FisherPoets Live on Kickstarter!

Fish­ing, sto­ries, cul­ture, com­mu­nity, authen­tic­ity… These are some of my favorite things, and they all come together in the Fish­er­Po­ets Anthol­ogy, Anchored in Deep Water. My friends Pat Dixon and Chelsea Stephen have done a tremen­dous job cre­at­ing and edit­ing this project over the past year, and have just launched a Kick­starter cam­paign to fund print­ing. Thanks for read­ing their let­ter below and sup­port­ing this project in what­ever ways you’re able. 


Anchored in Deep Water, Gathering

Art­work by Chelsea Stephen


The Fish­er­po­ets Anthology

Com­mer­cial fish­ing is an indus­try in the midst of extreme change. Many of the tra­di­tional fish­eries of the 20th cen­tury have already dis­ap­peared due to con­flicts over allo­ca­tion, the degra­da­tion of habi­tat and the advent of tech­nol­ogy. Many of the old tech­niques and meth­ods are gone or are fast drift­ing out with the tide. The Fish­er­Po­ets Gath­er­ing, an annual event at the end of each Feb­ru­ary in Asto­ria, Ore­gon for the past 17 years, has been a way for fish­er­men them­selves to chron­i­cle these changes and the attend­ing issues and the sto­ries they inspire. The Gath­er­ing brings together scores of writ­ers, poets and musi­cians each year to per­form their work cel­e­brat­ing the com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try through­out the United States and abroad on the stages of Astoria’s tav­erns, restau­rants, muse­ums and art gal­leries. Cov­ered by such respected pub­li­ca­tions as the NY Times and Smith­son­ian mag­a­zine, the Gath­er­ing con­tin­ues to enter­tain and attract audi­ences because the world it describes is a myth­i­cal place for so many peo­ple. Cre­at­ing an anthol­ogy of the writ­ings of fish­er­men and women is to cre­ate a unique and sig­nif­i­cant record of com­mer­cial fishing’s his­tory and cul­ture. It is one impor­tant way to pre­serve their voices.

Patrick Dixon and Chelsea Stephen have edited and designed Anchored in Deep Water: The Fish­er­po­ets Anthol­ogy, seven books of orig­i­nal poetry, songs and sto­ries writ­ten by com­mer­cial fish­er­men and women who have per­formed at the Fish­er­po­ets Gath­er­ing. This is the first com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of fish­er­po­etry in over a decade. While this printed anthol­ogy can only pro­vide a glimpse of the spo­ken word per­for­mances at the event itself, the books cat­a­logue a rich his­tory of the event and of the com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try itself. The books are the­mat­i­cally orga­nized: Every Boat Has a Wave deals with risk and sur­vival at sea; Illu­sions of Sep­a­rate­ness deals with the pol­i­tics and envi­ron­ment of the fish­ing world; Mak­ing Waves is filled with sto­ries by and about women in the fish­ery; Gath­er­ing chron­i­cles the com­mu­nity and cama­raderie inher­ent in com­mer­cial fish­ing; Fam­ily Dynamic speaks to the fam­ily issues com­mer­cial fish­ing inspires; For the Love of Fish chron­i­cles the rea­sons fish­er­men go to sea; and the final book, Mend­ing Holes, which is still in the works, is about the his­tory of com­mer­cial fishing.

Nearly 40 writ­ers are rep­re­sented in the anthol­ogy, from Mass­a­chu­setts, Rhode Island and Maine on the east coast to Alaska, Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia in the west. One poet hails from Hawaii, another from Japan. Sev­eral of the writ­ers have work in mul­ti­ple books. (Visit In The Tote for a list of con­tribut­ing Fish­er­Po­ets.) Each book is 50+ pages long, with orig­i­nal cover designs cre­ated by Port­land, Ore­gon artist Chelsea Stephen and pho­tographs by fish­er­poet pho­tog­ra­pher Patrick Dixon. The books will be made avail­able singly or as a com­plete “boxed” (more like a sleeve) set.

We are seek­ing fund­ing for the print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion costs of 300 copies of each book (that’s 2100 books) as well as 200 sleeves. We are offer­ing fine-art, archival prints as rewards with the books for larger donations.

We have until the end of April — that’s National Poetry Month — to reach our goal of $10,000. Whether you’re able to help by con­tribut­ing to the Anthol­ogy or by spread­ing the word among your com­mu­nity, we can’t do this with­out you. Please visit the Fish­er­Po­ets Anthol­ogy Kick­starter Cam­paign Page to enjoy our video (includ­ing appear­ances by sev­eral Anthol­ogy con­trib­u­tors.) Thanks so much for your help!


Patrick Dixon and Chelsea Stephen


FisherPoets Gathering 2014

Thanks from all of us! (Photo by Pat Dixon)


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Returning to the Cave

Just as Cap’n J and I out­fit the Nerka with emer­gency equip­ment – radio, bilge pumps, fire extin­guish­ers – I reach for par­tic­u­lar sur­vival gear as a writer. Lately, the one I’ve been keep­ing clos­est is Dani Shapiro’s Still Writ­ing: The Per­ils and Plea­sures of a Cre­ative Life. This book is a rare gift, one I flip open to a ran­dom page and find myself face to face with the truth I most need to hear. Today’s sec­tion, “The Cave,” is no exception:


One of the strangest aspects of a writ­ing life is what I think of as going in and out of the cave. When we are in the mid­dle of a piece of work, the cave is the only place we belong. Yes, there are prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. Eat­ing, for instance. Or help­ing a child with home­work. Or tak­ing out the trash. What­ever. But a writer in the midst of a story needs to find a way to keep her head there. She can’t just pop out of the cave, have some fun, go danc­ing, and then pop back in. The work demands our full atten­tion, our deep­est con­cen­tra­tion, our best selves. If we’re in the mid­dle – in the boat we’re build­ing – we can­not let our­selves be dis­tracted by the bright and shiny. The bright and shiny is a mirage, an illu­sion. It is of no use to us.

If there is a time for that bright­ness, it is at the end: when the book is fin­ished and the revi­sions have been turned in, when you’ve given every­thing inside of you and then some. When the cave is empty. Every rock turned over. The walls cov­ered with hiero­glyph­ics that only you under­stand – notes you’ve writ­ten to your­self in the darkness…


Life over the past month has indeed been bright and shiny. I’d like to share all that good­ness with you, post­ing pho­tos and videos and news of friends’ upcom­ing events. I’d like to tell you how my res­i­dency con­cluded, with thought­ful reflec­tions on the expe­ri­ence and grat­i­tude for your let­ters and encour­age­ment along the way. I’d like to respond to those of you who’ve asked about this year’s Fish­er­Po­ets Gath­er­ing, shar­ing sto­ries of Cap’n J’s debut per­for­mances (which, all nepo­tism aside, were amaz­ing), his sis­ter Ashley’s win of the On-Site Poetry Con­test, and the pure joy this annual reunion brings. I’d like to tell you what a tremen­dous suc­cess last weekend’s She Tells Sea Tales was, as an inau­gural fundraiser for Port Townsend’s Girls’ Boat Project and a pow­er­ful cel­e­bra­tion of women in mar­itime trades.


What I really don’t want to tell you is that, in the midst of this inspi­ra­tional love­fest, I’ve been hav­ing a hard time. A hard time: even in admis­sion, I am less than authen­tic, reach­ing for a euphemism designed to main­tain my “I’m fine” wall. I don’t want to tell you that in ven­tur­ing so far from the cave, I’ve got­ten lost in a dif­fer­ent dark­ness. I don’t want to tell you about spon­ta­neous weep­ing and sleep­ing too much. About the unnamed grief of watch­ing day after day van­ish with­out my par­tic­i­pa­tion. About being ter­ri­bly aware that I am fuck­ing up, yet feel­ing par­a­lyzed to behave any differently.


Depres­sion and anx­i­ety are not usual states of being for me. My grimmest hours, hav­ing occurred in child­hood and ado­les­cence, have long been packed in memory’s base­ment – until now. Now should come as no sur­prise. I marched down those stairs, blew cob­webs aside, and flung the card­board gate wide open. How can I be caught unaware by what I have invoked?


As a beloved men­tor pointed out, “The guilt, shame – even when ‘just’ writ­ing about it, you’re reliv­ing those moments all over again as you recall them on the page.” Fun as that sounds, I bolted from the cave as soon as my res­i­dency ended. In per­son and online, I’ve been binge-socializing ever since, care­fully posi­tion­ing one delight­ful dis­trac­tion after another between me and my writ­ing. My job.


Yet as actively as I resist, every day that I don’t return to the cave leaves me feel­ing more lost than the day before. Dis­tance sprawls between me and my work, vast acreage for self-doubt and fear to set up camp. Again I turn to Dani Shapiro, this time her reminder that a writer’s work is what will save her, even as she acknowl­edges the return won’t be easy.


The page is indif­fer­ent to us – no, worse. The page turns from us like a wounded lover. We will have to win it over, coax it out of hid­ing. Promise to do bet­ter next time. Apol­o­gize for our dis­re­gard. And then, we set­tle into the pat­tern that we know. Three pages. Two hours. A thou­sand words. We have wan­dered and now we are back. There is com­fort in the famil­iar. We can do this. Breathe in, breathe out. Once again, just as we’ve been doing all along.


So this will remain a quiet place, friends, as I step away from the inter­nets. Know that the radio silence isn’t you; it’s me. I’m end­lessly grate­ful for your kind­ness, yet it’s obvi­ous that as much as I admire the many peo­ple who suc­ceed in writ­ing their books while fully engag­ing with the bright and shiny outer world, I am not one of those peo­ple. I know only one way out of this, and that’s back to the cave.


The Cave



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Residency Wrap-Up & Storytelling Events Ahead

We spend all sum­mer mov­ing through the salmon sea­son, yet Sep­tem­ber always sneaks up on me. It lunges out from where it’s been hid­ing, hunched behind the cor­ner of August. I jump every time.

The end of my res­i­dency with the North Cas­cades Insti­tute feels sim­i­larly star­tling. It shouldn’t: my Feb­ru­ary 15 move-out has been approach­ing ever since I moved in on Novem­ber 20. This con­clu­sion stirs in me an ambiva­lence sim­i­lar to the fish­ing season’s end. Being here has been a tremen­dous priv­i­lege, in terms of the work I’ve been able to accom­plish and the gift of being wel­comed into the NCI com­mu­nity. I’ll miss this beau­ti­ful place and its people.

Good­byes are part of my sea­sonal life. The joy of return­ing to one com­mu­nity tem­pers the pain of leav­ing another. I’ve missed Cap’n J and Bear the Boat Cat, and am look­ing for­ward to excit­ing events (a whole list of them below). Regard­less of my many migra­tions, I’m still learn­ing how to put the gifts of an expe­ri­ence above the griev­ing of its end. Say­ing good­bye to the ELC staff and stu­dents will be another lesson.

The cel­e­bra­tions ahead will help. After months of moun­tain seclu­sion, I’m plung­ing back into social­iza­tion, with a full cal­en­dar of read­ings. If you’re in the area, know that you’re invited. I’d love to see you.

Read­ing / Res­i­dency Reflec­tion. Envi­ron­men­tal Learn­ing Cen­ter, North Cas­cades Insti­tute, Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 6, at 1:15 in the din­ing hall. If you’d like to join us for a fab­u­lous $5 lunch at noon, please do let me know in the com­ments by Mon­day, as a menu plan­ning cour­tesy to the chef. (And the chef? Remem­ber our dear friend Betsy? Lucky you, get­ting a Betsy meal!)

And then? Fish­er­Po­ets! Fish­er­Po­ets! Fish­er­Po­ets!

It’s quite an extrav­a­ganza this year, friends. We’ve got a pre-Gathering warm-up in Port­land. I’ll be one of many per­form­ers at the Jack Lon­don Bar, Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 19, 7 to 10 pm, $5 cover. This line-up makes me swoon: Moe Bow­stern, Toby Sul­li­van, Pat Dixon, Bil­lie Delaney, Steve Schoon­maker, Rob Seitz — plus Joel Brady-Power in his debut per­for­mance! (After two years’ dip­ping his toes in the on-site poetry con­test, he’s mak­ing it offi­cial this year.) I’m all a-flutter over this night.

Fish­er­Po­ets Gath­er­ing is Feb­ru­ary 20 — 23, in Asto­ria, Ore­gon. The sched­ule is almost ready… but not quite. Keep a close eye on the web­site, and fol­low the Fish­er­Po­ets page on Face­book for the lat­est updates. Remem­ber, even if you can’t join us in per­son, you can enjoy the Asto­ria Events Cen­ter per­for­mances online, thanks to KMUN’s live-streaming. This is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate from the com­fort of home.

You can catch a clos­ing show back in Port­land, again at the Jack Lon­don on Mon­day, Feb­ru­ary 24, 7 to 9 pm, fea­tur­ing another stel­lar crew: Meezie Her­mansen, Lara Messersmith-Glavin, Rob Seitz, Rich King, Abi­gail Calkin, and Moe Bowstern.)

Last is an event that I’m par­tic­u­larly hon­ored to join. She Tells Sea Tales: An Evening of Sto­ry­telling is a fundraiser for the North­west Mar­itime Cen­ter Girls Boat Project in Port Townsend, Wash­ing­ton. It’s Sat­ur­day, March 8 — Inter­na­tional Women’s Day! — from 7 to 10 pm at the North­west Mar­itime Cen­ter, and fea­tures regional authors Kel­ley Wat­son, Bil­lie Delaney, Moe Bow­stern, Erin Fris­tad, Holly Hughes, Emily Mon­son, Bar­bara Sjo­holm, Diana Tal­ley, and me. Tick­ets are $15, avail­able hereI hope you’ll  join us in sup­port­ing the Girls Boat Project.

She Tells Sea Tales


That’s a whole lot of good­ness com­ing up fast, bud­dies. Mean­while, I’ve got two weeks left to make the most of. The air­waves will be quiet. My letter-writing has slowed, too, so if I owe you a response, know that it’s on its way… Just not quite yet. All of you who’ve taken the time and care to write, I can’t tell you how much your pres­ence has car­ried me through this process.

Sign­ing off, sweet­ies, with love and gratitude,


c/o ELC

PO Box 429

Mar­ble­mount, WA 98267



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