Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Poetry Festival Pop-Up Sardine Shrine

image by Leslie Moore

On Saturday, October 13, 2018, for the Belfast Poetry Festival, I set up a small Sardine Shrine pop-up pilgrimage site, to honor the many many fish who came through the Belfast sardine factory, and the many women and men who worked those fish. The image above, and the poems below, arrived at the site which faced the location where the sardine plant used to be.

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.

Gary Lawless


Gone, gone again is Summer the lovely.
She that knew not where to hide,
is gone again like a jeweled
fish from the hand,
is lost on every side.
Mute, mute I make my way to the garden,
Thither where she last was seen;
The heavy foot of the frost
is on the flags there,
where her light step has been.
Gone, gone again is Summer the lovely,
Gone again on every side;
Lost again like a shining fish
from the hand into the shadowy tide.

Thank you for your labor and
thank you or your presence,
for your hard work, and the desire
to take care of your families
to do what most
would not,
to feed us,
nourish us,
to survive and raise families
and live in this oh so
hard and beautiful place.

Lullaby of the Little Tin Cradle
(triolet in honor of Maine's sardine families)

couffin couffin little tin can
to keep the herring swimming in dreams
its lid curled back for a candle pan
couffin couffin little tin can
flat candle cradle for mama's stand
flicker and float on Time's old stream
couffin couffin little tin can
oh keep the herring swimming in dreams

Patricia Smith Ranzoni

Like the old poets say...
fires to the West.
so they've discovered more moons around Jupiter?
fools continue to dominate yesterday's news.
a day will come when the fat blimp deflates
little green worms drop
from garden-cut flowers on the kitchen table.
early birds stir before dawn.
if you go deep enough & if you have time
under trees
owls will find your ears.

Eero Ruuttila


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Ellen Taylor - ode to sardines

Ode to Sardines -

On the closing of the last sardine plant, Prospect Harbor, Maine
April 16, 2010

The fisherman clad in foul weather gear
towering over the plant's main entrance can fish on e-bay when the doors shutter,
when the last hundred factory workers
file to the unemployment office
instead of onto assembly lines.
Generations of women with hairnets,
wool sweaters and rubber gloves packed thousands
of fish a day, in the predictable sardine can, 3.75 ounces.
Lift Ring to Rim, Pull Back. Inside silver
skinned and iridescent, delectable
morsels, headless, thin-spined, swimming in oil.
My mother and I ate them with saltines;
no one else in the family could bear the smell.
We'd lunch separately at the kitchen table,
savoring each oily bite, licking our fingers clean.
Two cans for a dollar then, when ships hauled
herring by the ton, before people ate more
than oceans could produce, before fishing
regulations put limits on the catch
so sardines don't go the way of cod,
of salmon, of the whale now in museums.
Now if we find sardines they'll be shipped
from Mexico, or from Canada, if
we have any sardines left to eat, if
we have any fish left to eat, if
we have any fish.

Ellen Taylor
from her book "Compass Rose"

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Gary Snyder Herring Poem

How Zen Masters Are Like Mature Herring

So few become full grown.
And how necessary all the others,
gifts to the food chain,
feeding another universe.

These big ones feed sharks.

Gary Snyder
from "Left Out In The Rain"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Smelt Festival in Bowdoinham

Bowdoinham (Maine) will be the home of the first Ice and Smelt Festival, February 3 & 4 at Mailly Waterfront Park.
The festival will include a reception and opening on Feb 3, 530 - 8 PM at the Merrymeeting Arts Center to open the show "Ice Cutting and Smelt Fishing on Merrymeeting Bay" with work by local artists and a reading of "Smelt Makes Ice" by local artist Bryce Muir, from his book "Local Myths."
There will be a dance following the reception, at the Bowdoinham Town Hall.
On Feb 4 events run from 10 AM to 4 PM and include a Carnivale of Smelt, a costumed parade staged by the Ziggarut Theater Ensemble, games and contests, including a Best Beard Contest, with multiple categories.
The events will kick off the 250th Bowdoinham Anniversary Celebration.
Come on out and celebrate the Smelt.
for more information, go to:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

sardines at the american folk festival

Karin Spitfire and Gary Lawless will be reading sardine poems at the American Folk Festival, Bangor, Maine on Sunday, August 28. There will be two readings, at 1230 and 330, on the stage in the Children's Village area. The whole list of events at the festival that day sounds great. Come on out and say hello to our sardine sages!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kendall Merriam poem

Kendall Merriam, native of Rockland Maine where he is currently the official poet laureate, sends this poem:

Ode to Polish Sardine Packers

There is a hell of an easterly
rubbing the point across from me
with dedicated whitecaps
last night I snuck downstairs
and ate a can of King Oscar's finest
two layers, smoked, packed in Poland
my darling country
I had the privilege of working
in Holmes Packing just before college
a minor lesson in hell
hot steaming work, the smell of mustard
and fish steamed into my clothing
the herring much larger than the brisling
you deal with all the time
how do you do such fine hand work?
with the olive oil bath
in each can
my friend Woody Post swears by them
and he has known sardines all his life
used thousands over a lifetime
of baiting up lobster traps
within the past year
the last packing plant in Maine closed
where there used to be dozens
I know the Baltic is dead
do yours come from the North Sea
a place of storms and danger
to hold up some former King of Norway
they have a lovely secret, smokey taste
eaten straight from the can
last summer Gary and Karin
hosted a celebration
of this essence of ocean
in Belfast (Maine)
giving the fish its due
considering the millions
that have gone to human bellies
after the invention of weirs
and purse seiners
some of the slave islands
depended on them to
get the sugarcane harvest out
now those passing through Poland
sell for almost $3.00
for 3.75 ounces
and are devoured in three minutes
are truffles more than this?
Poland's economy has recovered
now, in part, due to brislings
isn't that such a lovely word
from the Polish language?

Kendall Merriam
January 10, 2011

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.