Gone Fishing with Astoria's Poets: The 2020 FisherPoets Gathering

By Dante Zuniga-West | Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Every year since 1998, the town of Astoria has drawn storytellers, writers, poets and songwriters to a gathering that celebrates the commercial fishing industry. What began as an annual get together for kindred spirits of the commercial fishing fleet has evolved into a well-attended event showcasing poetry, prose and songs, all centered around fishing. It is known as the FisherPoets Gathering.

“This isn’t exactly a festival or convention or anything like that,” founder Jon Broderick says. “It’s a collection of people who have worked in the commercial fishing industry and simply found it impossible not to write about it.”

A former high school English teacher who lives in Cannon Beach, when not spending his time in Alaska, Broderick has been a commercial salmon fisherman since 1976. He speaks modestly of this gathering that has evolved to the point where the U.S. Library of Congress recognizes it as a Local Legacy project. In point of fact, the FisherPoets Gathering is a smorgasbord of readings, musical and spoken word performances that take over Astoria’s pubs, restaurants and art galleries on the last weekend of February. It's been this way for 23 years. One could even say that the event spawned its own genre of artistic composition entirely centered on fish, fishing and the culture of commercial fisheries.

“I guess you could call it occupational poetry,” Broderick says. “We’ve really always just wanted to celebrate the commercial fishing industry, and we’re always surprised at how many people come.”

The readings, spoken word performances and songs will be delivered this year by a group of 101 fisherpoets, as they're known, many of whom travel to Astoria from as far away as the East Coast and Alaska. And as far as event attendance goes, it's not uncommon for more than a 1,000 people to turn out. 

Credits to The FisherPoets Gathering Website

The venues are many and include some of Astoria’s oldest entertainment spots. Places like Astoria Brewing Company, formerly known as The Wet Dog, and The Voodoo Room will be hosting readings and performances on Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. For folks who like a bit of film with their fishing, The Columbian Theatre at The Voodoo Room will be screening the movies The Wild as well as Fish and Men on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. The Fort George Brewery’s Lovell Showroom will also accommodate readings and performances both Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. And plan to attend the annual FisherPoets dance on Friday, starting at 10:30 p.m., hosted by the KALA Gallery.

Oh, and if you’re in the mood to see fisherpoets compete in an all-out battle of written verse and spoken word, the Liberty Theater will be hosting the Umpteenth Annual On-Site Fisher Poetry Contest on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. That said, if you're the type who leans more toward the old saying of a picture equaling a thousand words, the Imogen Gallery will be showcasing a series of photographs entitled Fishwork the Archives, by photographer Corey Arnold.

Credits to the FisherPoets Gathering Website

Another impressive element of the FisherPoet Gathering is the series of workshops that occur over the weekend. These workshops are designed to educate and raise awareness around issues that affect commercial fishing and those who depend on commercial fisher people. There are also skill-building workshops for knot tying, line splicing and more. Venues such as the Columbia River Maritime Museum’s Barbey Maritime Center, the Clatsop Country Heritage Museum, the Pier 39 Hanthorn Cannery Museum, and the Clatsop Community College Patriot Hall all feature a variety of workshops that can be attended throughout the weekend.

Event buttons, that are good for all events through the entire weekend, go for $20 each. Pick one up at local venues and shops in Astoria this week. If you’re on the North Coast, looking to take in an original piece of Americana and true coastie tradition, don’t miss out on this annual fortune of fish and script. For more activities, events and performances coming up between Long Beach and Manzanita, see our Daytime Events page and Nightlife calendar.

About the Author Dante Zuniga-West
Dante Zuniga-West is a writer and outdoorsman who thrives in the backcountry. He is passionate about environmental conservation, leadership, primitive skills and connecting young people to the natural world. A published novelist and working freelancer, Dante’s articles can be found in a variety of outdoor adventure journals, alternative newspapers and lifestyle magazines. Away from work Dante spends his time on public lands, hunting and fishing. He lives off the grid in the coastal mountain range of Oregon.