Tuesday, August 24, 2010
But soft! What splash from yonder stream I hear? With a decidedly Shakespearean bent, our readers have chosen from three worthy finalists the tale of a fish-spurned lover in Jerry Juday's "Russian River Campground, 5:15 a.m." as their favorite bad writing in our annual 49 Writers Ode to a Dead Salmon contest. For his efforts, Juday will get his choice of autographed t-shirts from Alaskan artist (and author) Ray Troll.
Anchorage business and real estate lawyer Jerry Juday says he figures the legal profession’s long tradition of bad writing gave him an edge in our contest. An undergraduate major in English, Juday says, "The stain of those dotty old lit professors put on one’s being just does not wash off easily. I’m afraid it shows in my “Ode to a Dead Salmon” entry, as literate readers will recognize that I brazenly plagiarized both Shakespeare and Keats. I actually thought about doing the whole thing in perfect iambic pentameter, but I’m just not that talented."
While pondering the unwritten novel in the back of his head, Juday contributes to the blog his law firm maintains, www.alaskalawblog.com. For fun, he occasionally posts journals of bicycle tours he's taken on www.crazyguyonabike.com. Many of our readers will recognize him through his wife, Sara, in her years as Associate Publisher of Alaska Northwest Books.
As for our other esteemed finalists, Alexia Gordon ("Beauty") is a physician who has just (3 months ago) moved from Virginia to Alaska. She has been writing and doing other creative things like needlework, collage, and photography for years (minus several years of medical school/residency) but she says the Ode to a Dead Salmon contest is the first writing contest, bad or otherwise, she has entered. "Until I moved up here," Gordon says, "the only salmon I'd ever seen was on china or styrofoam, so I'm excited that my first salmon-themed literary efforts made it to the finalist round of the competition."
Likewise, J.J. Weicker ("On Finding My Dog Has Rolled at the River's Edge") says, "I'm honored to be one of the finalists in this year's contest--the competition was horrifically excellent." Weicker lives in Homer, but he says his rookie mistake of walking an unleashed dog by a spawned-out salmon stream happened long ago on Prince of Wales Island. "It was my first summer in Alaska," Weicker says, "and I remember the resulting stench well."
Weicker adds that he'd hoped writing his poem would cleanse him of bad literary impulses, freeing him to write The Great Alaskan Novel, but he fears he may have more clichés of the North to exorcise. "Perhaps I should compose an Ode to the Shed Moose Antler, Now Crusted with Lichen?" he says. "To the Half-cleaned Razor Clam, Still Wiggling in my Sink?"
Before we find ourselves too far adrift in the sea of bad Alaskan cliches, here again is our 2010 Ode to a Dead Salmon winning entry:
RUSSIAN RIVER CAMPGROUND, 5:15 A.M.
by Jerry Juday
John: But soft! What splash from yonder stream I hear?
Mary: I know not, my handsome young bushwacker.
John (peering out of tent door): Hark! In the fresh-washed light of morn I do spy the
flashing glint of moistened flanks. (Now pointing.) Yes, there! And there! And there again!
Mary (exasperated): O, foolish man, burdened with wrongheaded desires. Let the wiser head take control.
John (enthusiastically): Lo, how my bosom swells in anticipation of stealthily stalking the brushy banks, breathing deep the fecund air, then slipping softly on rubbered soles into the intoxicating channel.
Mary: Hush now, husband! Lie back down. My bosom swells for thee. Let us brew our own intoxication here on this airy love shingle -- my Thermarest. My loins warm it for thee.
John: Tis sockeye . . . sockeye! The great red swarm has returned to the natal waters to spawn. Yes, to spawn and to die. Generation after generation, they come to nuzzle the maternal gravel. Overcoming every obstacle, unrelenting, the throng pushes and thrusts its way home, and so forth and so on, etcetera.
Mary: Yi! The nuzzling sounds good just now.
(A noise is heard, stage left.)
John: What ho? Do I discern the heavy tread of the barbed biped? The anglers are bestirring; the game is afoot. I must make haste. (He exits the tent.)
Mary: No! Pray sir, I beseech you: do not wet your fly just yet. Leave the salmon in peace to do their spawning. That precious moment of piscine passion is so short, a mere gossamer speck in the ever flowing river of life. Tarry thou by my side just a few minutes more. Think on it, my love, do not the wriggling and the spilling of milt and egg put a notion in your head?
John: Fie, woman! Heed the words of the poet writ here upon my garb: “Ain't no nookie like Chinookie.” The salmon have arrived; the course of my destiny is laid. I am off now, with rod in hand. (He departs.)
Mary (sighing): Alas, the mute salmon speak to him more eloquently than I. Still, the fish remember what he forgets. True beauty is a mate, and a mate is true beauty -- that is all we doomed creatures really know on earth and all we need to know.