This afternoon, I made a long overdue trip down to The Observatory. I've been meaning to stop in, to start some research, and to talk to Dee (the owner) for some weeks now. It had been to long since I last lost myself in those heaps of dusty old Alaska titles. As usual, Dee was full of stories, and I love to listen to her go on about history and the locals who have made up this place. We spoke of travels, photography, writing, and that there aren't enough years in a hundred lives to do it all. I always leave there with a life times worth of ideas and projects. Dreams.
One of the finds of the afternoon was a copy of John Haines' Living of the Country: Essays on Poetry and Place. I own a tattered copy with a duct tape spine, have bought a few for others over the years, and hold it up as the blueprint for the artist here. No one speaks more clearly than Haines.
John Haines died a year ago this month. The following is the first page from his essay Roots from the Living Off the Country:
Good poems come from roots, by accident or by determination. And by roots I don't necessarily mean the work must grow out of a certain place on a map. To be centered in a geographical region has been a matter of great importance to poets in the past, and it can still be, though it may be disappearing as an option. But I mean that the work, and the life, must have their origin in a place of conviction for the poet. It may be an entirely imaginary place invented for the poem, but it is nonetheless true. The poet believes in, or his becoming a believer in, or he may be letting go of a belief in, a self, a way of being, a way of seeing and feeling. He occupies, or is in the process of occupying, an actual imaginary ground, ground on which he sees himself with some inner clarity. It is a known place, full of meaning for the poet. What he is and does takes its vitality from that place, that certainty. The work itself may be a stretch for that place, an approach to it, or even an exit from it into or toward a more substantial reality. Good benches and chairs, as well as poems, come from roots. A man who has mistaken his life and who does not believe in what he is doing, who wishes he were somewhere else, doing another thing, is not likely to build good chairs nor to grow good turnips."