Book Review: “Watershed” by Cameron Scott

I don’t often go out of my way to read poetry, which is a bit odd given that I’m just finishing up a degree in English Education. I prefer the narrative works of Thomas McGuane and John Gierach to poetry. Well, most of the time, I do.

Then Cameron Scott sent me a copy of Watershed (Alice Greene & Co., $16.00, paperback) and remembered how much I appreciate and enjoy poetry that’s well-done.

Watershed is a collection of poems about fly fishing, family, and life. The poetry is remarkably well-done in its simplicity. Perhaps it’s even sparse in places, though I’ve long been a fan of brevity. The poems don’t try to be more than what they are, and Scott doesn’t hit readers over the head with blatant themes and morals.

In the poem “Letter Home” Scott writes, “Forgive me father, for I have become a fisherman like grandpa . . . Fish have carried me this far. They have fed me when I have forgotten.” Scott’s deft wordsmith skills are on full display here, because he acutely says what so many fishing writers have picked at for years now – that in many ways, fish sustain us just as much as we sustain them.

It’s not just what Scott says that makes this book of poetry so great, though – it’s how he says it. The settings are vibrant and real, and the numerous stories of steelhead resonated with me, even though I’ve never fished for them.

Scott also absolutely nails the oddities of the underground fly fishing culture, writing in “Second Law of Fish” that “When entering a fly shop, enter slowly with arms down and palms facing forward. Do not make any sudden movements or fire random questions at employees behind the counter. Friend, you have three questions, choose them carefully and do not waste them jumping down the rabbit hole of fish you caught one time or where you have been or how full of prowess and stealth you are.”

That’s a tongue-in-cheek, but bitingly accurate, observation of the unspoken rules by which most anglers try to live.

What really capped off this book for me, though, is the longer free-verse entry entitled “Guiding Mom.” I have a soft spot for parents who fish with their kids, because my dad is the one who taught me to fish. This piece is, I believe, the best in Scott’s collection.

Overall, Scott produced an impeccable work full of thought-provoking insights. You’ll read Watershed and likely think more deeply about your own place in the world – the one with fish, and the one without them.

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