Celebrating commercial fishing and its community through story, poetry, art and song
Held annually since 1998, FisherPoets Gathering has become one of the most anticipated events in the Pacific Northwest. The gathering was founded by a group of commercial fishermen who wanted to create a space where they could share their stories, struggles, and triumphs in a creative and supportive environment. The annual event takes place in Astoria, Oregon and celebrates the commercial fishing industry through poetry, stories, and song, bringing together fishermen, poets, artists, and enthusiasts from all over the world to share their experiences, creativity, and passion for the sea.
Jon Campbell and his impromptu backups: Moe Bowstern, Dano Quinn, Dinah Urell and Jay Speakman. Photo credit: fisherpoets.org
The 2023 FisherPoets Gathering took place from February 23 to 25 in Astoria, Oregon and featured over 70 performers, including poets, musicians, and storytellers. A few attendees you may recognize by name are Ray Troll, Jon Branshaw, Steve Schoonmaker, Jen Pickett, Lloyd Montgomery, Patty and Dennis McGuire, Lou Beaudry and Mariah Warren.
Held at various venues in Astoria, including the Columbia River Maritime Museum, the Fort George Brewery, and the Liberty Theater, each location offers a unique experience and atmosphere while attendees explore different facets of the fishing culture and history.
One of the highlights of this year’s event was the keynote address by Dr. Margaret (Marge) Bruchac, an Indigenous scholar and storyteller who spoke about the connection between fishing and Indigenous cultures. Bruchac is a member of the Abenaki Nation and has dedicated her career to preserving and sharing the traditions and knowledge of her people. Her keynote address was a powerful reminder of the importance of respecting and learning from diverse cultural perspectives in the fishing industry.
Not only a celebration of the fishing industry, The FisherPoets Gathering is also a platform for social and environmental activism. Many of the performers use their art to raise awareness about the challenges facing the fishing community, such as overfishing, pollution, and climate change. They also share their perspectives on issues such as labor rights, safety at sea, and the impact of technology on the fishing industry. The event provides a forum for dialogue and exchange, where attendees can learn about different perspectives and engage in meaningful conversations about the future of fishing and the ocean.
2012 FisherPoets Gathering. Photo credit: fisherpoets.org
The 2023 FisherPoets Gathering featured several workshops and panel discussions that offered attendees the opportunity to learn new skills and connect with other participants, covering topics such as poetry writing, storytelling, songwriting, and photography. Panel discussions focused on issues such as sustainability, diversity and inclusion in the fishing industry, and the role of art in social and environmental activism. The workshops and panel discussions were led by some of the most talented and experienced artists and activists in the fishing community, providing a unique opportunity for attendees to learn from their expertise and experience.
Perhaps our favorite features of the annual FisherPoets Gathering is the open mic sessions, where attendees can share their own poetry, stories, and songs. The open mic sessions showcase the diversity and talent of the FisherPoets community and offer a glimpse into the personal experiences and perspectives of attendees.
One of the notable performers at the 2023 FisherPoets Gathering was Steve Schoonmaker, a commercial fisherman and poet from Kodiak, Alaska. Schoonmaker has been fishing in Alaska and the Copper River for over 30 years, and his poetry reflects his deep connection to the sea and his experiences as a fisherman. He has published several books of poetry, including "Caught in Passing" and "Afloat." Schoonmaker's poetry is known for its vivid imagery, evocative language, and powerful storytelling, and he has been recognized for his contributions to the FisherPoets community and the fishing industry.
This annual event is an enriching and rewarding experience for anyone who is interested in the fishing industry, literature, and the arts. It offers a unique opportunity to connect with a diverse and passionate community of people who share a common love for the sea and its culture. With its inspiring performances, engaging workshops, and meaningful conversations, year after year, FisherPoets Gathering undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on its attendees and inspires them to continue celebrating and advocating for the fishing community. We encourage you to attend this annual event in the future.
by Steve Schoonmaker
First I was a snowflake
Then I was a glacier, then I was a stone, a scale, a fin, then a bone
On the wild wet stone, I shone
Leaking down from the peaks
when I was the creeks rushing,
flushing, flushing out with the silt
pushing banks to the hilt, partially built... from the snowflakes man, rocks
ground to sands in the sediments bands of
bluffs, so sloughed to the Sea
Yea, that was me, grounding,
pounding, pounding nutrients free, free from the Earth, when I
was the surf rolling in, oxygen,
nitrogen and calcium, I was there
when life begun.... so unselfish
I was there those tiny shellfish
feeding the Salmon coming back
then I was their fat depleting,
completing the cycles of Snowflakes falling.... calling into
dangers yawning with the smells
of spawning, where the Ancestors mull, then I was a Gull
I was Salmon’s... torn flesh moistures lull into Sky’s condensation, where I
I was clouds demonstration of the selfless flowering, visibly towering to that
moments empowering, at the threshold of new falling Snowflakes.