I remember clearly reading his first book, Winter News, in 1966, the year it was published. I was a graduate student in
I'm from a working class family and I've always been embarrassed by the airs the literati put on, the way people use literature, poetry, as a way to distinguish themselves from the rest of humanity. The direct and simple speech in John's poems appealed to me. There wasn't anything fancy about John or his poems. They were about the most basic, primal events in life: killing and eating, building a place to live, animals and birds, cooking, the weather, a new pair of slippers for a loved one. And there was never anything fancy about John either. For many years after he left the homestead in
John's poems pared down human life to its raw essentials. Nothing could be more important now in this age totally removed from the natural cycles of life than attending to the content of John's poems.
I wrote and published a review of Winter News in 1967 or 8. I must have sent John a copy of the review--I can't remember now exactly--because we began a correspondence, he at Mile 68,
I moved to the remote mountains of northern
We talked some about writing and the life of a writer, but only some. I remember one particular quote--I'm doing all this from memory--in which John said, "Live your life and don't be literary about it." No better piece of advice has ever been offered and none also so completely and by so many ignored. In that simple sentence lay the essence of why John wrote what he did.
John came to
By 1971 John was not living in
John won the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship for 1976-1977. I can't remember where John was living and teaching then, but he drove his VW bus, the camper type, to here and we drove it out back into the woods to a place I had cleared for it, put it up on cement blocks and John headed for England and Scotland for the year. The VW bus had two bumper stickers. One said ONOMANOPIEA and the other said POETS ARE CUNNING LINGUISTS.
It might have been on this visit that one evening while we were fixing supper, John remarked that ours was the first house in the lower forty-eight he'd been in where the knives were sharp. We talked about the need for a good sharp knife and John told a story of how once when he was skinning an animal the knife slipped and he almost cut off his own nose.
When John returned from his yearlong
But our letters to each other continued. I have letters from John from Mile 68,
There is something wrong with the academic system in this country when the finest poet
Mentioning Haines and Carruth in the same paragraph reminds me of another story. I can't remember when it was exactly, maybe after the publication of The Stone Harp, (1971) John's second book. But Hayden was at that time writing reviews for The Hudson Review. Hayden spent most of his life in
Sometime during the 1980s, I think it was, there was a little literary magazine out in
John wrote the introduction for From Down to the Village, my second book in a series that began with The Chain Saw Dance and ended with the Judevine: The Collected Poems. John's introduction is dated September 1980,
As the years wore on our correspondence tapered off. We stayed in infrequent touch. John wandered from teaching position to fellowship to residency, always wishing he could find gainful employment in
His last visit to
He did his reading and lecture at The Center for Northern Studies and was off again out of my life, but this time it was forever.
My last letter from John is dated
I haven't been in touch since my visit there in
. . .
I'm still here in Fairbanks, have continued to teach a semester seminar in writing at the university, but time is getting on, and I will have to quit on it soon. I'll be
. . .
I hope things are well there in Wolcott, on your
Winter Light is a wonderful collection of 77 poems and four essays in John's own deep, resonant, articulate voice. As the jacket of Winter Light says, Friends of John's created this CD because, quite simply, John Haines' voice is every bit as compelling as his poetry; his words in his own voice are a magical combination.
I hope many people will listen to Winter Light.
The letter that came with the CD was on my desk, unanswered, when I heard of John's death.
DAVID BUDBILL is a poet and a playwright. His most recent book of poems, Happy Life, will be published by Copper Canyon Press--his third with CCP, in September of 2011. David's latest play is A Song for My Father. His website is at: www.davidbudbill.com