Review of Watershed by Cameron Scott

Watershed by Cameron Scott
Alice Greene & Co. 2019
35 pages, $16, paperback
ISBN: 978-1-935770-21-3

Review by Susan Kay Anderson

Any book about fishing in the Far West has, as its literary birth parent, Richard Brautigan, whose Trout Fishing In America forever inspired closer looks into what could be seen as one of the most boring activities ever, but ultimately became to be viewed as a philosophical treatise. Trout Fishing In America also changed American Literature forever and ever. I feel the same excitement about Watershed, by Cameron Scott because he is experimenting with this subject,   much like America Hart’s, into the silence:  a fishing story (Red Hen Press, 2014) and its sublime examination of the language of water, fish, and people. 

Scott experiments with what is his world and gives us a portrait that is so yearning, so subtly wrenching, that we are swept up in something forgotten yet so familiar. So wild and so domesticated. Us. Them. They. Fish. Planet Earth. He revisits this tradition of “man in nature” and “man as nature” and also takes steps to blend into his surroundings to tell us what is found there. Let’s just say he is willing to be erased. Willing to do this work in order to show us readers what loss and its flipside, beauty, feels like in mostly short poems with some longer pieces, in Watershed

Scott, who lives and teaches in Wallowa County, Oregon, has given us an instruction manual, in his book, Watershed, on how to grieve a loss, or in this case, many losses, by going out into the out-of-door places and casting his rod. I mean to say fishing rod, but I also mean to say magic wand. I also mean to say that love is what is happening in these scenes, these poems. 

The short poem, “Butternut Browns” where “…the whole of the river is your body…” Scott lays it all out and does not keep his knowledge hidden and saved for later. He is the magician here, and gives us images of what transforms into art and lets us see, “the low shapes I love best…like shards of wheat field light…”

There is also a lot of fire in Watershed in the form of bonfires, the sun, flickering, and light from stars.  Perhaps this is because this element balances water and sharpens it. There is the warmth of those in contrast to water. These also warming the water and we are reminded of our warming, watery planet. 

In “Steelhead #4”, Scott’s poetry becomes surreal and disturbing in the good way that the surreal takes us beyond what we think we know. This poem has a phone in it and this is code for, “excuse me, hello, the surreal is here”, the otherworldly, and (warning) disorientation is happening. Enjoy. Go back and forth in this book and see that this is where most of Scott’s poems in Watershed put us.  

In “Evening Hatch” we see that, “…The world tastes like honey” after an excursion away from a social gathering (in this case, a wedding that is held creek-side or near water) to–what else–but to do a little fishing before returning to the gathering. What could be warmer than this, except love? Or, is the answer here that this is love, this is just checking to see what is underneath the surface, if there is a live being that could either be consumed or let go. What seems like a mundane poem with a mundane title becomes one of the sexiest in Watershed

His endeavor here, in Watershed, is a project of such precise passion and instinct for what is important in life and in poems is like a leap into an icy cold spring. Watershed is refreshing as it is stimulating. It is as healing as it is heartbreaking because Scott is showing us his place beside the river of generosity in these pages. 

The implications of this book on American Poetry will be felt as small ripples of a circle, then, and will be known far and wide. The prominent poet, James Crews, points out that beauty does not change anything and that pointing to it does not affect a situation but serves to help us endure (pain) a little bit better.