A Nice Reminder From John Haines

I was putting together my W203 Creative Writing syllabus for the fall and have been focusing on Rocky Mountain state writers. Naturally, sometime after Rick Bass I found poet John Haines’ work and have been spending sometime nosing around his work for stuff that is teachable. To say there is a lot would be a clear understatement. But as Creative Writer with a considerable amount of training in social informatics, I found the following excerpt from his “Poetry Chronicle I” enlightening. Particularly in a world that is seemingly dominated by NYC urban dribble poems (ala Billy Collins).

“For what I found often enough was more of what I find all too abundantly in poetry now: in fairly ordinary language, no subject beyond this uninspiring urban self with its minor distractions, combined with a school-bred tendency to force one’s poem in order to appear to have something important say. To point up the moral, imagine Keats or Wordsworth writing verses about the bad plumping in his house, or how scratchy his underwear felt that morning! Did William stub his toe while walking the country roads? We don’t know and we don not care.” (Haines 113)

Sadly enough, I’ve been preoccupied with worries about useless “ain’t it funny” crap poems after looking leafing through some of the garbage that’s been passed off as the year’s best in poems and fiction. We don’t like to talk about morals in writing. It’s hard to do in a world that none of us feel should be prescriptive. And maybe moral is the wrong word. But writing and most everything we do should be done with not only the Buddhist moral passed on to us by Gary Snyder “do no harm,” but more appropriately with a concern for the other. The words we write and things we spend time on matter, if only because both are so finite. There is something beyond all of us in the beauty of writing that touches us beyond the simple “Isn’t it funny when my coffee machine breaks.” Pull us the ordinary to show us something about ourselves and our relationships with others. All of this is to thank Haines.

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