Saturday, June 29, 2013

Missing John Haines

Today would have been John Haines' (1924-2011) 89th birthday.  John, who passed away in Alaska in March 2011, was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a naval officer. As a boy, Haines attended school here in Washington, D.C., while his father was stationed at the Washington Navy Yard.

After serving on a navy destroyer in the South Pacific during World War II, Haines studied at American University and the National Art School, both in Washington, and the Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

In 1947, Haines left Washington and eventually homesteaded acreage along the Richardson Highway approximately 68 miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.  It was here that he spent much of the next four decades running his trap lines and living off the land while trying to realize his artistic talents.  It was here that he moved from the visual to the literary arts, and his experiences in the Alaskan wilderness were the inspiration for his early poetry collections - Winter News (1966) and The Stone Harp (1971), the essay collection Living Off the Country (1981), and the memoir The Stars, the Snow, the Fire (1989).

Haines came back to Washington in 1991-92 as Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Residence at the George Washington University, and visited Washington frequently during the last two decades of his life. He also taught at several other colleges and universities; his last academic appointment was as an instructor in the Honors Program at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

His later books included New Poems 1980-88 (1990), The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer (1993), Where the Twilight Never Ends (1994), Fables and Distances (1996), A Guide to the Four-Chambered Heart (1997), For the Century’s End: Poems 1990-1999 (2001), and Descent (2010).

Haines was honored for his writing, receiving the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Western States Book Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Bellagio Fellowship, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress, and the Alaska Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, among others. He was also named a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1997.

I met John as a Jenny McKean Moore fellow at George Washington University in 1991 and we remained good friends during the final two decades of his life.  He was a guest in my home during his visits to Washington, and I look back with particular fondness on the days he and I spent together in Big  Sky, Montana in the autumn of 2004 following the release of A Gradual Twilight: An Appreciation of John Haines which I edited and which was published by CavanKerry Press.

So Happy Birthday, John!  I miss you.

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