Saturday, January 16, 2016

Of Minstrels and Poets

There are few things that make me feel more inadequate as a writer than reading the prose of a poet. It’s a theme I alluded to in my last blog, and one I’d like to explore further here. Somewhere, somehow, there ought to be a law against it. Poets pack more punch, more allusion, more innuendo—more everything—into two words than I can in 200.

My friend, Tim Conroy, from my writer’s group brought a poem for critique this week. He’d written it for a contest whose rules limited him to ten lines. The poem’s title was “Cane Pole.”

Cane Pole. Two words. For me those two words unlocked a flood of memories: fishing with my grandmother using a cane pole crouching on a rickety wooden floating dock bobbing in the waters of Lake Wylie. Often we were joined by a boy about my age, a dirt encrusted urchin who was tan and wore only cutoff blue jean shorts. He didn’t have a pole, cane or otherwise. He had a ball of monofilament fishing line and a hook. He’d drop his line through a knothole in one of the deck boards and go for the smaller fish. I saw him two summers in a row. I never knew his name. That was 45 years ago, but to me he’ll always be nine, grease streaked and smelling of suntan lotion.

Cane Pole—Most of the time my grandmother and I used balled up white bread as bait for the bream we wanted. Other times we’d stop off at a store and invest in minnows. Two stores were close to our fishing spot. Long’s had creaky wooden floors. It smelled of fresh-brewed coffee. Mr. Long sold crickets and minnows and artificial bait. He also sold canned pork & beans, fan belts, oil, and filter wrenches. The crickets provided a constant chirp in the background.

The other store, Mr. George’s, sold minnows, too. His store smelled of hot dog chili. Mr. George’s also had a radiating bullet hole in his glass front door. Someone tried to rob him, and he shot the man as he left the store. I never went there without being fearful that the robber—or another—would try again with me inside. Nearly fifty years later, that fear is still present, palpable even—all because of two words: cane pole, two words that make me yearn to find the poet inside me.


  1. Sam,

    The only time I think I went fishing with a cane pole was during my two years as a Virginian (2nd and 3rd grade) when we fished for catfish.

    Isn't language amazing that the simple use of two words triggers such strong memories.

    ~ Jim

  2. Words and quotes inspire me. The other day I ran across a Carroll Lewis quote: "Imagination is our only defense against reality." It feeds my notion of the wonderment of fiction, using our imagination and inspiring others to go into the great beyond. But you have to envision first. Cane pole is so concrete, but a springboard--to Tom Sawyer, to the Orient, to anywhere.

  3. Love this, Sam. Isn't it amazing how the smallest thing - a scent, a bit of music, or a few words - can transport us to another time and place?

  4. Sam, when you wrote about Cane Pole and the memories it brought to you, I thought of my grandmother who loved to fish along a river north of us. She'd never get in a boat and preferred the river bank. I didn't fish because although I've never been afraid of snakes, I couldn't bare to touch worms, however sometimes I went with my grandparents who fished far apart along the river. My biggest memory of those times were the swarms of mosquitoes. We didn't have any mosquito repellent in those days to my knowledge, and also my hope that my grandparents would soon get tired of the fishing so we could go back to the car. I would have enjoyed it much more without those mosquitoes.

  5. My grandfather was an avid fisherman. He put up with us squirmy and loud children. I still have mental pictures of him when I hear about fishing.

  6. cane pole fishing off the jetty in South Chatham, MA, as a child. I caught blowfish with white bread bait. You're correct, just the words "cane pole" evoke so many memories.