Review by: Stephen Page
White men are invading the last of the american wilderness. They pan for gold, fish, trap, hunt, and cut down timbre to build homes. During the 1940’s, while Haines is living in Alaska, he sees this happening, and feels it is morally wrong. In “Winter News,” Haines, with all his good intentions and moral judgment, has a duality about him that maybe even he did not realize.
‘The House of the Injured’ reveals a part of Haines attitude:
I found a house in the forest,
small, windowless, and dark.
From the doorway came the close,
suffocating odor of blood
and fur mixed with dung.
I looked inside and saw an injured
bird that filled the room,
fluttering against the walls.
With a stifled croaking
it lunged toward the door
as if held back
by an invisible chain:
the beak was half eaten away,
and its heart beat wildly
under rumpled feathers.
I sank to my knees—
A man shown the face of God.
Here Haines shows his reverence for nature and his personal philosophy. A bird is a part of the larger scheme of things, a religious symbol, a thing that represents God. The animal has been trapped inside a house. This house is obviously built by a white person, for since it has windows and doors, it is not typical of the homes built by the then indigenous people of Alaska. The house is a symbolic cage, a deathtrap. Thus white man is killing a representation of God.
In ‘Horns’ we get deeper into the psych of Haines:
I went to the edge of the wood
in the color of evening,
and rubbed with a piece of horn
against a tree,
believing the great, dark moose
would come, his eyes
on fire with the moon.
I fell asleep in an old white tent.
The October moon rose,
and down a wide, frozen stream
the moose came roaring,
hoarse with rage and desire.
I awoke and stood in the cold
as he slowly circled the camp.
His horns exploded in the brush
with dry trees cracking
and falling; his nostrils flared
as, swollen-necked, smelling
of challenge, he stalked by me.
I called him back, and he came
and stood in the shadow
not far away, and gently rubbed
his horns against the icy willows.
I heard him breathing softly.
Then with a faint sigh of warning
Soundlessly he walked away.
I stood there in the moonlight,
and the darkness and silence
surged back, flowing around me,
full of wild enchantment,
as though a god had spoken.
The narrator of the poem sees a moose and is awed by it. He believes the sigh of the animal is the voice of a deity.
Throughout the collection, there are scenes of white men panning for gold, fishing the seas, hunting, trapping and building houses of timber in a land that was once occupied my animals and indigenous people who lived in sync with the rest of nature. The indigenous people are almost wiped out, the majority of them lying in graveyards, and their way of life is thus becoming extinct. Haines believes nature represents God and that humans need to live in sync with it to understand God. He hates what white men are doing to one of the last places on earth unexploited by greed. The irony of the whole book is that Haines, or better worded, his narrator, is a white man in the alaskan wilderness who is surviving by hunting, trapping, and living in a house built from cut timber.
All this taken into consideration, it does not detract from the quality of the poetry in “Winter News.” These are vivid poems from the Alaskan frontier that put the reader in a metaphysical state with nature. I sense a deep imagist influence, and find a few romantic and formalist phrasings, yet the poems are unique, the product of a well-read poet working on his own finding his own voice. Some of the images and phrasings are by now clichéd, but that is only because so many other poets have been influenced by Haines.
You can buy Winter News
Stephen wrote this while living over a rickety abandoned supply store amongst the Rocky Mountains of Montana with only a smoke-leaking wood stove for heat and dried beef jerky for sustenance. He brewed coffee and drank water from snowmelt.