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Posts Tagged ‘fishermen’

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Photo: New York Times
Fisher poet Dave Densmore, on his boat, wrote his first poem as a joke in the 1970s. Now he studies writing.

Jobs like commercial fishing can provide a lot of of time to think, and it’s amazing how thinking often leads to poetry. That is also true of experiences that are so hard to capture they must be addressed obliquely.

Poetic storytelling is alive and well in the fishing community, it seems. Consider this transcript of a National Public Radio (NPR) report, in which Melanie Sevcenko describes an annual fisher poet event.

“MELANIE SEVCENKO: Moe Bowstern named herself after the front and back end of a ship. She calls herself a fishing woman. And for her, writing poetry comes with the job.

“MOE BOWSTERN: Well, I mean, have you ever been fishing? …  It’s unbelievably boring. And so you just have to think of something else to do.

“SEVCENKO: Now retired from commercial fishing, Bowstern is one of dozens of fisher poets who have been meeting for their annual gathering in a Astoria, Ore. During the last weekend of February, the far-flung fisher people interpret the commercial fishing industry in prose, poetry and song. …

“Bowstern started fishing in Kodiak, Alaska, in the mid-’80s when women on commercial boats were scarce. Her zine shares a name with a popular brand of deck boots, XTRATUF. This piece is called ‘Things That Will Be Difficult.’

“BOWSTERN: ‘It will be hard, if you are a man, to understand why your female crewmate, who started out so friendly, is so silent now when you are only trying to help. It will be hard if you are a woman to go’ …

“SEVCENKO: The poetry onstage at FisherPoets touches on what Bowstern calls an incredibly difficult life.

“BOWSTERN: Not just because of the rigors of the actual physical experience of the life, but it’s just, how can you be a fisherman at a time of climate change? And, like, where are you going to position yourself with resource extraction?

“SEVCENKO: That’s something John Copp has written about. For 20 years, he ran operations in Bristol Bay in the Bering Sea. Multinational corporations want to mine gold and copper from the area nearby and have been angling to do so for years. His poem ‘Tsunami’ is inspired by his opposition to the proposed Pebble Mine. … Many commercial fishermen have been against the Pebble Mine because of the damage it could do to the biggest salmon run on the planet. Copp is retired and lives in Oregon now. But he’s still inspired to write by the natural beauty of Alaska. …

“This weekend, once again, the fisher poets will do what they’ve done for more than two decades — gather on piers, in cafes and in theaters to perform their poetry for grateful audiences in this seaside town. Bowstern feels lucky that people who’ve never even been fishing want to hear their stories.

“BOWSTERN: We’re participating in two traditions that have been going on. Like, storytelling is probably only a little bit older than fishing, you know? So we get to tell stories in our special, weird language. And people just can’t get enough of it.”

The NPR transcript is here, and there’s another good article at the New York Times, here. If you know people who fish and also write poetry, have them check out the Fisher Poets website, here.

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Photo: Mirrorpix
In 1968, Hull fishermen’s wives and mothers successfully fought the dangerous conditions perpetuated by trawler owners. They refused to take no for an answer.

It’s good to be strong, but sometimes the tough guys don’t know when to complain, don’t know when complaining can prevent the premature deaths of family and friends that leave children fatherless and devastate communities.

That’s when women have to take charge. And as a group of women showed in Hull, UK, in 1968, angry wives and mothers can be tougher than men.

Lucy Beaumont writes at iNews, “In January 1968, several Hull trawlers set off to the icy, dangerous waters of the Arctic in their quest for the biggest catch.

“They headed straight into one of the worst storms in living memory. Within three weeks, three of the ships had sunk and 58 men had lost their lives. For their families back home in the Hessle Road area of Hull, the news was devastating. It was known as the Triple Trawler Tragedy. Out of this tragedy came something incredible. Hull women – wives, mums, sisters, daughters – rose up to protest against the dangerous working conditions.

“They wanted a safer fishing industry and they were prepared to do anything to get it. They marched, they spoke out and they went straight to the top demanding change. During their campaign they were verbally and physically attacked – one woman was even punched in the face. They made headlines around the world and managed to change British law after getting over 10,000 signatures in support and not giving up until the authorities listened to them. …

“The [so-called] headscarf heroes should always be remembered. The women of Hessle Road were so strong. They had to be because they could lose their husband, their father or their son at any time. They had to cope with it and carry on looking after the family – and that’s exactly what they did. The women’s campaign was one of the biggest and most successful civil action campaigns of the twentieth century and coming from Hull, I’m so proud of those women.”

Beaumont’s personal connection to the story sometimes overwhelmed her as she worked on a BBC documentary about the women. “My grandad is from a family of men and women born and bred in the fishing community on Hessle Road. His granny lost two sons at sea. John was only 19 when he was washed overboard and Herbert died from pneumonia. She had poppies on their photos and swore that she heard John calling for her at the time. It was later confirmed that he had perished.” More here.

The life of a fisherman continues to be one requiring toughness from all the women and men who go to sea. There are a few more protections today than there were in 1968, but no one controls the weather. With global warming reportedly causing more storms, the dangers are actually likely to increase.

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My husband and I are often drawn to New England’s older postindustrial cities, with their walkable town centers and their old brick warehouses. They are sometimes called Gateway Cities because for generations they have served as immigrant gateways into the American life. We explored North Adams, Massachusetts, with Suzanne and Erik a couple years ago, and this weekend we went to New Bedford with Suzanne.

Once the whaling capital of the world, New Bedford today is home to an anxious fishing industry, clothing manufacturing, and tourism. We went to the Whaling Museum and came out feeling glad that most countries are more focused on whale preservation than whale hunting.

We sought out Portuguese restaurants and sat on the patio near an outdoor fireplace at one place. We knew there would be Portuguese restaurants as Portuguese speakers have come to New Bedford for generations — from Portugal, the Azores, Cape Verde, and Brazil.

At our beautiful Bed & Breakfast, the hosts (who have spent most of their working lives doing economic development overseas with US A.I.D.) told us that a large Guatemalan community has grown up in the city. They said that most of the Guatemalans speak an indigenous language, Spanish being a second language for them. That’s a particular challenge when Guatemalans go to the hospital as none of the staff speak that indigenous language.

My husband and Suzanne and I walked around. We passed lively Pentecostal churches and a storefront church full of dancers and clowns. We noted lamp posts bearing inspirational banners on how to be a good citizen or how to volunteer. I include one on “Responsibility.”

We also liked the cooperative shops run by members of the local arts community. And we had fun checking out a salvage warehouse for cool architectural bits, here. Among other things, it has rather a lot of bathtubs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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