How I Met John Haines: A Guest Post by Tom Sexton

I met John Haines for the first time in 1968 when he visited a class I was taking for my English degree. He had come with his then wife Jo to talk about his first book, Winter News. I remember that he had little to say and seemed uncomfortable talking about himself. Little did we know that he was about to sell his homestead and leave Alaska.

A few years later I managed to get him a position as writer in residence at what was then the South-central Regional Center of the University of Alaska. John flew weekly between Anchorage and Fairbanks to teach a poetry workshop. I know he kept in contact with students from those classes right to the end. One night when we were going out to dinner, he told me he wished he was as comfortable around people as I was. I still laugh when I think of his comment because I’m a little more reclusive than a hermit.

Over the years , he became quite comfortable around people and even enjoyed going to writing conferences. I don’t think he had much choice since he moved from university to university before coming back to Alaska for good. He could be tart and even dismissive and he had a very odd sense of humor, but he was loyal to his friends and he was devoted to his writing. No matter how tough things were, John wrote and encouraged others to write. He was passionate about our Republic and worried about its fate.

The last time I saw him was at a reading I gave at UAF last year. He looked quite frail, but he managed to ask me what the hell I was doing there as if he didn’t know. A week later I received a letter from him that said “you were good, but I couldn’t hear a word you said.” That’s the John Haines I’ll miss.

All of his friends can take comfort in knowing that when he died John Kooistra, his close friend, was at his beside reading Winter News to him. I can’t think of a better way to go.

Tom Sexton
Poet Laureate. 1995-2000

3 thoughts on “How I Met John Haines: A Guest Post by Tom Sexton”

  1. I met John Haines when he visited NYC in the late nineties to pick up an award.I had written him a letter telling him how much "The Owl In The Mask Of The Dreamer" meant to me.He wrote back thanking me and we started a short but deep correspondence.I recall telling him that too few people remain that understand the holiness of nature and are willing to embody that holiness as an ethos.I know he understood this in a way few could.I can hardly believe he is gone.I take solace in the fact that death and impermanence are major forces in his work.I will miss him.

  2. Beautiful writing Tom! I became friends with John a few years ago, after reading, "The Stars, the snow and the Fire." I emailed UAF and a friend of his intercepted the message and sent me his address in Montana, and we became good friends through "Paper mail".
    I hadn't talked to him in a few months, then upon opening Alaska Mag. I saw the article about him. We tried so hard to meet each other, as I live in Haines, but never had enough money to travel to Fairbanks. I do though have many of his writings and his audio poems that he sent me, and I am proud to have known him. Angie

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