Why Do Fishermen Make Great Poets? Posted on 23 Mar 15:01
Earlier this month, we went to Astoria on the Oregon Coast to join our fellow fishermen at the annual FisherPoets Gathering for an unforgettable experience which we captured in this video. FisherPoets is an event that celebrates the lives and creativity of the fearless men and women who’ve built their careers at sea. Almost 100 FisherPoets turned out and shared everything from poetry to silly stories to songs, including our founder and resident artist Duncan Berry, who shared three original poems.
The idea of rough and tumble fishermen writing verse may seem a little odd at first, but what compels them to write poetry became quickly apparent. For starters, fishermen have so much to write about! The risks of being way out at sea are truly life or death, and scary hypotheticals often become realities fishermen have to grapple with. This includes everything from storms, giant swells, hard-to-find leaks, and not to mention encounters with all kinds of creatures. Being so far out on the ocean is isolating and meaningful, a combination that produces incredible art, as we heard from Capt. Dave Densmore (below) when we visited him on his fishing boat to talk poetry.
The Story Behind Duncan’s “Mad Queen”
Duncan grew up on the Oregon coast and his family has a longstanding connection to the sea. His older brother had a 30’ wooden salmon trawler named the Legacy where Duncan spent many summers. In middle school he started as a lowly deck hand, but Duncan was ambitious: by 16, he was the youngest fishing boat captain on the Oregon coast.
Some of Duncan’s most memorable (and terrifying) fishing moments involve crossing the Columbia River Bar, where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to a fast moving river slamming into the ocean, treacherous conditions are created. The Columbia River Bar has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous navigational channels in the world and is responsible for at least 2000 shipwrecks. In fact, this crossing is so perilous that Coast Guards from all over the US are sent to Astoria so they can prepare for the worst possible conditions. Duncan’s run-ins with the Bar inspired him to write his poem The Mad Queen, an ode to these risky waters.
Duncan is truly a FisherPoet, not just because he grew up near the ocean, but because writing is in his blood. His father was a published author known for his historical novels about the Oregon coast called “Trask Stories.” Duncan put it all into perspective when he said, “When you grow up in a beautiful place, with access to lots of adventure, and your dad is writing novels, it’s hard NOT to become a writer of sorts.” Well, we’re certainly glad he did because now we have some incredible poetry to enjoy. Check it out for yourself in the video below!