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John Haines

Visiting Poet

John Haines

Distinguished poet and essayist John Haines is the author of more than ten collections of poetry. His recent works include At The End Of This Summer: Poems 1948-1954 (Copper Canyon Press, 1997); Owl In The Mask Of The Dreamer (1993); and New Poems 1980-88 (1990), for which he received both the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Western States Book Award. He has 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).

John Haines has taught at Ohio University, George Washington University, and the University of Cincinnati. Named a Fellow by The Academy of American Poets in 1997, his other honors include the Alaska Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress.

Haines was born in 1924 in Norfolk, Virginia. He has studied at the National Art School, the American University, and the Hans Hoffmann School of Fine Art. He has spent a total of fifty years in the Alaskan wilderness, which has contributed to his unique narrative voice. He currently lives in Helena, Montana.

Select Poems


Of yourself and your beginnings,

these scattered images

say what you are

and what you may become.

Morning and Spring come again

to the island where you live,

always Daphne. Soul of the wind,

there are vines at your throat,

your ear thinned to a shell

that listens to water and the voice

of a sea bird crying in the fog.


I know three women that are you:

One keeps track of the silver

in a box of drawers, she loves

the glitter and the falling sound.

Another climbs all day the rooms

in a vacant house: she rocks

at night before a fire, reads

from a large red book, withheld

and alone.

And the third

calls music from a heart of wood.


You rise from your sleep

as from a lover gone silent and cold.

You walk in a sunken green light,

stand before your water mirror,

then cut off your hair

I find you, I lose you. You change,

stand fast in a makeshift of shadows;

you leave, and ferry my heart away.

Your voice from its inner distance

saying your poem, your myth,

born from the bark of your tree.

From THE OWL IN THE MASK OF THE DREAMER (Graywolf Press, 1993)


Among the quiet people of the frost,

I remember an Eskimo

walking one evening

on the road to Fairbanks.


A lamp full of shadows burned

on the table before us;

the light came as though from far off

through the yellow skin of a tent.


Thousands of years passed.

People were camped on the bank

of a river, drying fish

in the sun. Women bent over

stretched hides, scraping

in a kind of furry patience.

There were long hints through

the wet autumn grass,

meat piled high in caches –

a red memory against whiteness.


We were away for a long time.

The footsteps of a man walking alone

on the frozen road from Asia

crunched in the darkness

and were gone.

From THE OWL IN THE MASK OF THE DREAMER (Graywolf Press, 1993)

And there in the crowded commons
three hundred striding people,
gesturing, eating the air,
halted around us, suddenly quiet.
They sprouted leaves and cones,
they wore strange bark for clothing,
and gently lifted their arms.

From THE OWL IN THE MASK OF THE DREAMER (Graywolf Press, 1993)

About John

Poetry Center Reading Dates: October 1997