Good news! After a pandemic hiatus, Belfast is in the process of searching for its next poet laureate to begin their reign in April. This wonderful public service position is open to any poet living in Waldo County. For more details on how to apply for the March 15 deadline, contact Thomas Moore, search committee chair, at

One of the requirements of the position is to “Be Belfastian” — subject to the laureate’s interpretation! Longtime Belfast resident and former Poet Laureate Karin Spitfire is definitely among the “Belfastian.” Not only a poet, she is also a book artist, performer and activist.

For example, Karin was the organizing energy behind the 2010 “For the Love of Herring: The Sardine Extravaganza.” (Just in case you are wondering, the words “herring” and “sardine” are frequently used interchangeably. The smaller ones in canning are usually called sardines.) Karin’s interest spawned (no pun intended) the Extravaganza.

An article in the Maine Arts Journal, written by Natasha Mayers and Lucy Lippard, described the event as a “real lollapalooza with parade, spectacle, music (Belfast Bay Fiddlers, Belfast Drum and Rabble Corps), a juggler, poems, dialogues, and photos by Ken Johnson.” Also featured was a video by Eleanor Goldberg and Karen Saum about women working at the Stinson Sardine Factory, on the property that is now Front Street Shipyard.

The Maine Arts article continues, “Attendees signed postcards demanding better monitoring of bycatch by mid-water trawlers. The Penobscot Marine Museum, Port Clyde Fisherman’s Coop, and other organizations were involved. At the end, over 300 people, some carrying silver fish effigies and wearing shimmering fish costumes, paraded past the old sardine factory and sent energy out into the herring in the bay.”

Karin herself attended the public hearing of the Atlantic Herring Fishery Management Plan as it discussed how to protect the stocks from over-fishing. She dressed as a fishmonger and read the poem published below, “Sardine Manifesto.” As a result of the combined activism, the Herring Board later responded with more sustainable catch regulations.

Karin’s poem is a combination of celebration, lament and call to action. She celebrates the beautiful shimmery fish and its importance as a food throughout the world, especially an easy-to-carry, inexpensive one in cans. In the right-hand column of the poem, she laments the demise of so many food fish in recent years, some of which actually collapsed as a species, like cod, becoming unable to reproduce their numbers. There is an implicit call to action by the herring itself telling the readers that they have the ability to make the necessary change in favor of sustainability. Fortunately, conservation efforts over recent decades are bringing some of these fish back.

The Extravaganza and the poem remind us of the important role the creative arts have had over the centuries in identifying social and economic issues and changing minds. Activist art doesn’t have to be didactic to get the point across, and in fact a little fun and celebration can go along way.

Sardine Manifesto 7

I Herring,

Atlantic, Alewife, Blueback, Shad

Feed everybody

Striper, Seal, Shorebird, Cornfields, Croatians

I Herring



Ubiquitous Cod Crashed


uncountable volumes

Pacific Herring Fell


shimmering speedy millions

Atlantic Salmon Collapsed


turn en masse

Red Herring Question Endangered

so too you

I Herring,


am the Change left in your pocket