13. The Literature of Water: Poetry & Prose by Maine Writers


Afternoon Session (Piscataquis Room, 2nd Floor)

Co-chairs: Hugh Curran and Dana Wilde

This humanities panel will be a discussion of prose and poetry relating to Maine rivers, lakes and coastal regions and will include readings by several notable writers and poets of Maine including:

  • Gary Lawless, Co-owner of Gulf of Maine bookstore; publisher of 21 poetry collections; awarded the 2017 Constance H. Carlson Public Humanities Prize
  • Paul Molyneaux, Author of “Doryman’s Reflection: A Fisherman’s Life” and “Swimming in Circles: Aquaculture and the End of Wild Oceans”
  • Kathleen Ellis, Lecturer in the University of Maine English Department; author of four collections of poetry; author of Narrow River to the North; recipient of National Endowment for the Arts fellowships
  • Dana Wilde, Maine writer & publisher of “A parallel Uni-Verse”; author of “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina from the Maine Woods”
  • Hugh Curran, Lecturer in Peace and Reconciliation Studies, University of Maine; poetry published in various journals; 2017 Oxford University lecture on “A Buddhist Interpretation on the Ethics of Animal Suffering”

Gary Lawless

Gary is a native of Belfast, Maine. He is co-owner of Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick (Maine) and a widely published poet, with 21 published collections of poetry (five of them in Italy, in Italian). He has had artist residencies in Sitka, Alaska, Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, and in southern Labrador. He spent the fall of 2017 in Venice, Italy with an artist residency from the Emily Harvey Foundation. He has an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Southern Maine (Humane Letters) and is currently the Maine Humanities Council Constance Carlson Fellow. He and his wife Beth live in Nobleboro as caretakers of Chimney Farm, the Maine home of authors Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth. Gary’s poetry rises out of interests in bioregionalism and watershed awareness. He and poet Karin Spitfire performed a touring “sardine songs” program in Port Clyde, Belfast, Bass Harbor, and at the Maine State Museum, from which Gary’s poem below is a small segment:

sardine plant, Belfast

May we be blessed by
the spirits of these fish
swimming through our world
from the world above
from the world below
rising from the depths
of our future
blessing the depths
of our past

Paul Molyneaux

Veteran commercial fisherman, Paul Molyneaux is the author of The Doryman’s Reflection: A Fisherman’s Life; Swimming in Circles: Aquaculture and the End of Wild Oceans; and A Child’s Walk in the Wilderness. He has written about commercial fishing for the New York Times and other publications, and won a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship to study sustainable fisheries in India, Chile, Iceland and several other countries. He lives in Maine and Mexico.

Excerpt from “The Doryman’s Reflection
2007 Simon & Schuster

Nonetheless, by the prevailing measures, finfish aquaculture still looks like a winner, and entrepreneurs eager to invest in aquaculture believe they have solved the problems that plagued salmon farming by moving to the new frontier: the open ocean.

Complete with rhetoric that sounds hauntingly familiar from the rapid expansion of the fishing fleet in the 1970s, open ocean aquaculture proponents trumpet the vast capacity of the offshore waters to support fish farming. Speaking in 1996 at an international Sea Grant conference on open ocean aquaculture, Jill Fallon, executive director of The Aquaculture Coalition, went so far as to call aquaculture “manifest destiny” and compare the fishermen to Native Americans. “This is not the time or the place to discuss the tragedy of the American Indian,” said Fallon, in her racist diatribe. “They had to be removed, warred against, and eventually forced onto reservations in order to make room for settlers thirsting for land.” In that same spirit, she urged, “We must open the Blue Frontier.” If all goes according to plan, open ocean fish farmers and their allies in government would leave fishermen like Bernard with an ever shrinking and damaged piece of the ocean. As had happened with the Native Americans, the Acadians, and now the fishermen, those with the technology and capital appropriated the resources from those without.

With help from Sea Grant, several commercial open ocean fish farms were already established by 2003. A company called Snapperfarm grew cobia in submerged net pens near Puerto Rico. Snapperfarm owner Brian O’Hanlon would later take his operation to Panama, where National Geographics Magazine described him of creating his fish farm “out of nothing, in the middle of nowhere,” ignoring the federal grants O’Hanlon had received and apparently crediting him with powers of alchemy. In New Hampshire, fishermen from the Portsmouth Fishermen’s Co-op became participants in creating their own obsolescence. They joined a private company, Great Bay Aquafarms, of Newington, New Hampshire, and the University of New Hampshire, as leaseholders in an open ocean aquaculture project that will grow cod in submerged pens.

In spite of the fact that cod near Eastport, Maine were identified as carriers of ISA, and that fish farms are known disease incubators, scientists with NMFS, the primary agency responsible for managing open ocean aquaculture, dismiss the risk of spreading disease to wild cod. “There is virtually no risk,” said Linda Chaves, spokesperson for NMFS.

“We haven’t even thought about it,” said Chris Duffy, vice president of Great Bay Aquafarms. Like most fish growers, he focuses on what happens inside, not outside, the pens. Speaking at an aquaculture workshop in New Brunswick in the summer of 2003, Duffy predicted vast cod farms in the western Gulf of Maine. “I hope to see cod production on the level of chicken,” he said.

Kathleen Ellis

Kathleen is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Outer-Body Travel and Narrow River to the North. She teaches English and Honors at the University of Maine, Orono, and she has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Maine Arts Commission. She is the recipient of the Pablo Neruda Award from Nimrod and poetry prizes from Carolina Quarterly and Southwest Review. Her poems also appear in 3 Nations Anthology, The Coastal Companion, The Eloquent Edge:15 Maine Women Writers, and Maine Speaks!

From 1981-1997, Ellis was communications coordinator for Maine Sea Grant, and in 1998-2000, she was writer/editor for an engineering firm monitoring Superfund base cleanup in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her manuscript of poems, Dear Darwin, was set to music and released as a Parma Recordings CD, which was nominated for a 2015 Grammy award. Ellis has coordinated poetry & science readings for the Maine Science Festival and the 350 International Day of Climate Action, and her long poem Circling Katahdin was set to music and performed by the UMaine chorus in 2005. She lives in Orono near the confluence of the Penobscot and Stillwater Rivers.

Selections from Narrow River to the North: Poems & Prose of the Penobscot Watershed
Amapola Books, Bangor, Maine, 2011

The river is various, the world as we find it, without forcing arbitrary
meanings of pastoral loveliness or idyllic withdrawal to a simpler world
upon it. The Penobscot’s main stream is often narrow, although it widens
below head of tide at Bangor and again as its East and West branches enter
the highland lakes. The river is oxymoron: quiet and boisterous, dammed
yet ever changing. (p. 12)

-The water is taking shape —
it’s not the currents in the river
but the river in the currents.
(p. 13)

May 1 — opening day for salmon season on the Penobscot, the first since
1999, catch-and-release only. Fishermen caught some grass, a couple of
sticks, a hunk of Styrofoam, a child’s lawn chair. Nobody spotted a house
drift by, but they’d heard that one had slipped off its moorings near
Frenchville and was on its way downstream. You never know what the
river will release. (p. 23)

-Even in its narrowest flows
or standing pools —
the river demands to be heard.
(p. 24)

When I was eye to eye
with the bottom of the river,
I knew it for what it was: thinking
curves space, makes rocks look
rubber. The eyes of the salmon
see heat, see movement
from above. My eyes, however,
care about color, not heat;
my heart is in the water.
(p. 16)

Dana Wilde

Dana writes the “Backyard Naturalist and Off Radar” columns for the Central Maine Newspapers. He is a former journalist, university professor, Fulbright scholar, and NEH fellow. His recent books are “Summer to Fall: Notes and Numina in the Maine Woods” and “Nebulae: A Backyard Cosmography“, and “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine” is due out this summer from North Country Press. He lives in Troy, Maine.

Excerpt from Backyard Naturalist essay:

A report a few years ago showed that in 1985 and 2009, the surface temperature of lakes in the Northern Hemisphere “were warming significantly faster than the global average.” Whether Maine’s lakes were part of the warming was not specified in the report. But I found a raw data sheet of lake water temperatures made available by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to see if I could get a reliable clue. I couldn’t, of course, because I’m not a climate scientist.

But my perusal, anyway, of surface temperatures recorded in mid-July and late August on Cobbosseecontee Lake and Unity Pond showed in both cases fluctuations up and down, year by year with no huge departures between the early 1980s and 2014. But in the 2000s the temperatures for both seemed to be generally a bit higher – more toward the mid 20s Celsius – than the temperatures in the 1980s, which seemed to land more toward the lower 20s. No July or August temperatures during the 2000s dipped to the teens, whereas one August day in 1982 Cobbosseecontee’s temperature at the surface was 17.2 degrees, and one August day in 1986 Unity Pond’s was 19. Now, temperature data are not the stuff bad dreams are made on. Unless you start turning them over in your brain.

Hugh J. Curran

Hugh was born in Donegal, Ireland in a Gaelic speaking family and after moving to Canada did undergraduate studies in Nova Scotia, then moved to the U.S. He lived for five years as a Zen monastic and as an assistant to Philip Kapleau, the author of “The Three Pillars of Zen“. After an extensive pilgrimage to India and Japan he moved to Maine and did graduate studies in Irish literature at the University of Maine and became a founding member of the Morgan Bay Zendo where he is on the Board of Directors & guides retreats. He also founded the Friends of Morgan Bay which oversees five nature preserves. During the 1990s Hugh became the director of a homeless shelter in Downeast Maine and has published articles on homelessness. Since 2002, he has been a lecturer in the Peace & Reconciliation Studies Program at the University of Maine where he teaches courses on Sacred Earth: Ecology & Spirituality as well as Nonviolence; Hugh has co-written a book on local history with Esther Wood and has published poetry in various poetry journals as well as compiling a book for students titled “Excerpts on Nonviolence from Classical to Modern Writers”. In July, 2017 he was invited to present a paper on a “Buddhist Interpretation on the Ethics of Animal Suffering” at St. Stephen’s College, Oxford University, UK.

The Three Brothers
Published in Puckerbrush Review

I encountered him as I had often encountered
family lore, unpredictably, as if by chance, the story
of three brothers, riding rough waves in their
small fishing boat.

Now I gazed at him, this lone survivor who
gazed back at me with afflicted eyes while we
stood on the long curving strand next to grass
covered sand-dunes.

His eyes were fixed on me as I asked about
our shared island heritage, while with rough hands
blackened by pitch he bent back to the chore of
repairing the canvas covered boat turned upside-

down, coating the seams with bitumen.
His satisfaction came in the repetitive task,
a penitence reflected in the slow cadence
of his responses so like my father’s island brogue.

In flecked conflicted eyes his spiral of suffering
re-circulated in gaelic intonations, giving through
speech a measure of relief to his long-held emotions.
The sequence of events intoned, the ships bell

sounding in a pea-soup fog beyond Tory Sound,
the three brothers sailing out to catch the
last of the herring run, the shifting turns in the
migratory channels of a passing freighter steaming

through the morning mist, the bell masking their
loud repetitive hallo, the drowning out by engine sounds
of the brothers screams, the thrashing of the backwash
over the low-riding sides of the curraugh.

On the rounded broken back of their boat turned
upside-down, three brothers clung, recounting
family lore to keep at bay the frigid coldness;
And then he became the lone survivor watching

in mute despair as his youthful brothers succumbed
to the waves. Yet he who had gazed at me with such
fatalism, spoke of holding fast, willing his two brothers
to stay above the waves, before he alone was dragged  

half-conscious into a fisherman’s boat. He had clung to
dreams of those silent screams till the sea scoured his memory,
the blinding mist sweeping over his longing to make
amends for lapsed understanding of passageways & ferryboats.

No sea god could ever bridge the gulf of deep affection
which he conveyed, looking at me mutely, with scabbed
fierceness, his long-held struggle  half-buried in anguish
and the need for numb forgetfulness.

I briefly gripped his elbow as his hands pressed down
over the glazed joints, while across his brow a crows-nest
of wrinkles were awash with broken veins webbed upon
cheeks that seemed to trace the story of mythic voyages,

where mourners on islands walked their perpetual circle
of melancholy.  In the punctuated equilibrium of an ever-
stretching wake that traced itself over thirty-years
he was still bound to two brothers, clinging to the keel

of this, his memorial boat turned upside down
on the long curved strand of his affliction.