Professor documenting Pacifica Pier life through poetry

For Toni Mirosevich, the Pacifica Pier is a unique place that is simultaneously beautiful and gritty, where disparate communities intersect and inspiration can be found.

A photo of SF State Professor of Creative Writing Toni Mirosevich at the Pacifica Pier.

SF State Professor of Creative Writing Toni Mirosevich stands on the Pacifica Pier in Pacifica, Calif.

"To walk out onto the pier is to have a front row seat on an extraordinary performance of natural life and human life," said Mirosevich, a longtime Pacifica resident and SF State professor of creative writing. "There's a free ticket for anyone who wishes to see nautical performance art in the making, there on the edge of the continent and elevated above the sea."

Mirosevich has spent nearly a year working on her "Pacifica Pier Project," which includes creating a "lyric documentary" -- a poetic account of pier life -- about the coastal landmark. She is also inviting the community to help her celebrate the pier by creating poems of their own.

The project is funded by a Creative Work grant from SF State's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and grew out of a graduate course Mirosevich teaches at SF State called "The Lyric Documentary." Poetry, she says, can record an experience just as well as photography, film, music or other forms of art. In the class, she asks her students to use verse to document their daily experiences. The Pacifica Pier project extends that concept onto the pier.

On April 14, she is inviting the community to "Fishing for Words," a poetry walk that will give community members a chance to lyrically document the pier themselves. Along the pier's walkway are stark, black and white signs instructing fishermen to cast only "two lines per person." Mirosevich will ask attendees to walk along the pier and put their thoughts into a couplet -- two lines of poetry -- each time they come across the sign. After they've walked the entire length, they will have composed a poem.

Mirosevich is also creating a manuscript documenting a year in the life of the pier. For her, the project is deeply personal. She grew up in a Croatian American fishing family in the Pacific Northwest, spending much of her childhood on the docks. Today, she walks the Pacifica Pier every day with her partner and her dog. "Writing about the pier is not just present-day documenting," she said. "For me, it's memory."
She hopes the project will raise awareness of a local landmark, particularly as a place where distinct communities -- surfers, fishermen, tourists and locals -- cross paths and often butt heads.

A photo of a sign at the Pacifica Pier that reads

A sign on the Pacifica Pier instructs fishermen to cast only "two lines per person."

"This isn't a sanitized, cleaned-up Disney ride of a pier, but a place where one can get close to more authentic wonders like the sea and those who are drawn to it," she said. "I don't think there's any place like it in the Bay Area."

"Fishing for Words" will take place from 1-4 p.m. April 14 at the Pacifica Pier, 2100 Beach Boulevard in Pacifica. The event will feature food, a poetry contest and music from the Pacifica-based Seaside Singers. "Pier Pressure: A Celebration" will take place from 7-9 p.m. April 28 at the Pedro Point Firehouse, located at 1227 Danmann Avenue in Pacifica, and will feature poetry readings, singing, multi-media presentations and a surf band. Both events are free of charge.

To learn more about the project, visit http://www.pierpoetry.org.

-- Jonathan Morales