Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category

Ken Burns on Hemingway

September 10, 2020

Readers may be interested in a six hour documentary on angler and writer Ernest Hemingway, which will air on PBS in April of 2021. The documentary is produced by well-known team Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. While Hemingway and Burns have their detractors, albeit for very different reasons, I look forward to watching this. Over the course of six hours, I’m sure there will be some treatment of his fishing life, and it’s influence upon his writing. For a preview, click here.

River Voice: Poems by Gary Metras

July 26, 2020

I have shared the poetry of Gary Metras before. His latest collection of poems is titled River Voice. Gary happens to own and run Adastra Press. Sadly, this book will be the press’ last publication. All of the books Gary releases-those he authored himself and others–are printed by letterpress and bound by hand. So, Gary is not only an artist with words, he is also an artist of ink, paper, and thread.

Like most people, I read a fair amount of digital texts. These range from articles I read for work, retrieved from my university’s library website, to books that my wife and I read for pleasure with each other, on a Kindle, in the evening. Yet, for me, there is no substitute for physical books. If there is a text that I know I may turn to again-and-again, or even which I would simply like to be reminded of, I typically by a hardback copy and put it on my shelf. Sometimes, I even buy a physical copy of a book I initially ready in digital form.

In a world were relationships to our fellow humans, to the animals, to the plants, and to the water are mediated through the glass of a car window, the glare of a computer screen, a phone to the ear, and so on, I value materiality. Without it, I think, we can forget how fragile the world around us is and how fragile we often are when faced directly with it.

So, a physical book–particularly a letter-press book like Gary’s that is manifestation of his hands and heart–is special. I suspect Gary feels much as I do. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have founded Adastra Press back in 1979. There is evidence of his appreciation for the material in his poems, as well. Consider the following, from River Voice.

A Strand of Partridge Feather

The pleasure of small tasks,
tying some trout flies,
reading some pages
of a friend’s new book of poems.
I pick up a pencil to mark
a line beautifully formed
and stuck to the knife-sharpened point,
a single strand of partridge feather
clinging to the graphite.
Some forces need be unseen,
the way words can by-pass
the mind and adhere the heart. Five flies, five poems.
Just enough.

When I read this poem, I can feel myself sitting at a desk, like the author. I can smell the incense cedar of the freshly sharpened pencil, I can feel the crispness of new books pages. Of course, I can see the scene that is the setting of the poem as well. But Gary reminds us the materiality is often more than what we can see.

This is one of the reasons I love books. I can see words just as well on a screen as I can on a leaf of paper. But, reading the former, I lack the touch, and smells, and sounds that remind me the words are written by a person like me. Thus, it is easier for me to enter into a relationship with the author when I read their words on a page. Admittedly, this relationship may be an imaginary one. After all, written words are a form of abstraction themselves.

Even in fly fishing, though so many authors have described it in nearly mystical terms (I’ll spare you the scholarly lecture on mysticism), there is a degree of abstraction–a distance–that prevents us from truly knowing the non-human world around us. I cannot know everything that the water carries from the places it previously traveled, I cannot know what the trout truly feels, and I cannot even be certain what the angler around the bend is thinking about. But I can feel their impact upon me. And I can see their vulnerabilities and their strengths. And that allows for a type of relationship I cannot achieve, when sitting sitting on my ass at home watching fishing videos on YouTube (honestly, this is not something I do).

The colophon of River Voice tells the reader that is was “letterpress printed from hand-set metal type,” in 100 copies signed and numbered by Gary Metras. “Printed sheets were gathered, collated, sewn and bound from July to October 2019 as the poet continued his fly-fishing quest for the perfect trout.” There is also an expended, trade version of the book, titled River Voice II, available through Amazon. I recommend it highly.

 

Quarantine, Hemingway Style

April 16, 2020

I have previously posted about Ernest Hemingway, who–love him or hate him–is impossible to ignore in the world of angling literature. If you didn’t know he wrote about fishing outside of “A Big Two-Hearted River” Parts I & II and The Old Man and the Sea, I recommend reading Hemingway on Fishing (The Lyons Press, 2000). This is a compilation of his angling writings collected and edited by Nick Lyons.

Town & Country published a short piece by journalist Lesley M.M. Blume recently about a quarantine endured by Hemingway’s small family in 1926. Blume adapted the essay, titled “Hemingway was once Quaratined with his Wife.. and Mistress,” from her 2016 bestselling book, Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises (Eamon Dolan/Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt). There is no fishing in the piece I’m afraid, but it is an amusing read during this time when we’re all holed up, to one extent or another. I only hope your situtaion is better than Hemingway’s was and that you treat your partner far better.

If you need further entertainment, you might read Blume’s book or listen to an interview with her, just published on March 18. You can find it at the Hemingway Society’s One True Podcast. You might also enjoy the interview with Susan Beegal on Hemingway, blue water fishing, and taxidermy.

Stay safe and respect others.

Gierach on the almost religious devotion to bamboo

August 13, 2019

Most readers are probably familiar with Colorado author John Gierach. He has become one of angling’s most popular writers, in the years following the 1986 publication of his best known book Trout Bum (Pruett Publishing).

Gierach earned special affection from many bamboo rod fly fishers 1997, when he published Fishing Bamboo (Lyons Press). Since fiberglass and, later, graphite became standard rod-making materials, bamboo has become a niche material. Still, there are many contemporary makers of bamboo rods. And there are many older rods, having been produced for well over one hundred years now, in circulation. I sometime use some older rods myself.

Gierach recently published a new short essay on bamboo rods in the business news magazine Bloomberg. The essays is titled “The Quasi-Religious, Damn-Near-Irrational Appeal of Bamboo Fishing Rods” (August 8, 2019). You can find the article, accompanied by pictures of fine contemporary rods, here.

Local

June 4, 2019

As lovely as old English-made Hardy reels are, I find myself more interested in tackle made closer to home these days. This means tackle made in Pacific Canada and the Northwest United States.

Pictured here are two beautiful fly reels from British Columbia, a Peetz (with art by Jason Henry Hunt, Kwakiutl) and an Islander IR.

The Salmon do not Consent

February 18, 2019

Christi Belcourt is a Métis artist from Alberta, who was raised in Ontario. She is part of an artistic and family known for their art and Indigenous rights advocacy. For those who don’t know, the Métis are one of three peoples legally recognized as aboriginal or indigenous, by the Canadian government. The other peoples are the First Nations (Indians) and Inuit.

Belcourt is a visual artist, who draws upon her identity as an Indigenous woman. Following is a description of her work, from her website:

Like generations of Indigenous artists before her, the majority of her work explores and celebrates the beauty of the natural world and traditional Indigenous world-views on spirituality and natural medicines while exploring nature’s symbolic properties. Following the tradition of
Métis floral beadwork, Belcourt uses the subject matter as metaphors for human existence to relay a variety of meanings that include concerns for the environment, biodiversity, spirituality and Indigenous rights. Although known primarily as a painter, she has for years been also practicing traditional arts.

You can find many examples of varied artwork at her online gallery. Besides the pieces you can find in the gallery, Belcourt also creates a great many graphic pieces, related to Indigenous rights and environmental protection. She makes these available for public use. Once such piece, posted recently on her Facebook page, particularly caught my eye.

This image addresses the “Trans Mountain” pipeline system. The Kinder Morgan cooperation is attempting to expand the capacity of this pipeline system, which will increase the environmental degradation at the Tar Sands of Alberta, where it originates. The pipeline ends at the Salish Sea, in British Columbia, and thus crosses a great deal of aboriginal Canadian land. The majority of First Nations along its pathway oppose the construction, because of the damage done at the Tar Sands as well as the possibility of further damage along its route (the pipeline has had numerous leaks, in the past).

Belcourt’s art implies that the salmon of British Columbia also oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline. This may seem like an odd claim to mainstream Canadians and Americans. However, traditional Indigenous peoples typically recognize animals as non-human persons, with whom they maintain reciprocal relations. Ancient stories often tell of agreements made between the Creator, culture heroes, or game animals themselves and humans. Generally speaking, these agreements stipulate that the animals “consent” to give their lives to humans, if they, in return, are honored and their overall populations protected. For a far more detailed explanation of such reciprocal relationships, I recommend the book Animism: Respecting the Living World (Columbia University Press, 2006), by Religious Studies scholar Graham Harvey.

I think many anglers can understand the relationships described above, even if we do not necessarily see animals as fellow persons. After all, a concern for conservation is reflected in angling literature dating back over 500 years in Europe. Authors emphasize the need to care for fish habitat and even to respect the fish (the latter need is particularly clear in Izaak Walton’s 1653 Complete Angler, in order to enjoy their sport). Today, many anglers join organization like Trout Unlimited or Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in order to “give back” to the fish.

In general, though, most Canadians, Americans, and Europeans are not very cognizant of the impact their actions have upon others–even their fellow humans. Drawing from her own people’s views, and those of other Indigenous Peoples, Belcourt urges us to do otherwise. I should add that we must do so, being fully prepared to consume less energy (lest any readers accuse me of hypocrisy). Make no mistake, while I am not the perfect person, I do consider the consequence of my actions regularly.

Giant Bears and Fanged Salmon

February 4, 2019

Much of my attention at work, lately, has been directed toward a project involving grizzly bears. In thinking about the species of bears that roam the Americas, I was reminded of a piece of art I saw recently at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, in Spokane, Washington.  It depicts one of the ancient, now extinct “short-faced bears” (Arctodus pristinus and Arctodus simus) wrestling with the also ancient and extinct “sabertooth salmon” (Onchorhynchus rastrosus).  The massive sculpture, which is mounted on a wall, was created by artist Peter Thomas of entirely recycled materials. It is part of a larger, permanent exhibit of Thomas’ work.

Not surprisingly, these animals were massive. One species of the bear, Arctodus simus, may have stood 12 feet tall, while the salmon may have reached nine feet in length. Of course, the salmon is related to today’s Pacific salmon, while the short-faced bear’s closest living relative is the much smaller Andean “spectacled bear” (Tremarctos ornatus). Both of these animals roamed the waters and wilds of the Pacific Northwest. They were not actually contemporaries, but I still enjoy imagining what it might be like to land a giant salmon with huge teeth, while looking out for an even bigger bear that might want to steal my catch.

Book Recommendation: Moving Water, by Dave Hall

January 5, 2019

Many anglers are attracted to the aesthetic aspects of fly fishing. I refer not only to the spiritual or contemplative qualities of the pursuit, written about so often by Isaac Walton and others. Nor do I refer simply to the careful study or, in some cases, apprenticeship required for one to fish well–a phenomenon that is also written about extensively. Rather, I refer primarily to the sense of beauty, experienced visually and otherwise, in the places we fish. Sometimes, of course, this sense of beauty intersects with the spiritual. Indeed, over five centuries ago, the author of The Treatyse of Fyshingn wyth an Angle told us that smelling the flowers and listening to the melodies of the birds along the river bank, and even catching the occasional fish. is good for the “health of our body and soul.”

But this beauty is not easily conveyed in words or other images. Occasionally, however, someone succeeds in doing so.  For instance, I have previously written about my appreciation of friend Claudiu Presecan’s paintings. Today, I write about the work of Dave Hill, who lives in the Rocky Mountain West. Hall is a rare individual, who has been able to capture the beauty of the places we fish in brushstrokes as well as words. He shares both in his new book, Moving Water: an Artist’s Reflections on Fly Fishing, Friendship, and Family (Blaine Creek, 2019).

Moving Water is a hardbound book with dust-jacket, that includes both single-page and full-spread, color reproductions of Hall’s paintings. Many of these depict the Yellowstone area of the American West. Along with the paintings are autobiographical reflections upon Hall’s life.
Hall’s paintings are both ethereal and very realistic, at the same time. Thus, they convey the sense of beauty that I describe above. In the paintings, anyone familiar with the West, or similar landscapes in other parts of the world, will recognize their own experiences of such beauty immediately. Because the written narrative accompanying the pictures is rather poetic, the words complement the pictures perfectly, and they provide an understanding of who Hall is, how his family influenced him, what his friends and fellow anglers were like, and so on. As a result, the words, along with the familiarity conveyed by the paintings, almost make you feel as if you are reacquainting yourself with an old friend, in the shape of Hall.

Rather than share my own, inevitably poor photographs of Hall’s work, I share an image from the artist’s website. This painting is featured in the book, and it is titled “Dawn on the Henry’s Fork.” It is one of my favorites.

I urge you to visit the Dave Hall Landscape Art to see more paintings. And you should visit Dave Hall’s Moving Water to learn more about his book and to place an order. You can also order postcards, posters, and more.
Hall’s paintings really do capture the Montana and Idaho with which I am acquainted; I can almost smell the flowers and hear the melodies of the birds, as recommended by the Treatyse’s author, just by looking at Hall’s paintings. Take a look; you may feel the same.

A.A. Luce on “The Fisherman,” by W.B. Yeats.

October 27, 2018

Yeats in 1908. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn

Irish poet William Butler Yeats, winner of the 1923 Nobel prize in literature, published “The Fisherman” in 1919. In the poem, Yeats describes his past observation of a fly fisherman. In his memory, this man represents a simple life, free from the daily pressures most of us face. No doubt, Yeats faced serious pressures, indeed; when he wrote “The Fisherman,” he was already a successful poet and felt many demands upon his time and talents. And he had been deeply involved in Irish nationalism and would immerse himself in politics again, in the future.
I share the poem, below. Following it is commentary upon its meaning by A.A. Luce. Importantly, Luce was a philosopher and a fly fisher, himself.
“The Fisherman”
Although I can see him still—
The freckled man who goes
To a gray place on a hill
In gray Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies—
It’s long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.
All day I’d looked in the face
What I had hoped it would be
To write for my own race
And the reality:
The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved,
The craven man in his seat,
The insolent unreproved—
And no knave brought to book
Who has won a drunken cheer—
The witty man and his joke
Aimed at the commonest ear,
The clever man who cries
The catch cries of the clown,
The beating down of the wise
And great Art beaten down.
Maybe a twelve-month since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face
And gray Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark with froth,
And the down turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream—
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, “Before I am old
I shall have written him one
Poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn.
A.A. Luce, as a professor at Trinity College Dublin, was a colleague and acquaintance of Yeats’. In his remarkable Fishing and Thinking (Swan Hill, 1959), he wonders why Yeats chose to write about an angler:
Why did he pitch on angling, of all occupations? Why did he idealize the angler? It could not have been an accident. He must have found something in his own angling that answered a felt need. Was it objectivity, the sense of control by the object? The artistic imagination is in special need of such control and values it. When one’s sense of reality is perturbed, and the line between the real and the imaginary wavers, and perhaps the point approaches when “nothing is but what is not”, a day on a river is wonderful cure. It takes us out of ourselves, and confronts us with the comforting blank wall of something not ourselves, and confronts us with the comforting blank wall of something not ourselves, to which our sensing, imagining, thinking and action must conform. The sanity of the angler’s outlook commends angling to the sick in mind.  …. The fresh air, the open spaces, the physical exercise, the nature of the occupation and the objectivity of the chase combine to make angling a sedative and a general tonic for the occupational dis-ease of the man of letters. (83)
I like Yeats’ poem, despite what feels to me like a bit of whining on its author’s part. I have faced my share of challenges, but my life is filled with blessings. One of them is the fact that I can fish regularly. As Luce suggests and perhaps as Yeats felt too, I find “the real” when I fish or otherwise spend time free from many of expectations and requirement placed upon me by those with whom I have very little meaningful connection. I was interested to hear a guest lecturer in my angling literature course say much the same thing this last week, and I wonder how many others feel the same. Regardless, I look forward to a good sleep and to experiencing reminders of what is “real’ tomorrow on the stream.
Addendum (11/5/18):  I found mention of Yeats in this essay on occult bookstores, published this morning, to be intriguing: “Reading the Occult,” by Neil Armstrong.

Hands-on Literary History

September 18, 2018

I have previously written that Washington State University, where I work, has a massive collection of rare angling  texts housed in the Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections department. The collection includes over 15,000 items and continues to grow. Last week, I took the Honors College students enrolled in my class, “Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Play in ‘Nature,'” to see some of the texts.

The students just read the Middle English essay “A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth and Angle” (late fifteenth c.),  and Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation (1653) is next on their list. So it is no small thing for them to see and handle an incunable copy of the Treatyse (as included in The Boke of St Albans) and a first and many other editions of The Complete Angler.

Following are a few pictures taken during our visit. I’m grateful to Dr. Trevor James Bond, Associate Dean for Digital Initiatives and Special Collections, for welcoming the students to the collection. Dr. Bond is a passionate and engaging host.

Boke of St Albans, incunable.

 

First and other editions of The Compleat Angler (MASC holds 506 copies)

 

Dr. Bond engages students in discussion.

 

 

The shimmering quality of this hand-painted illustration in Freshwater Fishes, is due to the inclusion of ground fish scales in the paint.


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