Wednesday, September 15, 2010

new sardine poem

"I think my age will be against me"

Lubec closed within a few years
followed by Bath in 2005

the reasons are irrelevant now

Anderson said she originally used a pair of scissors
to cut the heads
and tails
off herring in one fluid motion

When the technology changed,
she adapted

One of the problems with sardines, Oliver said,
is that it's an
already oily fish
packed in oil

It also has a strong flavor that doesn't appeal to the
widest audience

the reasons are irrelevant now

It used to be a luxury item
in the mid-to-late- 1800s,
much the same way
lobster is today

lobster was pauper's food then

They did overfish,
but not to the point
where all those factories had to close

I think it will always be something that people feel bad about

the reasons are irrelevant now.

Clinton Spaulding

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

two sardine sites to visit

Two wonderful sardine related websites/postings have come our way, and we encourage you to visit them:
The Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine this!

and also, an article with great visuals on Booktryst

Friday, August 13, 2010

more poems

Deep Blue Fields

This is about nothing besides
the fish we can't see.
How they swim beneath aqua stars,

glide through deep blue fields
in the webbed, coral rooted density.
The total eclipse of fins

and eyes, a common membrane tugging.
The rocking of beached, silent
creatures. Skeletal sound

left to pulsate in resonance.
Without water, stillness.
Without movement, nothing.

Barbaria Maria

...into a small dark place:

I'm thinking of sardines again
How the world changes
How things get lost from our lexicon

Like Herring in a Barrel
Like Sardines in a Can

They stopped using Barrels
They no longer Can Sardines

In my hometown
At the local Methodist Church
Every Sunday night

We've been playing a version
of Hide and Seek called "Sardines"
for as long as they've packed Fish in a Can

This year we had to explain what a Sardine is
Why when you pile into a small darl place
In some dusty hideaway where no one goes

It is like Fish packed tightly in a Can

When the thought occurred to me
What would we call this game
Without a reference point?

Can we find something new
That recovers our loss?

I'm thinking of Sardines again
How the world changes
How things get lost from our lexicon.


and this poem, read this week on NPR by Garrison Keillor:

New Religion

This morning no sound but the loud
breathing of the sea. Suppose that under
all that salt water lived the god
that humans have spent ten thousand years
trawling the heavens for.
We caught the wrong metaphor.
Real space is wet and underneath,
the church of shark and whale and cod.
The noise of those vast lungs
exhaling: the plain chanting of monkfish choirs.
Heaven's not up but down, and hell
is to evaporate in air. Salvation,
to drown and breathe
forever with the sea.

Bill Holm
from: The Chain Letter of the Soul: New & Selected Poems

Sunday, July 25, 2010

last sardines canned

The last sardines canned at Stinson's. This photo courtesy of the Maine State Museum, where the last three cans will be a part of a new display opening Saturday, July 31.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

new books!

We have available two new poetry chapbooks!
First: Sardine Songs/ Herring Hymns = a 24 page collection of the poems published on this blog, from a wide range of poets, all with a sardine/herring theme.
And: Sardine Shards - 12 pages of sardine related poems By Gary Lawless, published by Benevolent Bird Press
Each book is $5, plus $1 mailing from Blackberry Books, 617 East Neck Road, Nobleboro, Maine 04555

Sunday, July 11, 2010

sardine limerick

Belfast native Douglas Brown has sent this sardine requiem, and more...

Requiem for the Maine Sardine

Maine's herring once swam by the trillion,
But the meek of our race are six billion.
So many, we've eaten,
they're pretty well beaten.
Now it's hard to find half a million.

The herring got little respect.
It was scorned by the social elect.
The Hollywood star
just adored caviar,
but a can of sardines, she'd reject.

Those born to imperial bearing
were seldom consumers of herring.
It seemed kings and queens
rarely noshed on sardines
(at least, when their crowns, they were wearing).

The homely lobster is able
to grace the millionaire's table
but sardines were favored,
(with mustard well savored)
by the man who cleaned his stable.

On his yacht, the great Wall Street banker,
for filet of sole, sure did hanker;
but his cook and skipper
would divvy up kippers
with the sailor who heaved the anchor.

The Beverly Hills plastic surgeon
devoured platters of sturgeon;
while low-ranked clinicians
and health care technicians
downed kippers, without any urgin'.

The lawyer who drove a new Caddy
and dined on poached finnan haddie,
was also unerring
at shunning the herring,
but they were enjoyed by his caddie.

While the Texas oilman grew fat
eating barbecued "channel cat"
the roughnecks were sharing
Blue Ribbon and herring
and feeding sardines to the cat.

Maine sardines, it has come to pass,
though spurned by the very top brass;
were loved without question,
and doomed to digestion,
by humankind's lowlier class.

A Famous Mount Desert Summer Resident's View On Sardines

They say Martha Stewart's unsparing
in her disdain of the herring;
though she ate, in her cell,
canned sardines for that spell,
when prison clothes, she was wearing.

Douglas Brown

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Belfast Sardine Extravaganza

August 21 Belfast Sardine Extravaganza at the Belfast Harbor Fest
Raise a Ruckus for Herring!

1100 Speaker: Joe Upton, herring bait boatman and author of Amaretto, and Alaska Blues - at the Boathouse

and at the Sardine Stage - Belfast Commons:
12 Noon - Invocation... for the love of Herring: Poets and Divas
100 The Gawler Family
200 Anna Dembska & the Schoodic Chorus
300 Morty Hanson
3:30 Gordon Bok with The January Men and Then Some
430 Grand March with Chrissy Fowler, the Flashing Fish Dancers & the Belfast Bay Fiddlers
Anna Dembska, the Sardine Singers, & the Belfast Drum and RabbleParade and Flotilla to the Old Sardine Factory and Walking Bridge for the Grand Finale!!!

To volunteer, add your fishy ideas, or for more information please contact:
For the ongoing, continually upgraded schedule of summer sardine events:
and for the Harbor Fest:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

summer sardine events

We want to spend the summer celebrating the herring, yes the sardines, the little silver darlings, but we also want to celebrate the human cultures which grew up around the sardine fisheries. We want to spawn and promote a number of events around the state centering on the sardine, and the disappearance of the sardine related industry and culture, another kind of extinction.Please join us, and keep watching here as we will have more events to post.

June 29 - The Fish Belong to the People - film showing at the Belfast Free Library with speaker Glen Libby - sponsored by the library and the co-op- more info click

July 3, Saturday, 130 PM Eastport Arts Center - Herring Hymnal, Herring Dance, Herring Song - A reading by poet Karin Spitfire with local poets and archival film footage of the Eastport sardine industry, Old Eastport, and maritime life, from the Northern Lights Film Society

July 20 - Herring Night at the Bass Harbor Library - as a part of their annual Ruth Moore Days - with readings from Ruth Moore and historic photos of the local sardine cannery by Eleanor Mayo

July 22 - Karin Spitfire reads poetry, Stockton Library, 7 PM

July 25 - 6 PM Poetry and Sax = 9 local women poets read, with jazz sax, at a release party for: Talking Furniture - Selections from Maine Writers, at Bay Wrap, 102 Main Street, Belfast - $10 donation, proceeds go to sponsor the Belfast Sardine Extravaganza

July 26 Belfast Free Library - film maker Karen Saum's film "Working Women of Waldo County" which includes a section on the sardine industry - sponsored by the Belfast Historical Museum and the Belfast Free Library

July 30 - 730 PM - sardine poetry night at the Wayne (Maine) Public Library

July 31, 11-3, Maine State Museum, Augusta - special event for the Stinson Seafood- sardine industry exhibit - with:
1030 & 130 - music by Roll and Go
1100 - sardine poetry with Karin Spitfire and Gary Lawless
1130 - food historian Sandra Oliver on Seafood and Sardines in the New England Diet
and more!

August 1 - 30 images of the sardine industry - a photo/art exhibit at the Kramer Gallery, Belfast - focussing on the Belfast sardine cannery, with images from the Belfast Historical Society, Penobscot Marine Museum, and local artists

August 4, 630-800 PM Herring Gut Learning Center, Port Clyde - sardine taqlk, poetry, and film (including footage of the Port Clyde cannery fire and explosion), with a display of historic photos, aprons, scissors, timecards, trays and other historic artifacts - for more info click

August 10, 630 PM, Belfast Free Library - Fish Forever-speaker Aaron Dority of the Penobscot East Resource Center, with a herring/sardine slide show compiled by Kevin Johnson of the Penobscot Marine Museum.

August 21 - Belfast Harbor Fest and Sardine Extravaganza - sponsored by the Belfast Rotary and many local groups and businesses - with boat races and displays, speakers, singers, poets, dancers, art displays, and a choral piece culminating in a parade to the Belfast cannery site for an event there

and yes a published collection of sardine poems called "Sardine Songs/Herring Hymns"

We hope to see you at these events.
Please contact us for more information

sing the sardines in Belfast

We are looking for singers (and listeners) to join in the sardine celebration in Belfast August 21. Please go to this
and come join us in Belfast!

Friday, May 14, 2010

more poems/stinson's doors

David Estey - Stinson's Doors

Stinson's Doors

"The city has given the owners of the former Stinson Seafoods sardine
packing plant three months to tear it down"
- Walter Griffin, Bangor Daily News, Sept. 15, 2009

Checking on the building the morning
after the announcement in the BDN,
the facade looks suspicious,
yellows of the eyes in the sliding door

looking sideways as if
on guard for the demolition crew
covering its ears as if it doesn't want
to hear the order to tear it down.

Place of small fish sorting and canning
lingering on the Belfast waterfront
haunted by generations of cut hands,
reeking aprons, foundation now crumbling,

yet refreshed with a coat of paint
by an artist with a love for the overlooked,
windows newly glowing, doors
bright green again with the promise

of men and women arriving for the morning shift.

for David Estey

Carl Little


"Shoo," she says and waves me away
like a big fly, though she's been happy to talk,
her lip sticked mouth taking me word by word
through her life: born in this town, never left,
widowed once, divorced twice, one daughter --
now dead -- and forty years in the fish factory.

She and the girls loved every minute of it,
racing -- piece work, you know. Gossip swooping
through the long room like a flock of starlings
while their hands, separate animals, filled
hundreds of tins day after day. Some days
they'd lift a big icy fish from the crate,

lay it on the boiler to steam, then eat it
with their fingers. There was never anything
so fresh. She fiddles with a button on her robe,
her nails roughly painted to match her mouth,
and, no, she doesn't need help with her shampoo,
washing her creases, soaking her swollen feet.

She looks as though she never could get out
of that chair, but somehow it's easy
to see how she would have stood on a corner
in the South End, her feet in pumps, one hip
cocked, talking to a girlfriend and seeming
not to notice the men from the shipyard loose
on a Saturday night in their clean white shirts.

Elizabeth Tibbetts

Herring Run

Push upstream, water clear brown
blue-green river grass waves them on
through tight walled fish weirs
we crowd in excitement spill
out of round fendered cars
chrome winking fathers and uncles drive
like grizzlies after salmon, grandmothers
with long skirts wrapped around their thighs
babies on rolled legs splash
wade in a swarm of moonlight bodies
tickling legs, slippery stones underfoot
scramble, flip fins escape, fall back
get lost. Caught Nemasket, released
Neponset, some find home; spawn.
Nets and bare hands, catch catch catch
shovel fish; creel abundance.
Hot oil, dredge sizzle fry; feast.
Scrape silver scales fcrom your fingers
peel back the growth rings of each shiny plate
gobbled up in the parking lot
gypsy festival of Coleman stoves
every year when the herring run.

Valerie Lawson


Up in Damariscotta Mills
is a fisherman
eyes blue and wet as gurry
from the Thunderbird
that helps him trap rundowns
and passing tourists
alewives for a quarter
five for a dollar
if you're local
if you're not
but willing to linger
he'll talk, knit tales
of the leather board mill torn down
his smokehouse put up quick
by the fish runs
dips them black from the Sheepscot
smokes them to copper, I say
smokes them til done, he says
strung on fish sticks symmetrical
gills lined up like buttons, I say
mouths made for the sticks, he says
laughs and hands the wine around
packed down in brine
dried 800 to the barrel
shipped to the Caribbeans
love 'em! he says
why do you think there's so many?
alewives or Caribbeans, I say
eat one you'll conceive, he says
laughs and hands the wine around
smoked alewives half his life
the other half in Boston
M.I.T. at the Old Howard
fell in love with Ann Corio
"You think you see more
than you actually do" he says
laughs and hands the wine around

Phyllis Merriam
Dec., 1976

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

poems for the plant closing

Ellen Sander photo

The Last Sardine Plant Is Closing

It is afternoon.
Classical trumpets yellow
out of a German radio.
There is a football game,
or about to be,
and I can't remember
if it's on the color set downstairs
that sometimes smokes,
or on the tiny black-and-white
with a screwdriver for the volume.

I am four
and for the first and last time
that I can recall, my father
unkeys the tin,
cranes out to me
something tarnished siver,
dripping oil and so tasty.

I don't know now
if I'd like them anymore.
I've never tried.

Carter Ruff

Poor Prospects in Prospect Harbor

Outside the Stinson plant mute
and motionless stands the giant
seafarer clad in a slicker
holding a tin of Beach Cliff sardines
just like dad used to peel open
after coming home late from
peddling fruits and vegetables
in the streets of Manhattan.

Inside it's all noise and clatter
the women's flashing hands dart
attack schools of silvery cans
conveyed by in a ceaseless stream
paced by buzzers and bells
packing the herring to bed
like too many siblings in cramped
quarters to their final sleep.

Nancy's not ready to retire
just yet at seventy
after forty four fast years
"I could work another ten
I don't know anything else
don't want nothing with computers
don't have one, don't want to learn"
Three daughters and a sister
have been on the same line
paid by the number of cans
you could make 19 bucks an hour

good work found on the Maine coast
not much else to speak of
in Hancock County which once
boasted its own Cannery Row-
my dog eared Bantam paperback
that cost my old man a quarter
Steinbeck's picaresque story
clanked out on his Remington
twice a historical oddity.

The corporate buzz at Bumble Bee
is shuttering this last one
while Ernie fixes everything
takes his cat home a free can
"I'm saving lives here."

Lela's fifty four years had
started when scissors cut fish
before machines offed their heads.
She was looking forward to
celebrating her eightieth
birthday there in two more years.
"I thought this would be here for
generations to come."

The final break is over.
In three hours fifteen minutes
Lulu and Alma packed
five thousand two hundred
and twenty eight sharp cans
some kind of record
for the end of the line.

Michael Bell

Friday, April 2, 2010

bernadette mayer poem


is a yellow, red, orange, black & green
word. I got sardines at the dollar store
where everything except sardines is more
than a dollar, for sixty cents, as they should be
my father used to take sardine sandwiches to work
perhaps therefore, I love sardines. when people
used to talk about the subway, they'd say:
we were packed like sardines which sends a message:
small, cheap, tightly packed, anchovies for the poor
or you too can be both colorful & inexpensive as
a really snappy, tiny bright blue convertible
in which you can enjoy the good things about
feeling like a sardine but maybe you'd rather
be a striped bass or be a manatee with me
or a grand whale, forgetful of nothing even
being so big, the ocean's CEO, you'll take home
a giant amount of cash when the ocean goes bust
so you can share it even with the downtrodden
sardines who get packed in cans in Thailand
& shipped to the family dollar store for Bernadette

Bernadette Mayer

Thursday, March 18, 2010

two sardine poems

Where Are the Stockton Sardines?
(for all who worked at the Stockton sardine factory, 1917)

Folks remember. Wives, mothers, grannies even,
used to sit around the woodstove after supper,
telling about the days of sardines,
how they earned almost a decent day's pay
for "crammin' those silver slipperies
into those damned little tins."
Long hours of lopping off heads, then tails, while
laughing at somebody's bawdy joke or juicy gossip.
But oh those stinging cuts, then chopped off
digits, blood pouring down conveyor belts.
"Not complainin', mind ya," said Maude Brown
or Flora Ellis. "Long as sardines were runnin',
there was money for food at the company store."
But all the lotion, salves, and fancy perfumes,
even bath salts, couldn't drown the stench.

Carolyn Page

Song of Sardines

We spawn silver
Weaving Whales
We sing dark shadows
Back to the light of day

Joshua O"Donnell

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

herring riddle

Kate Barnes has sent us this herring riddle, from Popular Rhymes of Scotland 1858, also Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century - 1882, and used by Tolkein in The Lord of the Rings:

Although it's cold, no clothes I wear,
frost and snow I do not fear;
I have no use for hose or shoes
although I travel far and near.
All I eat comes free to me
I need no cider, ale, or sack;
I nothing buy, or sell, or lack.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

sardines from Morocco


Swimming against
Atlantic currents
free and disoriented,
eyes freshly powdered
with tons of blocks of ice
to abate the stench
of broken hands
and dreams shoved
in every bay
with crooked masts
they made the catch
to enrich the reckless
brains of steel...

Downstream from
wealth migrated
to Casablanca
and the lush
shores of Morocco
sardines and people
saw tides
rise above their necks
and subside
leaving them naked,
as they were
before the sardines
migrated to Maine...

Said Leghlid

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sardine drops in Eastport

On New Year's Eve a giant sardine dropped at midnight in Eastport, opening the official Year of the Sardine!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Herring Croon

Herring Croon

words and music c 1965 Gordon Bok on his cd Herrings in the Bay
last verse c 2009 Gordon Bok from the 2010 cd Other Eyes

Where do you go, little herring,
what do you see, tail and fin?
"Blue and green, cold and dark, seaweed growing high
hills a hundred fathom deep where the dead men lie
Dogfish eyes and mackerels' eyes and they hunger after me
net or weir, I don't care,
catch me if you can."

Where do you go, little boat,
tar and timber, plank and sail?
"I go to green bays, lift them under me
cold, gray, combing seas come to bury me
rocky jaws and stony claws and they hunger after me
harbors cold, deep and bold, wish that I could see."

What do you see, fisherman,
poor old sailor, blood and bone?
"Mackerel skies, mares' tails, reef and furl and steer
poor haul, and hungry days, rotten line and gear
snow-wind and winter gales and oh, they hunger after me
net or weir, I don't care, catch you if I can."

Where do you go, little herring,
what do you see, tail and fin?
"Blue and green, cold and dark, seaweed growing high
hills a hundred fathom deep where the fishermen lie
dogfish eyes and mackerels' eyes and oh, they hunger after me
net or weir, I don't care,
catch me if you can."

Where have you gone, little herring;
what have you seen, tail and fin?
"Cold and black, dead and dark, bottom torn away,
draggers staving everywhere, drug this garden dry,
pair-trawl, midwater-trawl- God, they hungered after me!
Tore my home to hell and gone
there's no more place for me."