Jim Harrison, reading some of his work.
I follow the PEN America Center on Facebook and the organization posted this great quote last week:
“To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.”
― Galway Kinnell
Poetry gets a bad rap for being soft, or whatever, but it stuck for me in college because of a professor I had named Peter Balakian who was such a cool cat in that he liked watching the NY Giants and fishing for fluke and was friends with Ginsburg and Derek Walcott and showed there’s no one way or the other you have to be. Plus he touted Bob Dylan as a great American poet.
On that note: He’s talking about songwriting, but this quote from Steve Earle in the Nashville episode of Sonic Highways struck too in how words can work in the way Kinnell expressed it. Earle said,
“The only part of your experience that anybody gives a shit about, is the experience that they go, ‘Oh, yeah, that happened to me and that sucked..or, that happened to me and it was great.”
With that in mind here’s a couple links to some people putting it down about fishing. A couple are not poems in the technical sense but to me they read like poetry:
I had heard and read that Stu Apte was a pilot, first for the Navy and then for the old Pan American airlines, and when I interviewed him for a Midcurrent.com article about the late George Hommell, I remember thinking, “That’s the kind of voice I’d want to hear over the intercom at 35,000 feet.”
He sounded confident and direct over the phone, with a hint of military cadence, and when he started telling stories about his pioneering fishing experiences in the Florida Keys, I just shut up and listened.
That’s the same way I felt reading through Apte’s new book My Life In Fishing, ($29.95, Stone Fly Press). It’s a collection of 38 short essays where Apte tells anecdotes collected during his life chasing fish.
There are stories of Apte fishing for snook with Ted Williams, traveling to Costa Rica with Curt Gowdy, and hosting the ex-president Harry S. Truman on a bonefishing trip that also involved the former first lady, a full bladder and an open livewell lid.
There’s the story of a chance encounter with Ernest Hemingway in Cuba that led to mojitos, of being pulled into the water by Joe Brooks’ record tarpon, of wade fishing for largemouth bass in the Everglades….The whole collection is fun to read.
The best thing about the book is the brevity of each individual story. You could imagine Apte in his guiding days, entertaining clients with such stories while poling around for a shot at a big tarpon.
On that note, I always love hearing the stories of these early anglers figuring out the tackle and techniques to land big silver on a fly rod . In one chapter, highlighted in a pull quote, Apte says, “I am never happier than when I’m prospecting the Florida Keys flats for tarpon, fly rod in hand.”
Although I must admit when I read that quote it reminded me of an episode of Andy Mill’s “Sportsman’s Journal” show from the old Outdoor Life Network. I remember Apte fighting a tarpon from the bow of the boat and Mill asking something along the lines of, “Is there any better feeling in the world?”
“Yes,” Apte deadpanned. “Sex.”
You could say Apte was right on both counts.
Punk rock was never my bag but when you peel it back, especially in its earliest forms when barely anyone knew what it was, you get glimpses of these kids exploding with raw ideas and you wind up with something like the Minutemen–one of the greatest American bands. Or, you stumble across two-minute snippets of a guy like Ian MacKaye, and his clarity of thought in what he says.
Schick sent a Hydro five-blade razor sample in the mail and I tried it. I still like the Gillette Fusion better and I still haven’t tried the Pro Glide with Flexball because I really don’t think I need my shaves to get any closer. We’ve made some pretty big leaps over the past several decades to get from straight edge to this point.
But getting the free razor reminded me of a great expose on the disposable razor blade industry that the New Yorker ran 16 years ago. The article stuck with me for several reasons. Partly because there are not many magazines out there willing or able to delve 14,000 words into razor blade technology.¹ It’s one of the reasons I both love and hate the New Yorker at the same time. I love it because it practices longform and literary journalism at the highest level. Hate it because often the people who like to talk about what they’ve read in the New Yorker seem to do so specifically because they like to show off the fact that they read the New Yorker. (As if that in itself is an estimable endpoint.)
But what I like most about that razor article is that it reminds me that if you write well you can write about pretty much anything. John McPhee demonstrated the same thing with his 17-pound book about Interstate 80.
But back to the razors. These things all have five blades now. Five. How will they top that? There’s got to be six or seven blades coming down the pike, maybe that you can wear in the form of some hip looking wristwatch. I hope somebody has something interesting to say about it.
1. I’m only guessing at 14,000 words but everything in the New Yorker seems to run that long. Except the cartoons.
There’s a vodka called Tito’s that reportedly has a moonshiner’s heritage and I drank too much of it. As this happened, the enthusiasm for fishing at sunrise crescendoed but everyone else involved knew it would no longer come to pass.
The rod tube and sling resting by the door would remain so.
In the morning, the moment of recognition to this did not come until after three tepid glasses of water and a round of seven push-ups.
Fishing and writing are two things I like to do that are predisposed to disappointment. Either from not doing them, or doing them and finding the effort unrewarded.
The rejection letter still sat better than the not fishing. Upon rereading, the supportive tone of it made it seem more injurious than it actually was. “You are a skilled writer but your submission lacks the necessary tension…”
There’s a certain mindset I’ve come to expect from Texans based upon those I’ve run across. If I had to explain it, it’s something along the lines of, “We need to disassemble this 10 ton truck and walk it piece by piece across the length of the panhandle? Let’s get started.”
Tosh Brown has that in him, as evidenced in his revelation that he left behind his University of Texas business degree and a job in commercial real estate to shoot pictures. “Ditch the tie, get a camera and go on to be one of the most acclaimed fly fishing photographers of the past two decades? Let’s get started.”
He was certainly that way when he teamed up with me to publish our photo-essay book [shameless-self promotion alert: The Blitz: Fly Fishing The Atlantic Migration]. On our trips together, I learned a few other things about Tosh. First and foremost, he is a family man, proving that you can reconcile creative pursuits with raising kids in a functional manner. Second, he loves good jokes and great stories.
When I read through Tosh’s new book, Top of the Flood: Halfway Through a Fly-fishing Life, I think back to those slogs through New England on the ferry, eating food warmed under a rotisserie heat lamp, listening to Tosh and waiting for the payoff.
Tosh’s recollections come across on the page as they would in person, well-told and with comic sensibility. In his essay called “A Matter of Record,” he recounts his nonchalance about applying for potential IGFA records for flounder and red snapper. He says of the latter, “If my memory serves, we ate that one grilled with new potatoes and a fabulous Veracruz sauce.”
There are great one liners like that in every chapter. (In his essay, “Extremes,” he aptly notes that “…snook are fastidious little pricks, even in Texas.”)