John Haines Post 2 comments

While reading this week, I noticed immediately similarities between John Haines’ views of the Alaskan lifestyle and the passage that was included by Richard Proenneke and Sam Keith, titled “The Birth of a Cabin.” Haines focuses on returning to nature, as so evinced by his own move up to the Fairbanks region to live a rustic, off-the-land lifestyle. Proenneke engages in the same move, building his own cabin in the Twin Lakes area, and documenting his adventure through writing but also extensive film. In 2009, PBS made a documentary using Proenneke’s own film and writing about his journey, titled “Into the Wilderness.” Here is a clip from the program’s first part:

Into the Wilderness via Bob Swerer’s Youtube page

It is an interesting experience getting a visual for the text, and realizing how well Proenneke was able to describe his labors and locations. In Haines’ poetry, visuals also play a large role. In “The Way We Live,” also taken from our reading, Haines sentence structure as well as language create the necessary visual for the reader.

Having been whipped through Paradise

and seen humanity

strolling like an overfed beast

set loose from its cage,

a man may long for nothing so much  

as a house of snow,

a blue stone lamp,

and a skim to cover his head.

While discussing humanity in Paradise, Haines’ conjures a negative image of an “overfed beast,” but really sends this idea home with the rolling, nonstop sentence that is used to describe it. While it is broken up into lines, his lack of punctuation in describing this beast shows how he views it as a plowing, ravenous thing that doesn’t stop with the lines or natural pauses that they usually require. When Haines moves on to describing the simpler way, though, he breaks the lines with commas, to force a pause from the reader but also to break the sentence into simpler fragments, thereby reflecting his intent.

Haines’ desire for the simpler things is identical to that of Proenneke — inherently, I feel Alaskans desire this as well, as most people are incredibly appreciative of their surroundings and also respectful. It tends to require more contemplation than the  overfed beast that desires everything — one circumvents the mountains and forests, understanding that going around is oftentimes better than forcing a path.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

2 thoughts on “John Haines Post

  • pmullin1

    It is true Haines’ seem to have a negative attitude towards those in civilization, yet it is interesting he realized that the civilized places in Alaska, like Anchorage, had its place in Alaska too. I think one of the things amazing about Alaska is that even if you live in a city, you don’t have to go very far outside the city limits to find some wilderness areas.
    Something that struck me when we first moved here over twenty years ago and still does, is that when you’re traveling anywhere in the state it’s not hard to imagine how life would have been for those early pioneers and the hardships they had to overcome. There will always be those who want to get away from civilization and pit themselves against nature. In this state a person can still do that. Not that much has changed over the years.

  • pmullin1

    Haines was able to express how he was feeling in just a few words and yet got the message across clearly. I wasn’t able to find anyone quite comparable, but I think Sheila Nickerson, in her poem, Tales of the North, is one I find expresses a lot in what she does write. Poetry, as other forms of writing, can give a verbal description in such a way that the reader can visualize the scene. I think it has more meaning if you have experienced life in Alaska and other states and countries where you can understand the references.
    I came across some photos by a photographer- Susan Stevenson- that to me shows Alaska through the wildlife and the Northern Lights. I wasn’t able to get out this week, but there are a lot on the Kenai that could be photographed to show the wilderness and what life was like a long time ago.