“John Skapski has one of the best balanced minds I have ever encountered… he is the indisputable king of fish and fishing metaphor on the west coast of Canada.”
– J. Michael Yates
This book is for Rivers Inlet and Millbanke Sound, two of the great gillnetting areas on the British Columbia coast, and my personal favourites, but areas no longer fished; and also for the sockeye and the dog salmon we fished there, and the people who set those nets. Make your reasons, lay what blame there is where you wish, it hardly matters: the nets drift now only in memory, and the memory drifts. And this is for those who fished with us, but are no longer here to see this, but who also continue to drift through our collective recollection.
“The more profound the truth you wish to teach, the more subtly you must seduce the senses…”
Nietzsche’s aphorism is embodied beautifully in John Skapski’s collection.
This work explores the elemental power (and menace) of the West Coast sea-faring experience with an ice-cool sensory awareness and a heightened alertness to the richness (and treachery) of language. At one level many of the poems are elegies to a disappearing way of life – and to lost lives, caught in sharply focused vignettes. Yet the texts also become existential meditations – often sparse, frequently enigmatic – about identity and memory, a voyage into psychic depths.
Coastline Blues: Two
Visions of the hustle that was
Dance among the black and leaning pilings
Like children playing in a cemetery: splash
Against shore, waterlogged cedar, and a memory
I continually fabricate, of packers
Always unloading salmon
Into a whirlpool of people and machines.
Wharves, heavy with barnacles and time,
Teredoed through and through the days and nights,
Waterlog in the silences between
Shake cabins sinking under moss at waterside
And crumbling skeletons of half remembered boats
On this or that sandy shore or rock bound cove:
Where, now and again, my wake washes through
And I invent men, motives, and machinery
Until those waves subside
And all that’s past again lies calm.
All these relics. Rusting. Welds unbeading.
History hanging loose on failing rivets, hulls flaking
In the intertidal: masts nudging surface at lower tides
Like stray memories long after a finished affair.
Picking through the detritus beyond
These various storm tide lines
Hunters of glass floats and other mementos
Work their way around another object
It’s own tombstone, nothing more chiseled upon
Than what the sea deigns: only
Sand, lichen, and imagination
To state that once it was.
about the author
John Skapski was born in London, England, in the middle of the Second World War, to Polish and English descent. After the war, his family moved to a small town in Paraguay, where there were no roads, water, or electricity. After immigration to Vancouver, Canada, Skapski got involved in the local fishing industry and studied at UBC, where he, influenced by J. Michael Yates, switched over from Engingeering to Honours English.
After completing his Masters degree in Creative Writing, Skapski started gillnetting on his own in the Steveston area, and continued to do so throughout his law studies at UBC. As a practicing lawyer, he gradually diminished his fishing duties to stay home with his family. Now, he still lives in Steveston and enjoys writing and playing ice hockey with his son.
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