John Haines

I just got word that John Haines died today–or the day that just ended.  An article on the Fairbanks Daily News Miner’s website says he took a fall in December and never really recovered.  He died with friends around him here in Fairbanks.

Here’s a link to some of John’s poems.

I used to see John at events and in the hallway at the university.  Once John started going profoundly deaf, he became cranky, convinced that he wasn’t getting his due as a poet.  I believe he wasn’t, in part because he made it difficult for those who wanted to get to know him and for those who wanted to be his poetic peers.  But he appreciated a few things–good whiskey, good conversation, someone to set the mike levels properly for a reading, a bonfire now and again, attentive students, and friendships that stretched back to the more rugged days before the oil pipeline.

He had a melodious voice–almost too much so, since his audiences could become lulled by it in a warm room on a winter night.  His deafness dulled the edges of that voice so that his consonants disappeared and a sort of bass rumble took over.  When I organized readings for the Fairbanks Arts Association years ago, I would have him come in and read a bit about a half hour before the reading started, so I could adjust the sound levels on his voice, bumping up the treble to catch the consonants and lowering the bass.  Every time I did this, people would say it was the best Haines reading they had heard.  I don’t know if there are any recordings of his readings around, but he had friends in the music world–most notably John Luther Adams–so I imagine something of his voice remains behind.

Volumes of poems and essays do, and many students carry on the work of putting down the essence of the land and capturing in it the essence of human experience in the North and in the wider world.

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One Response to “John Haines”

  1. Jamie Smith Says:

    I remember sitting on the floor at Into The Woods bookshop and listening to him give a reading years ago. I had recently rediscovered the power of a poets voice in person, and it was a wonderful experience. A beautiful man.

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