Five fisherpoets from the Lower Columbia River region joined voices at the Cannon Beach Library for a laughter-riddled and intimately illuminating poetry reading during “An Evening With Fisherpoets,” held Jan. 17 as part of the library’s Northwest Author Series.
The event, which drew about three dozen attendees, also served as a sort of appetizer, providing a taste of what is to come at the annual FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, which takes place this year Feb. 22 through 24.
Fisherpoetry is not only an engaging niche literary art form, but also captures a part of the culture in the region, said Phyllis Bernt, co-president of the library board. Through poetic musings, recollections, and other accounts, the poets share about working in the commercial fishing industry, which is prominent in the Pacific Northwest, making the material particularly relatable. They can “tap into people’s feelings” about the area and industry, Bernt said.
The poets bring their own style, not only in the words themselves, but also their delivery. The experiences they recount run the gamut from personal to historical, from sorrowful to humorous, and from raw and realistic to overly exaggerated.
Cannon Beach resident Jon Broderick, co-founder and organizer of the FisherPoets Gathering, and Jay Speakman, of Gearhart, kicked off “An Evening With Fisherpoets.” Their duo performance featured not only spoken delivery of their poetry, but also both men providing musical accompaniment, Broderick on guitar and Speakman on harmonica. The soulful presentation augmented the emotion buried in tales of missing loved ones while at sea and undergoing a harrowing experience while winter shrimping in Maine, among others.
Speakman and Broderick were followed by Rob Seitz, who described his fisherpoetry as “so realistic it’s been known to cause a sea-sickness-like feeling among those who are listening.” True to his word, the Astoria-based commercial fisherman’s tongue-in-cheek delivery perfectly suited the experiences he captured, such as the challenge of relieving oneself into a 5-gallon bucket while on the water and dealing with younger deckhands by either yelling “or telling them how good you were when you were their age.”
Geno Leech, of Chinook, Washington, also imbued his poems with a sense of humor. Many of his lyrics spoke of unique individuals he has met and important relationships he has built through while working in the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes area.
To wrap up the evening, boisterous Dave Densmore, of Astoria, took the audience on a journey into the past through several “pretty true” historical poems about the settlement of Astoria and early exploration of the Lower Columbia River basin. Although told in first-person, Densmore stepped into the shoes of the crew members aboard the Tonquin to tap into the experiences of crossing the Columbia Bar, surviving on the “windswept western coast,” and the sensation of being unable to get warm and dry because of the perpetual coastal rain.
“An Evening With Fisherpoets” is an example of how the library is working to expand the scope of the Northwest Author Series, which traditionally has centered on Saturday afternoon events where authors conduct readings and book-signings.
“We love providing a venue for authors to share their work,” Bernt said.
While continuing author presentations, the library is hoping to add more events, especially in the evenings when the whole library can be utilized. Bernt said critics were unsure how a poetry event would fare. As the evening came to a close, however, she noted, the reaction the poets received from the audience demonstrated “the love of poetry is alive and well.”