RIVER POETRY

Web Streaming Button Bill Studebaker reads one of his poems

William StudebakerIdaho poet William Studebaker understands the several meanings of the word salmon. He grew up in the town of Salmon, along the Salmon River, and watched the salmon migrate upriver to the exact stream where they were born, only to lay their eggs and die. Studebaker believes the life cycle of the salmon is the "hero" cycle that Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung understood, where we begin, we journey, and we return.

 

[From Everything Goes Without Saying, Confluence Press, 1978]

Ars Poetica

Every year they return.
They have no map
almost no brain.
They come anyway:

stealhead, chinook salmon
traveling in silence
toward spawning beds
up the clear stream
of death.

I have sat these years
rocking my soul
while the river tunes rocks
and the green voice
of the ocean plays back
a euphonious eulogy
to the waters of the world.

Everything goes without saying.
Like my fish
these lines will turn belly-up
in the headwaters
at the glacier's foot.

[This poem was written in the early 70s when I was at ISU and had just begun to develop a voice as a poet and writer. I had practiced a long time, but it finally took subject matter to bring rhythm, trope, experience and perception together. In this poem, the first 20 plus years of my life were compressed into a riverscape (the Salmon River) and from the clarity of the water a fortune is forecast. What meanings are there beyond the rhythms salmon travel in a lifetime? How could mine be more?]

Spawned Out

This is death, you know
the instinct
that steers the salmon
out of the ocean
and drives her up stream
to a gravel bar
where she wiggles
a nest for her redd.

Having done what
she could not dream
she turns crone, withers
anchors eel-like
among river bed stone
sets her lower jaw
fish-teeth gnawing water
she's too weak to breathe.

And her roe waits for some jack
to roll the dice, to set
in motion alevin, parr, smolt--
the last good luck
for which her death
is hope.

[It is a later version of Ars Poetica, but without the allegorical implications, more sympathy than vicariousness. Another poem dependent upon my knowledge, acknowledgment of the salmons life cycle as an allegory for my life–for all of ours. The word salmon was a powerful word in my childhood: I was from Salmon which is on the Salmon river up which salmon migrated–beginning and ending a life cycle I watched with joy.]

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