my recorder in tow. During the long car ride I could feel the adrenaline of conducting my first solo fieldwork expedition motivating me.Only a month earlier I had been in Astoria, Oregon, attending the annual FisherPoets Gathering as a student fieldworker representing the Oregon Folklife Network. After building rapport with a few of the women FisherPoets in Astoria, I was invited to attend the She Tells Sea Tales event in Port Townsend, Washington. This event was hosted in support of the Girls Boat Project, an organization created to support the young women of the community in their pursuit of the seas.

As the event kicked off to a start in the Northwest Maritime Center, I was able to hear sea shanties sung, stories told, poetry read, and prose performed. The range of performances included both original folk art and traditional folklore from women and girls from across the Pacific Northwest.

The day after the event I was able to meet with Erin Friestad for an hour long interview in a café in the city center, and she shared with me stories of her time working at sea as well as her work as a poet. While I had originally hoped to pull more interviews from my time in Port Townsend, I was able to establish deeper relationships with the fisherwomen I have come to admire for their strength and perseverance.