|OUTSIDER POET - B.H. "RED" FISHER - by Brock Ellis|
If you were on a campus or reading McLean's magazine in 1971, chances are you were led to believe Canada's literary scene consisted of Earl Birney, Leonard Cohen, Margaret Lawrence, and Milton Acorn. Certain circles would talk of the up-and-coming poets - the Ondattjes and the Musgraves. Sadly omitted, however, was one of Canada's elite outdoor poets - B.H. "Red" Fisher. "Red" of course was banished from serious consideration because he began as a television personality and synicated outdoor journalist before his foray into the world of literature. Perhaps "Red" was also ignored because he was a man of the countryside, who had no time for the bustle of the city streets, who prefered to spend his mornings knee-deep in a Brook Trout infested creek than in the gridlock of a morning rush hour. In his 1971 collection, "Poems of Our Great Outdoors", he defiantly challenged the wisdom of man's so-called 'progress' in a poem entitled "Flying By", warning us that "...speed has made us rebels, and reactionary fools."
The power of "Poems of Our Great Outdoors" lies in the fact that Red wrote the collection as a labour of love. Already a television and newspaper personality, Red didn't need to develop himself as a professional poet. Indeed, it was a situation in which Red had thoughts, opinions and emotions that he could only express through the means of rhyming four line stanzas. Poems like the anti-A Bomb "Boomerangs of Destiny", the tribute to the fallen vetran, "A Soldier's Cross", and the philisophical "Changing Times" all reflected a deeper side to Canada's famous fisherman and hunter. In the collection's introduction, Red wrote, "(These poems) depict the philosophy of how urgent it is, that man learns to share his destiny. They portray the contrast of each man's dependence upon one another, once the individual world he builds around himself, becomes but a fragment in the galaxy of existence. To correlate these worlds then, we must turn to the wilderness. For it is here, that nature strips away the thin raiments of man's race, color, creed, or his position in life."
At the end of every episode of "The Red Fisher Show", Red would extend his thanks towards his guest and offer him a copy of "Poems of Our Great Outdoors." On the rare occasion (when they were running short on footage) Red would crack open a copy and give an impromptu reading of one of his poems. "The Red Fisher Show" was the prototype for which all hunting and fishing shows originated from. The formula was simple and effective. Red and a guest would go on a fishing trip, usually somewhere in Northern Canada, but occasionally to the Florida Cays or the Bahamas. The cameraman would shoot Red and his guest meeting the owner of the lodge and his guide, leaving the dock, landing a few healthy fish, cooking them up on the shore, and then shaking hands and saying goodbye to the owner and guide. None of the footage (the film stock never seemed better than Super 8) would have sound. Red and his guest would watch the silent film on the set which was constructed like the corner of a fishing lodge (named Scuttlebutt Lodge) and rehash their weekend, providing a colour commentary for the viewers. Riveting stuff for a sports enthusiast stuck inside the house on a wintery Saturday afternoon.
I saw Red Fisher at the Toronto Sportsman show in the mid-to-late seventies (I was probably 8 or 9 years old). I originally spotted him adjudicating the bird dog trials - an event in which the middle of an arena is dressed to look like a section of the bush, complete with miniature swamps and real bushes. A blank was fired and simultaneously a dead bird (probably stuffed) was thrown into an area of the bush. The dog owner then tried to get his dog to retrieve the bird. I was not only transfixed by this event, but by Red's presence in the same auditorium as mine. At the time, seeing someone who was on television was a big deal and Red Fisher was probably about the biggest star I could concieve of. A few hours later, in the showroom, we stumbled across the man himself who was signing autographs. I bought a copy of "Poems of Our Great Outdoors" and asked for his autograph which has since been lost (for some reason neither of us thought of him signing the book).
Now, for the first time in internet history, Bushparty is proud to present to you a sampling of Red's classic golden poems.