My home office has got some hellafied built-in bookshelves. As a matter of fact, those bookshelves and the barn were the two things that sold me on the house when we first looked at it. The reason for my bookshelf love is that I’ve got a hellafied collection of books and sundry life-artifacts that fill them like bookshelves should be filled. It’s a hand-in-glove thing. Feng shui meets the Delta Blues meets Fight Club. If this is your first time on fishingpoet, you have to fish.
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

My bookshelves pretty much embody my life. They are a wildly eclectic timeline of decades spent running around the world–some with an actual purpose. Medals, photos and training manuals from my time in Service. A knot of black walnut from Island 69 in the Mississippi River, not far from Clarksdale. An ace of diamonds I found under a car tire in Ruleville, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson supposedly died after one of his riders (who was also another man’s wife) poisoned him. Hand scrawled roadtrip maps and AAA map-books on dozens of roadtrip states. So many journals. Fly boxes, reels, line and tying materials. Pictures of the kids, the arc of their full-speed childhood growing in stop-motion. Poetry broadsides. Fest mugs from my time stationed in Germany. Old collections of Field & Stream, Poets & Writers, Living Blues, Life, Lacrosse and Gray’s Sporting Journal. New collections of Gray’s, Fly Fishing Journal and The Drake. Every rejection letter I’ve ever received in response to writing I’ve submitted for publication. Advertising awards. A couple field-found fox and deer skulls. Virginia brook trout plates from my old truck…

Oh yea…then there’s the books.

The gamut runs from cheap, dog-eared paperbacks to signed hard-cover first editions with their dust-jackets. They’ve joined the fracas as Christmas, birthday and attaboy presents, from cramped one-room used book stores, garage and estate sales, the premium-priced shelves of college book stores in NY, VA and TX, trash-day boxes on the side of the road and from the interweb. Walt, Bukowski, Frost and Tupac. Lord of the Rings, Nick Adams, Clockwork Orange and A River Runs Through it. Calvin and Hobbes, Batman, Superman and Outland (*ack*cough*). Walden, A Sand County Almanac, Trout Bum and Stories of the Old Duck Hunters Club. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Contemporary American Poetry, The Magical Realist Fiction Anthology and Modern Genetics.

They were once in alphabetical order and organized by genre–poetry here, fiction here, non-fiction here, text-books here. But they have lived with each other in sin for long enough now that I fear even a weekend locked in my office with beer and my OCD would probably not cut it.

But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Life is blessedly messy. It’s a mashup of the valuable and the worthless, the gaudy and the precious, the good the bad and the ugly. It’s as much about frozen guides, blown out rivers, flies and fish gone, gone, gone in the thick brush on the other side of the pool, as it is the hook-up, god-I-promise-I’ll-be-a-better-man-if-you-let-me-land-this-toad prayer and glorious photo op.

There’s no straight line. No gimme’s. We’ve all got flaws and faults and make mistakes. At best, we gather it all into our arms and keep on toward the always-open horizon. At worst, we gather it all in our arms and keep on toward the always-open horizon. The fact is, we’re all learning as we go along. If somebody tells you they’ve got it figured out – they’re full of shit…and probably couldn’t find their ass with a GPS.

In the 9 months since I went out on my own as a freelance writer, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate my bookshelves – my life. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t read near enough–I don’t take near enough time to step back from my flaws and faults and mistakes, pick my head up and see the field. Life is busy – kids, committees, work, home projects. Excuses are easier and easier to come by. That said, the days are not getting any longer, it’s getting harder to keep my washboard abs, and my kids are not getting any smaller.

I made the jump because I realized that I needed to be more deliberate about life, and the past 9 months have been a pretty good start toward that wide-open horizon. The view from my bookshelves just keeps getting better. Even if they are a mess.




Filed under Making a living, On the water, Poetry, The road


  1. “god-I-promise-I’ll-be-a-better-man-if-you-let-me-land-this-toad prayer”

    Been there many times. Loved this article and thank you for showing us around the holy of holies. Very cool to see.


  2. Nice work, brother. Loving it.

  3. Gorgeous, Matt. Gorgeous.


  4. bob nisson

    nice to see some humility matt, just don’t hide behind the shelves

  5. Thanks for sharing. A buddy of mine just built us a custom home office and I’ve been deciding what’s special enough to make it onto these gourgeous new shelves. I’ve been thinking about getting a set of those plates for my truck, too. Notwithstanding the stuff on the shelves, I’m most covetous of the washboard abs. Haven’t had those in _at_least_ 25 years.

    — Greg

    • fishingpoet

      Awesome on the custom shelves…fill ’em up!

      Yea, I haven’t seen my abs in that long either. Well, except in old pictures of me after I finished Basic Training and Army Engineer School.

  6. Ross aka the flytyinfreak

    “ACK, Cough” And we all thought Bill the Cat was dead! He was smokin banana peels on the roof of the white house with Tipper gore the whole damn time. ……Anywho, Bukowski and beer mugs and skulls found on long walks. Tupac and fly rods and Maclean’s river fish talk, these are a few of my favorite things…. 9 months and you’ve given birth to something wonderfully seminal, a fine piece of writting and one helluva way to share your life with us. I feel well grounded and reassured that I’m not alone when I finish reading your blog. Kudos Matt, You da man!

  7. “Life is wonderfully messy”

    …and somehow all makes sense on a bookshelf. Great stuff.


  8. Excellent, Matt. A well-lived-in office that seems to be all in a healthy state of disorder. What is is they say about a clean office being a sign of a sick mind, or something like that? My wife has recently been watching some damn home decorating channel and by virtue of a tip she saw, has been turning all the books around so the spines face inward. Apparently doing so is supposed to reduce the visual clutter that the myriad different and wide-varying spines allegedly contribute to. It’s rather bland in my opinion, and now I can’t find the books I may be looking for. Don’t ever do that to the bookshelves in your office. Love the tattered old Ace of Diamonds, btw.

    • fishingpoet

      I think if I walked into my office an found the books all spine-in, it’d be about the equivalent of leaving the kitchen for a second and returning to find all the cupboards open. I get the creeps just thinking about it.

      That ace of diamonds has held a special place for a while now. It’s a keeper.

  9. I have come back to this story 3 times….it never gets old. In fact it inspires me to read more, write more, and get some book shelves installed. Thanks Matt! I look forward to fishing with you again.

    • fishingpoet

      Thanks, bro. Great to hear from you. I’ve got a couple demo rods coming next week that I’ll need to work out, so yea, fishing soon.

  10. “How many times have you felt like a bookcase sitting in the living room gathering dust, full of thought already written?” –Ian Mackaye, Fugazi

  11. Fishbaydoc

    I’ve got those VA Brook trout plates. I’m friends with the artist who painted them. Hanging with artistic types is like fishing a new river every time!

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