When Bumble Bee closed the former Stinson’s plant in Prospect Harbor, the last sardine cannery in the United States, in April, a cultural shift began in Midcoast Maine, where canning the tiny silver herring had been part of coastal life for almost 135 years.

It is a sea change that Karin Spitfire, former poet laureate of Belfast, was not willing to let go unremarked. She joined forces with Brunswick-based poet Gary Lawless to declare 2010 the Year of the Sardine, and the two have collaborated with a number of organizations to create a series of events that document and celebrate the history of Maine’s sardine industry.

Their blog, sardinesong.blogspot.com, has turned into a spawning ground for writing and images of the sardine subculture, and selected contributions were just published in “Sardine Songs/Herring Hymns.” Spitfire and Lawless will bring the anthology, along with Lawless’ “Sardine Shards,” sardine-related poems, to the Maine State Museum’s 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All About Sardines event Saturday, July 31 in Augusta, the day after they present a Sardine Poetry Night at the Wayne Library.

Remembering Port Clyde Sardines

On Wednesday, Aug. 4, Spitfire and Lawless invite the community to join them from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Herring Gut Learning Center at 59 Factory Road in Port Clyde for an exploration and celebration of the village’s sardine history and culture. Film footage, artifacts, anecdotes and pictures pertaining to Port Clyde Sardines will be shared, as well as poems penned to the silver swimmers and the people who harvested and packed them.

Anyone with a Port Clyde fish tale is invited to come share it. The free evening is hosted by the nonprofit Herring Gut Learning Center; for more information, call 372-8677 or send e-mail to info@herringgut.org.

Remembering Stinson’s in Belfast

Meanwhile, at the Belfast Free Library, an exhibition of sardine images, focusing on the city’s former Stinson’s Seafood factory, will be on view during the month of August in the Kramer Gallery. The show will feature materials from the Belfast Historical Society and Penobscot Marine Museum plus artwork by Barbara Marie and Julie Cyr. On Tuesday, Aug. 10 the library will host a “Fish Forever” talk by the Penobscot East Resource Center’s Aaron Dority plus a sardine/herring industry slide show by Penobscot Marine’s Kevin Johnson.

The Sardine Extravaganza

It is all leading up to the all-day Saturday, Aug. 21 Sardine Extravaganza on the Belfast waterfront, a full day of raising a ruckus for herring and sardines. The event is shaping up to be something special, a live put-together-on-the-spot community based performance piece for the love of herring, said Spitfire. The Sardine Extravaganza is part of the Belfast Harbor Fest and National Boat Building Challenge sponsored by the local Rotary. The festival weekend will open the night before with a launch party put on by Three Tides at Steamboat Landing.

“We have a great lineup of performers, poets and divas,” said Spitfire. “Twenty people have come forward to be in the Sardine Singers, working on a new piece of music with composer Anna Dembska; the Belfast Bay Fiddlers will be playing with caller Chrissy Fowler for a grand march at the Belfast Commons at 4:30; and we will all process to the walking bridge past the old sardine plant and send our blessings out to the herring.”

The Sardine Extravaganza will open at 11 a.m. with a talk by a herring bait boatman at The Boathouse, then move at noon to the Sardine Stage on the Belfast Common for an afternoon that will include performances by the fiddling Gawler Family, Anna Dembska and the Schoodic Chorus, juggler Morty Hanson and Camden’s Gordon Bok, singing with the January Men and Then Some. The grand march to the old sardine factory site will include the Extravaganza-specific Flashing Fish Dancers and Sardine Singers plus the Belfast Drum and Rabble Corp., known from New Year’s By the Bay.

The day should prove entertaining and enlightening, and there is still time to join the singers, dancers, flotilla and Shining Sculpture Shapers; for contact and other information, visit belfastharborfest.com or sardinesong.blogspot.com.

Spitfire said that while she has enjoyed the community building aspect of this Year of the Sardine, likening the gatherings to schools of herring, “the great celebrations and acknowledgment of the community life we have shared with the herring, the salient issue now is the safe-guarding and sustainability of the remaining herring community.”

“That is the hard work, and we hope by giving voice to the past, and praise and blessings in the present, we can stimulate appropriate action by people in relationship to herring for the future,” she said.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.