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John Haines


Born in Norfolk, Virginia, on June 29, 1924, John Haines studied at the National Art School, the American University, and the Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art. The author of more than ten collections of poetry, his works include For the Century's End: Poems 1990-1999 (University of Washington Press, 2001); At the End of This Summer: Poems 1948-1954 (Copper Canyon Press, 1997); The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer (1993); and New Poems 1980-1988 (1990), for which he received both the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Western States Book Award.

He also published a book of essays entitled Fables and Distances: New and Selected Essays (1996), and a memoir, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire: Twenty-five Years in the Northern Wilderness (1989).

In 1997, he was named a Fellow by the Academy of American Poets. Academy Chancellor at the time Richard Howard wrote: 

     Nearly four decades of concentrated making, 'anchored
     like a ghost in heavy chains,' have afforded John Haines
     what is by now a distinctive resonance: his narrowly
     argued poems are wizened by opposing forces yet
     warmed by identifications of a shared human fate, and
     readers have come to cherish this clear voice, this clear
     vision. How gallantly images of acknowledged human
     defeat are shared with brother seers—with Goya and
     Rodin among them, Dürer and Delacroix, Hopper and
     Hartley, supremely at the end with Michelangelo!—yet
     how gravely the landscapes and weathers of his chosen
     North have made Haines's particular tract—that region
     of "the quelled and muttering life of stones"—into an
     Alaska of human intent as well as of the atlas. The
     choice of John Haines as this year's Academy Fellow
     appears, like his singular and inevitable poems, a
     phenomenon naturally made.

Haines spent more than twenty years homesteading in Alaska and taught at Ohio University, George Washington University, and the University of Cincinnati. Haines's other honors included the Alaska Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Amy Lowell Travelling Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress.

John Haines died on March 2, 2011, in Fairbanks, Alaska.

By This Poet


Fairbanks Under the Solstice

Slowly, without sun, the day sinks
toward the close of December.
It is minus sixty degrees.

Over the sleeping houses a dense
fog rises—smoke from banked fires,
and the snowy breath of an abyss
through which the cold town
is perceptibly falling.

As if Death were a voice made visible, 
with the power of illumination...

Now, in the white shadow
of those streets, ghostly newsboys
make their rounds, delivering 
to the homes of those
who have died of the frost
word of the resurrection of Silence.

If the Owl Calls Again

at dusk from the island in the river, and it's not too cold, I'll wait for the moon to rise, then take wing and glide to meet him. We will not speak, but hooded against the frost soar above the alder flats, searching with tawny eyes. And then we'll sit in the shadowy spruce and pick the bones of careless mice, while the long moon drifts toward Asia and the river mutters in its icy bed. And when the morning climbs the limbs we'll part without a sound, fulfilled, floating homeward as the cold world awakens.