Mar 3, 2011

John Haines 1924-2011

Poet, John Haines, died yesterday here in Fairbanks. He was 86.

I'd never met John Haines. A regret I feel deeply tonight. I made a trip up the road with Dennis this weekend - an annual pilgrimage of sorts where I open myself to making photographs alongside a friend, when I would otherwise be simmering in the comfort of being along. Oddly, we spoke of John Haines often this trip. The landscape was generous and heartbreaking, and as the miles went by we spoke affectionately of his determination, his standards, and eloquence. I made a promise to myself to meet him upon my return to town. To acknowledge his presence in my work, and in my head. Dennis emailed me yesterday morning of his passing.

We, Alaska, lost our greatest poet. Our voice. He was capable of articulating what many of us felt, but were too clumsy to utter.

This post isn't about me, its about him, but I feel a great loss today. Albeit, a void that is largely built of myth and idealism. His work has touched me and I, selfishly, wish I had a memory beyond these words on a page.

Truth is, I owe John Haines a debt. His poetry has challenged me, comforted me, and delighted me in a wonderful mixture of equal parts. However, Its his book Living off the Country: Essays on Poetry and Place that illustrated to me a sense of what an artist can be. Should be.

From The Writer as Alaskan: Beginnings and Reflections:

"We can hardly look to arts for specific answers to the difficulties that beset us, for they generally provide none. They can, however, reveal to us a range of possible human responses to life, show us what it is like to be alive now, feeling and thinking. And genuine literature shows, as only great writings and art do show, the significant shapes that lie behind appearances. We learn from past and living examples, poets and writers whose work owes some authentic quality to the North. What does it mean to be in this place at this time? How does it relate to what is happening in the world elsewhere? Is it no longer possible to live in Alaska, or anywhere else, and keep out the world. We are in it, for better or worse. One might make a categorical statement: no significant literature can be written now that does not include in its subject the human predicament everywhere."
"What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic."

John Haines was absolutely authentic.

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