Gearing Up for the 20th Annual FisherPoets!

We’re less than a week away from Oregon’s annual FisherPoets Gathering, friends! The highlight of our winter, FisherPoets is always special – this one especially so, as we celebrate the 20th year of commercial fishing women and men from across the country (and one from Belgium!) uniting to share stories, poems, and songs celebrating our industry.

I usually try to share something about FisherPoets here, wanting to convey the magic, wanting to lure you to join us. This year, fellow FisherPoet (and gifted writer, mentor, and beloved friend) Pat Dixon has written such a perfect explanation, I’d rather just send you to straight to his words. If you’ve been undecided about making the trip or wonder what this “FisherPoet” business is, anyway, please read Pat’s personal invitation.

What I’ll say is this: those of you able to join us in person in Astoria this Friday – Sunday, February 24 – 26, please do say hi if we’re in the same venue. But if you can’t make the trip? Some of us will come to you! Make a date to enjoy readings from the comfort of your home, thanks to Coast Community Radio’s generous support.

Coast Community Radio will broadcast from the Astoria Events Center on both nights, Friday and Saturday, Feb 24-25, from 6:00-10:00pm PST. Tune in to live-stream the following FisherPoets’ performances:

Astoria Event Center, Friday, February 24
MCs Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman

5 Curt Olson and Abigail Martin, Broadus MT
Danny Keyser, Astoria OR
Annie Howell-Adams, Friday Harbor WA

6 Ryan and Kyle Lutz, Portland OR
Pat Dixon, Olympia WA
Phil Lansing, Boise ID

7 John Palmes, Juneau AK
Billie Delaney, Port Townsend WA
Kirk Lombard, San Francisco CA

8 Jon Broderick, Cannon Beach OR and Jay Speakman, Gearhart OR
Wilfred Wilson, Delta BC
RK and Cherry Rice, Long Beach WA

9 The Brownsmead Flats, Astoria OR
Tom Hilton, Astoria OR
Don Pugh, Snohomish WA
Erin Fristad, Port Townsend WA

Astoria Event Center, Saturday, February 25
MCs Rob Seitz and Tele Aadsen

5 Toby Sullivan, Kodiak AK
Mary Jacobs, Ophir OR
Moe Bowstern, Portland OR

6 Hobe Kytr, Astoria OR
Geno Leech, Chinook WA
Wayne Chimenti, Port Townsend WA

7 Rob Seitz, Los Osos CA
Vicki Horton, Port Townsend WA
Alana Kansaka-Sarmiento, Portland OR

8 Doug Rhodes, Craig AK
Mary Garvey, Seaview WA
Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof AK

9 Mariah Warren, Sitka AK
Rich King, Kilauea HI
Tele Aadsen, Bellingham WA
John Haggerty, Seaside OR


Hope to see you there, friends.



Read More

Coming Up: 19th Annual FisherPoets Gathering!

It’s almost time, friends! Oregon’s nineteenth annual FisherPoets Gathering is less than two weeks away, with storytellers, musicians, and poets readying to flood Astoria this February 26-28. It’s an immersion into the authentic, captains and crew of diverse fisheries and eras reflecting on the single moments and entire careers that have both nourished and devoured us. It’s an exercise in expressing what has often seemed beyond expression, and the belief that the effort matters. That belief pulls us back, a flood tide, every February.


FisherPoets has been the highlight of our off-season ever since we made our first trip in 2012. (I was the only one of us debuting on the program that year, but who can forget this moment, Cap’n J’s rock star emergence at the on-site poetry contest?) Joel’s been practicing his material for months. With the final (final?) revisions of my book due the day we hit the road for a pre-FPG Portland gig (Salvage Works, 7 pm on the 24th!) I may not be as polished as my partner, but I’ll be no less joyful for this annual fisher-artist reunion. Our people.


Meezie and Cap'n J

Meezie Hermansen & Cap’n J



Our people come from all over. A record ninety-five are scheduled this year, hailing from Alaska to Florida, Massachusetts to California. A couple British Columbians. One made the trip from Finland last year. The BBC came in 2014. Just as distance is no match for passionate FisherPoets, neither can it hinder the draw of stories. Our audience members come from just as far, and are just as eager.


Fifteen bucks buys you an entry button for the whole weekend. That’s a $15 buffet of two days’ access to six venues of performances, as well as all the special events: workshops, films, photography exhibits, conservation and advocacy discussions, a silent auction, a dance party, Saturday night’s annual poetry contest.


Ray Troll & Ratfish Wranglers 2015

Ray Troll & the Ratfish Wranglers, 2015


And if you can’t join us in person? Enjoy a private show in the comfort of your own home, curled up on the couch in your pajamas, for FREE. Thanks to KMUN, Astoria’s Coast Community Radio, listeners can livestream the Events Center performances, Friday and Saturday nights, 6 to 10 pm PST. Check the schedule to be sure not to miss your favorites.


(One of the first-time acts I’m most delighted to see is Belly Meat from Sitka. I like imagining a giant house party in Sitka – maybe at the Larkspur – of the home crowd tuned in to cheer these guys. They should be streaming about 9:00 on Friday night.)


Nineteen years… The FPG’s success is the proof of heroic volunteer efforts. Organizers, MCs, performers: we’re all volunteers. We foot our own travel, lodging, and food. When the weekend’s over and the bills all paid (event buttons, publicity, sound/lighting tech, occasional venue rentals), the committee divvies up what remains and recognizes each FisherPoet a small travel stipend, based on how far they came from.


Not to get too NPR-annual-drive on you, but because we have such a full boat this year, I’m making a special request:


If you tune in to KMUN’s livestream to enjoy the show from home, consider contributing the $15 that would have been your entry fee. If you’d like to see your business listed on the FPG website as a supporter, consider a $250 readership. If you value this event and are in a position to make a donation, please do. Tax-deductible donations can be made directly through the FPG website, or mailed c/o Tillicum Foundation, PO Box 269, Astoria OR, 97103. We’re grateful for your support in all its forms.


All this said, FisherPoets is ten days away, but my book deadline is seven. If you’re planning to make it to Astoria, please do let me know – I’d love to see you. For now, I’m off to work, with love and best wishes until reaching the other side.


Astoria Street Musicians, FPG 2015

Photo by Tia Jensen


Read More

On Missing the Boat, Speaking for Salmon

Joel and I went to a movie the other night. We finally saw The Breach, an award-winning film I’ve been anxious to see since its 2014 release. Described as a love story for wild salmon, it’s a love story in all the truest ways – risk, betrayal, loss, resolve, hope. It took my breath away.


(You can watch The Breach yourself here. Please do. Please.)


After the lights came up, director Mark Titus joined commercial fishermen Melanie Brown and Marsh Skeele, Anchorage chef Rob Kinneen, and Sitka Mayor Mim McConnell for a discussion hosted by Sitka Conservation Society. They spoke of new threats: Canadian mines cleared to start work in the Transboundary headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s biggest salmon-producing rivers. Joel and I left the theater feeling equal parts terrified for the species we love and inspired to work for their protection. “We have to get more involved,” we vowed.


Which is why I’m disappointed today, upon the publication of an interview I did with Grist on what it means to be at home on the ocean. Friends shared the link with warm reviews. Journalist Eve Andrews has my full respect and appreciation. My disappointment is with myself. Given an opportunity to speak directly to the very audience whose help we need to protect Alaska’s wild salmon, people predisposed to care and act for environmental issues, I missed the boat.


Hearing this, Joel jumps to my defense. “Of course you feel that way now, since we just saw that movie. You weren’t thinking like that then; we were just trying to get out of town, go back out fishing.”


Go back. Go back to July 14th, the final half-hour in town, when I charged down a slippery dock, evading piles of dog shit while jockeying a cart piled high with two weeks’ worth of groceries packed in cardboard boxes quickly losing their integrity in a torrential sideways rain. My gait was off, my silhouette oddly misshapen, as I pitched the disintegrating boxes onto the Nerka’s deck, scrambled to return the borrowed truck, and rushed back to the boat, all with phone pinned between ear and shoulder. Joel had already fired up the engine and unplugged the shore power. I rifled discombobulated thoughts for a semi-articulate closing while yanking dock lines free, thanking Eve for our conversation as rain ran down the cabin roof, straight down the back of my neck.


(In retrospect, it’s remarkable that Eve was able to get anything useful from our interview. That the resulting article reads so smoothly is entirely thanks to her, not me.)


At the time the chaos struck me as funny. A ludicrous illustration of the barriers to thoughtful conversation, to anything requiring external consciousness, when the struggle to make a year’s livelihood in a matter of months consumes us. Now, realizing too late the opportunity I squandered, I’m regretful. They give us so much, salmon. I wish I had given them my voice.


But you can’t do anything about what’s done, Joel reminds me. “What can you do, moving forward?”


Which brings me here: another wet day in Sitka, this time tucked within the Nerka’s warmth, cup of lemon ginger tea at my side. The engines are off; no pressure to leave for another two days. Rain plip-plaps against the roof, a reassuring lullaby, and for the first time all summer, it’s just me and the page. Free to focus, free to gather my thoughts. Free to try again.


This time I introduce the fisherfolks I know, deeply conscientious women and men who embody values confusing for many outside our world, where killing isn’t cavalier and there’s no cognitive dissonance in feeling love for the lives we take.


I caution that saving wild salmon requires more than responsible fisheries management. Lacking equally focused efforts to guard their freshwater habitat, “sustainability” is superficial. An illusion.


I celebrate the work of Salmon Beyond Borders, uniting sports and commercial fishermen, tribal and First Nations members, business owners, community leaders – everyone invested in defending the Stikine, Taku, and Unuk Rivers from some of the largest mines the world has ever seen.


I push words around the lump in my throat, thinking of Petersburg writer Chelsea Tremblay’s essay, Survival is Insufficient. “Love is what makes a community more than just a group of people living in the same space. It’s the collective cobweb, invisible until you run into it.” Gathering strength from her words, I pause.


This time, asked what it’s like to be at home on the ocean, I look beyond my walls, beyond the windows of my own harried mid-season experience, and consider the silver bodies finning past. Home is knowing your neighbors. Looking out for them. Salmon begin their lives not on the ocean at all, but deep inland. Land-locked. In this way, being at home on the ocean is no different from being at home on land. Look carefully enough, far enough, salmon are our shared neighbors. They need all of us.



Read More

Live from the FisherPoets Gathering!

It’s a magical day in Astoria, Oregon: sun on the sidewalks, festive chop on the Columbia. I’m tucked in the Blue Scorcher Bakery (try the cardamom rolls), an introvert on glorious overload, trying to steal an hour of quiet time to recharge. Red lapel pins reveal the kindred spirits surrounding me – the $15 buttons our entry into all seven venues – and we exchange knowing smiles and eager reviews of last night’s favorite performances, recommendations of who we’ll catch tonight. We’re two days in the 18th Annual FisherPoets Gathering, and I’m in love with everyone and everything.

Join us tonight from the comfort of your home, thanks to KMUN Coast Community Radio’s live-stream from the Astoria Events Center. The show runs 5:00 to 10:00 PST. (Review the full schedule below; you can catch Joel and me in the 7:00 hour.) Click on “Listen to KMUN/KTCB.” You’ll have a good time, I think.


Saturday, February 28 at the Astoria Event Center
(with translation by ASL interpreters)
MC  Dave Densmore

5  p.m.
Dave Densmore, Astoria OR
Sean Talbot, Portland OR
Wayne Chimenti, Port Townsend WA

6  p.m.
Hobe Kytr, Astoria OR
Will Hornyak, Portland OR
Lorrie Haight, Long Beach WA

7  p.m.
Brian Robertson, Powell River BC
Tele Aadsen, Bellingham WA
Joel Brady-Power, Bellingham WA

8  p.m.
Paul Holmberg, Palmer AK
Don Pepper, Alert Bay BC
Jen Pickett, Jyväskylä, Suomi

9  p.m.
Billie Delaney, Port Townsend WA
Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof AK
Lou Beaudry, McCall ID

10  p.m.
Dave Densmore, Astoria OR
On-site Poem Contest follows at 10:30
(2015 rules announced by MCs at venues)



Read More

Night Wheelwatch on the Nerka

53⁰23.596’ N

129⁰52.095’ W

11:15 pm, Principe Channel, British Columbia


Dusk tames the ocean. Dims it to liquid mercury, a silver sheet with yellow threads peeking from the folds. My favorite kind of ocean. The hillsides bracketing this two-mile wide channel have retreated, sacrificing substance for allusion. Joy and relief rush my veins, a flood tide. We’re less than three hours from Alaska now. I lean forward in the pilot seat, as if that will push us along any faster.

Charging ‘round the clock to reach Sitka as quickly as possible, we’ve broken the watches up like this: me on the wheel 9 pm to midnight, Joel midnight to 3, me 3 to 6. Joel has the hardest shift, the three hours where full darkness reigns. Daytime allows sleep without clocks. We rotate through our bunk. In 45 minutes, I’ll tuck myself into his body’s still-warm indentation. For now, though, it’s up to me to keep us on course. To keep us safe. In his absence, Joel’s trust is a presence filling the cabin.

The sun slipped past the horizon an hour ago. Lingering echoes cast just enough light to deceive. Every wrinkle in the water ahead is a log, a telephone pole about to slam fiberglass, inches from my love’s sleeping head. I drop this pad to stand and stare, claiming reassurance through height. Then, now, still: it’s all water. I fall for the same ruse every sunset, every sunrise. Every season.

Even in the sun’s absence, I keep this notepad braced against my knees, gaze constantly flicking between radar, computer chart, and black water, determined to write blind even though I’ll be able to decipher less than half of this tomorrow. I’m thinking of you, how long it’s been since we talked, and the different sort of darkness I wrote from then. How to summarize the months between that page and this? To chart the path between hollow and peak, including Joel’s reunion with the ocean and our reunion with each other when we leased a permit to spend May trolling for king salmon off the Washington Coast, facing a gauntlet of threats – crab pots, bar crossings, drifting among big ship traffic – completely beyond our Alaskan experience?

A daunting task, and a tedious one at that. I’d rather think about friendship. About how, if a person is really lucky, they’ve got that one person who, no matter how much time passes between visits, they can always pick up exactly where they left off, falling right back into each other’s company with ease and comfort. That’s the kind of friend I hope to be, and it’s the friend I imagine you as, too. Rather than apologizing for Hooked’s long silence or struggling to fill it, I just want to smile at you, reach across this dark ocean, and squeeze your hand. It’s so good to see you again.

There is, however, one thing that needs to be said.

One week before we untied the lines to head north, I tapped the “send” button. One full draft – 406 pages – off to my fearless editor Sarah. The last three chapters are sloppy, more question than solid narrative. It needs a lot of help, but it’s something, and Sarah gave me her blessing to go fishing and not think about it for the time being. (Actually, she said, “Go do something frivolous to celebrate!” Frivolous doesn’t come easy to me, but a celebratory Martinelli’s with my writing buddy Pam Helberg was pretty good.) I can’t tell you how much higher my shoulders are sitting, having handed the wheel over to Sarah. 

Writing a book is often compared to pregnancy. Carrying the story to term, the labor, straining to birth this being that will live on independent of you. It’s an obvious metaphor (and one my subconscious fully embraced last winter, when this devoted non-breeder dreamed of a crowning baby that I didn’t know how to expel from my body.) Tonight, though, I’m thinking that writing a book is like driving a boat up the Inside Passage, traveling non-stop from Bellingham, Washington, to Sitka, Alaska, through dark water and twisting channels, sleep deprivation and unforeseen hazards. A person can’t do it alone. I’m grateful to everyone who’s been here for the ride, including Joel, who fielded two full winters of solo boat work, too much time apart, and more pep talks than anyone should have to issue, and you. Thank you for understanding when I needed to step away from this site, for sending your cards of encouragement, anonymous chocolate, and best writing wishes. As much of this journey still lies ahead, I trust we’ll reach our destination. Safely. Together.

Eleven fifty now, almost my bedtime. When you read this, I’ll be posting from Alaska. Alaskan trollers have a record king salmon quota this year – 325,000 fish, the largest quota since abundance-based management began in the late 1990’s. Translated, that means there’s a lot of king salmon around. Joel and I will be ghosts on the dock as soon as the season starts on July 1, pushing ourselves to make the most of this opportunity, town time limited to unloading, refueling, grocerying, rushing right back out. Turn and burns.

I’ve got a smartphone that I’m far too tech-inept for, and while blog posts on that tiny keypad are beyond the limits of my patience, swollen fingers, and rare service pockets, I’ll post photos from our trips on Facebook and Twitter. No boundaries on a pen, though. If you’d like to find an old-school envelope or Alaskan postcard smiling up from your mailbox, don’t hesitate to send a note. I’ll be at this address through mid-September:

Tele Aadsen

507 Katlian St

Sitka, AK  99835

Until next time, whether we reunite by screen or by page, I’m so glad to see you again. (Smile; squeeze.)


Read More

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)


Read More