By Jenny Neyman
Poetry, the art of Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and William Shakespeare, can be an intimidating thing, especially for a novice presenting one’s compositions aloud to others.
But intimidation is a relative thing. Powering through 30-foot seas, banking on unpredictable seasonal income and working in a world of sharp hooks, slippery metal, tangling nets, constantly swaying footing and a cold, deep, unforgiving ocean isn’t exactly comforting.
It’s dramatic, inspiring, exhilarating, beautiful and idealized, but can just as easily be dull, discouraging, heartbreaking, harsh and vilified. And all of that makes commercial fishing fertile grounds for poetic creativity.
“When you start thinking about commercial fishing — whether you’re a set-netter or you’re a drift-netter or a seiner — whatever type of commercial fishing you do, you’re associated with the water. That presents its own set of challenges but it also presents its own unique beauty. So whether you’re trying to catch fish on a calm sea with an orca surfacing near you or you’re riding up 30-foot breaking waves trying to survive the day, there’s a lot of inspiration to write about there from the struggles that you go through,” said Pat Dixon, keynote presenter at this weekend’s Kenai Fisher Poets gathering.
Fisher Poets began in Astoria, Ore., as a way for fishermen to gather, catch up and share the stories, songs and poems the season inspired, along with, perhaps, a beer or a few. Since the first in February 1998, it’s been an annual tradition in Astoria, and other Fisher Poets gatherings have sprouted up in fishing communities along the West and East coasts, as well as in Alaska. These regional, on-the-road events are a great way to introduce newcomers to the Fisher Poets scene, and even to each other.
It’s this social aspect that Dixon particularly enjoys about the events, as that’s what drew him in the first place. After commercial fishing for 20 years in Cook Inlet in the summers and teaching photography in Kenai in the winters, Dixon took a teaching job at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., in 1997, sold out of his commercial fishing operation and relocated south with his family.
“It didn’t take me very long to realize that I really, really missed being in Alaska and I very much missed commercial fishing,” he said.
A friend introduced him to the second ever Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, and he was immediately hooked.
“It felt like going home,” he said, since Astoria was a commercial fishing town. He walked into the bar hosting the Fisher Poets events, “And all of a sudden there’s these folks that have had fishing history who look a lot like fishermen I’ve known, even though I didn’t know many of them. And they’re reading their poems and singing their songs and telling their stories.”