john haines | a winter light & if the owl calls again

29 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 123 | November 17, 2006

2 by John Haines

“Even more than politics, poetry is local. For John Haines, his poetry has had an ongoing attachment to Alaska, his experience of the land as well as the stories of its people. Born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1924, and for several years an art student on the East Coast, it was after becoming a homesteader in Alaska that Haines in 1966 published his first book of poems, Winter News, followed by his second collection The Stone Harp in 1971 (both issued by Wesleyan University Press). This was the start of an impressive body of work, including News from the Glacier: Selected Poems 1960-1980 (Wesleyan, 1982), New Poems: 1980-1988 (Story Line Press, 1990) and The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems (Graywolf, 1996). His books of prose include Living Off the Country: Essays on Poetry and Place (University of Michigan Press, 1981) and a memoir, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire (Graywolf, 1989)

hainesjohn.jpgBut poetry does not remain local. Indeed, what characterizes Haines’s poetry is its ability to make that leap from the personal to the mythic, to celebrate and explore that which is essential in human experience. Haines’s poetry is also often marked by a ferocious economy of language that finds its power through the resonance of image, of its connection with the natural and cultural world, regardless of whether the poem involves a military cemetery in Eagle, Alaska, or a 16th century engraving by Albrecht Dürer…” Norbert Blei


A Winter Light by John Haines

We still go about our lives
in shadow, pouring the white cup full
with a hand half in darkness.

Paring potatoes, our heads
vent over a dream—
glazed window through which
the long, yellow sundown looks.

By candle or firelight
your face still holds
a mystery that once
filled caves with the color
of unforgettable beasts.

from TWENTY POEMS, Unicorn Press, 1973


If the Owl Calls Again by John Haines

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.



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