Poet Fisher publishes memoirs of his years in Cook Inlet
It has been nearly 24 years since Patrick Dixon sold his Cook Inlet drift boat and moved from Kenai to Olympia, Washington. But for the former fisherman, writing has always been a way to remember.
He wrote his first poem about fishing when he was washed ashore after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989.
“I ended up writing a poem called ‘Middle Rip, Cook Inlet,'” he said. “And it was about what it’s like to be on the water. And I was writing, really, about what I was going to miss. what i was strength to lack.”
This poem was the first in a large portfolio of works inspired by fishing and Cook Inlet. This month, Dixon publishes a collection of those poems, stories and photos, titled “Waiting to Deliver” – a memoir about his summers on the water.
The first of these summers happened by accident. Dixon was a new transplant to Kenai from Indiana in the 1970s. He had moved to become a teacher and had no idea of commercial fishing as a livelihood.
But he had neighbors who were in the business.
“When I first moved to Alaska in 1975, my first home was on North Road in North Kenai, right across from Jim and Nedra Evenson,” he said.
The Evensons had used gillnets in the cove since the 1950s and were steeped in the fishing culture of Cook Inlet. Just like their son, Thor. Dixon became his friend and, later, his deckhand. Eventually, he captained his own boats – first the Skookum Too, then the Veronika K. All the while he was teaching, special education, and then doing photography in Kenai.
It lasted about 20 years. In 1997, he accepted a teaching position in photography at Evergreen State College in Olympia.
“And for the next year and a half, I was pretty depressed because I missed Alaska, I missed fishing. I didn’t have an identity anymore,” Dixon said. “And another fisherman, a good friend of Thor and mine, Frank Mullen, ended up telling me about the FisherPoets gathering.”
Anglers from across the country gather each year in Astoria, Oregon for FisherPoets to share stories and songs. And it immediately became a way for Dixon to reconnect with a part of himself he had left behind on the boat.
“Part of the book describes that first trip, that first year, where all of a sudden I found a community that I had been a part of in Alaska and that I no longer had and that I missed terribly,” said he declared.
He’s been there nearly every year since, compiling and publishing an anthology of FisherPoets poetry in 2014 called “Anchored in Deep Water.”
And he made sure his new book would be ready for the 2022 gathering, which will take place later this month. The book compiles stories he started writing years ago and collected as a pandemic project in early 2020. The 225 copies he ordered should arrive in less than two weeks – just in time for the beginning of FisherPoets.
Even though Dixon’s years of fishing are long behind him, he said writing helps him remember even the most specific details – how he felt when the boat rocked in stormy weather or the joy of learning to pick salmon from a friend.
“I think by immersing myself in it and feeling like I’m there again, I can see the details I need to make the story effective,” Dixon said.
Some of his writings recall the first lessons he learned when he was still a newcomer from a landlocked state in the Midwest.
Like “Boat Puller,” a poem he wrote for Jim Evenson, which brought him into the fishing world all those years ago:
Dixon will read excerpts from his book and hold a Q&A at this year’s FisherPoets gathering.
For the second year in a row, it will be virtual and broadcast by KUMN – Astoria’s community radio station. Their website is coastradio.org. The gathering is from February 24 to 26.
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