poem index

About this poet

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.

Fairbanks Under the Solstice

John Haines, 1924 - 2011
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.

Excerpted from The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems, copyright © 1993 by John Haines. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

John Haines

John Haines

John Haines was the recipient of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress.

by this poet


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,