With April coming up, two of the most important things in my life (outside of the people of course) will be gaining heightened attention: poetry and fishing. April is both National Poetry Month and the beginning of trout fishing season. It's strange how closely related those two things are.
I didn't come to poetry and fishing at the same time in my life. Fishing came first, and in some ways, it still does. But as both grew to take up more space in my world, they also grew closer together. One of my early poetry mentors from college, Richard Savage, would take me out fishing on the Susquehanna River for small mouth bass or walleyes or to Fishing Creek for trout. By evening we'd usually end up at his favorite pizza and cheese steak shop for dinner and poetry talk. I think my first poems about fishing started after some of those talks. Around the same time I met Harry Humes, whose poems gave me permission to write about the things I did and the places I liked to be.
As a writer I try to look for metaphors in everything. With fishing this is pretty easy. You cast out into the unknown, in the dark water, let your lure (your imagination, perhaps) drift around and hope something grabs on. Then there's the hookup, the struggle to keep the fish on the line, and finally if you're lucky enough to bring it to your hand, you've got this beautiful, unique living thing to admire (and usually throw back—I practice catch and release fishing). By now I've probably exhausted all the metaphors I can pull from fishing, but I keep trying anyway.
Poets have used fishing as metaphors for all kinds of aspects of life for centuries. Sir Izaak Walton, filled his 1653 treatise on fishing, The Compleat Angler, with poems. Elizabeth Bishop, John Engels, Sydney Lea, Jim Harrison and many others have written fishing poems. Some are more obsessive about it than others. Sometimes I try to avoid bringing the two subjects together—but they both put me in the same frame of mind, the concentration on detail, a tight line, looking for something I can't see ahead of me. See—I'm doing it already.
Having a thing that isn't writing, but helps focus and stimulate your writing, is a necessary element for all writers. Call it the muse if you like.
Last night I set up my fly tying equipment and spent a few hours wrapping bits of fur and feathers onto hooks. The next morning I wrote a poem about fly tying. At least it started out about fly tying, but ended up digging in ideas of the divine and destructiveness. Metaphors are like that—they run away from you when you're not paying attention. Sort of like a large fish that pulls you into the weeds or breaks off your line—see, I'm doing it again.
For me, my fishing life and my writing life are so closely aligned, use so many similar parts of my brain, that I don't think one would exist without the other. Obviously not all of my poems are about fishing, fewer and fewer are lately as I try to expand my scope, but not all of my fishing trips end with fish either. Still, both share a process, and the pleasure in the process, that I choose not to separate my thinking about them. Each asks that I use skills I've used before, but produce something new. Each requires continually learning, or relearning, new lessons.
About The Author
Grant Clauser works as a writer and editor, and teaches workshops through Rosemont College. His most recent books include Reckless Constellations and The Magician's Handbook. He's the winner of the Cider Press Book Award and the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, and was the 2010 Montgomery County Poet Laureate. Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Journal and others.