Arts & Culture
Wilfred Wilson, who has been a commercial fisher for nearly 60 years, organizes poetry readings for local fishers.
Photo by Odette Wilson
Fisher poet mixes work with creativity
Published 1:48 PDT, Tue March 31, 2020
Last Updated: 1:55 PDT, Fri April 17, 2020
Longtime fisher Wilfred Wilson has been organizing poetry gatherings of local anglers for about five years.
“More than two decades ago, I saw an article in an American fishing magazine,” says the River’s End Fisher Poets founder.
Having been told to contemplate poetry himself, the idea of fisher poets piqued his interest.
“One day my family was out at breakfast. At the end of the meal, there was a pen and paper there. I composed a poem and surprised myself,” says Wilson. “It came out of me quite easily at the beginning. Now, inspiration comes, but sporadically.”
Wilson contacted the magazine and was able to take a last-minute cancellation spot at one of the group’s readings in Oregon. Another local fisher suggested hosting a similar event in Canada, and Wilson thought it would increase public understanding of fishers.
When he was docked in Steveston, Wilson approached the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site as a venue for readings.
“They were very receptive,” he says. The River’s End Fisher Poets have had their readings at the cannery ever since.
When it came to finding other anglers who were willing to share their work, Wilson advertised via postings in fishing communities. Poets try to stick with a fishing theme, but are encouraged to speak from experience.
Wilson himself is in his 58th year of commercial fishing. Of Musqueam descent, he fished for food with his father as a child and knew at a young age that he had a passion.
“For myself, because it’s a passion, the maintenance is work but the fishing isn’t quite work,” says Wilson. His family has been involved in the industry for generations.
“Since canneries first started, my family has been involved (in commercial fishing),” he says. “There’s a decline now in the numbers—in my dad’s generation there were probably close to 100 people that were involved either as cannery workers or as fishers. Now there may be a dozen or 15 involved.”
Wilson’s many years of fishing experience are reflected in his poems.
“Some of my poems are inspired from when I was very young and fishing with my dad, right up to the present time. I have inspiration from my work,” he says.
Unfortunately, the cancellation of events at the Gulf of Georgia Cannery has led the River’s End Fisher Poets reading to be postponed. They hope to reschedule.
“It’s lifetime experiences that come out,” explains Wilson. “This year in Australia, in my last two poems I acknowledged the mariners’ women and also my wife—what they go through, being on land when we’re gone for extended periods.”
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