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
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.