It’s the start of a new semester, and so my thoughts have turned to fishing. Yes: fishing.
Around the world people like me are wading through the process of planning for the arrival of visiting writers: Congeries poet Natalie Diaz in my case! A lot of work and time goes into the process, especially at an underfunded state institution like my own. It requires fishing around for money to make it happen. A grand here, a hundred or two there. You have to remember the good spots, where you’ve had luck in the past, and make the bait presentation as irresistible as you can. It helps to have had a lot of practice in how to make it happen. It helps to have a big tackle box.
*When you’re fishing you have to know everything about the tide and the wind and the bottom. Is the bottom sandy or muddy? . . . By fishing or hunting, I’m required to pay closer attention, which I love to do.
But the metaphor, of course, is more broadly applicable to poetry. That is, the act of creating a poem requires a lot of fishing. Fishing around for subject matter. Fishing around for the right image, the right word, the right tone, the right syntax, the right rhythm, the right structure. The patience required while writing and revising a poem is, if anything, at least equal to that required catching a large mouth bass or rainbow trout.
All day I kept turning to watch you, how
first you mimed our guide's casting
then cast your invisible line, slicing the sky
between us; and later, rod in hand, how
you tried — again and again — to find
that perfect arc, flight of an insect
skimming the river's surface.
Somebody just back of you while you are fishing is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.
I guess it’s no wonder that I’ve become a poet. I’ve always felt just fine in my own company; solitude has always been my friend. It’s not that I’m asocial—far from it, but I like to be alone a lot. That’s what it takes to be a writer. For hours on end, I’d go off with my rod and bucket slung over my bicycle’s handlebars and disappear into the woods around our house to fish the local ponds and streams. It gave me time to think and consider and work things out, and there was satisfaction in the effort, a shiny fish dangling at the end of the line. “Fishing,” as Ted Hughes wrote, “provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.” “There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind,” wrote Washington Irving.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
― William Carlos Williams
Not all who are called to fish become poets, but it’s a fine playpen for those who might. Perhaps many who fish and claim to have no use for poetry, or for what some of them might call, these days, “fake news, should give it a try. Maybe it’s exactly what they’re after.
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
—Henry David Thoreau