The tundra is a living
body, warm in the grassy
autumn sun; it gives off
the odor of crushed
blueberries and gunsmoke.
(The Tundra, John Haines)
Graphic visualizations explode from John Haines poetry and use simple concepts to trap the reader’s attention. Haines’ poems The Tundra and The Way We Live spoke most clearly to me because I can place myself in the situation he is creating. These two poems more specifically speak about the comparison of modernity and violence in Alaska.
The Tundra showcases beauty and violence using images like “In the tangled lakes/ of its eyes a mirror of ice/ is forming, where / frozen gut piles shine/ with dull, rosy light’. The “tangled lakes’ are a beautiful image of eyes contrasted with the falsely positive image of “frozen gut piles’. In both images the frozen item is beautiful, but it featuring violence or death. The water is dying by freezing over and the gut piles are frozen pieces of dead animals. Not to lose this theme the fourth stanza confuses the reader with an image of the tundra as an animal either going to sleep or dying. “Full of blood, with a sound/ like clicking hoofs/ the heavy tundra slowly/ rolls over and sinks/ in the darkness.’ It is an image of the tundra that almost strikes up a worry that to many hunters have arrived and soaked the tundra in blood. “One by one the tiny campfires/ flaring under the wind’ Over hunting was a real concern and a vision of caribou as the ‘Alaskan buffalo being hunted into extinction’ is evoked. Modernity and violence being shown hand in hand.
In The Way We Live violence is present in Haines’ word choices and tone again, however his sets this portion of the poem in contrast with a simplistic understanding of life. The phrases “whipped through paradise’ and “overfed beast/ set loose from its cage,’ show “humanity’ in a very violent light. This description of “humanity’ is speaking for modern lifestyles or a consumerism world. Conversely Haines’ description of a man’s longing is so simple it implies perfection. Even the words are shorter and simpler to drive this point home. House, snow, blue stone, lamp, and skin are all simple words that show a simple way of living in contrast to the violent humanity.