Kayla Beth: An Outsider Considers John Haines

Once in my eighth grade science class our teacher had us dissect owl pellets. I was fascinated, so much so that I asked my mom if I could come in early and finish my project. My mom was shocked because as a thirteen year old I didn’t ever really want to wake up for anything. I was convinced that I could totally reassemble the skeleton of a digested field mouse, much like one of those fossilized dinosaur skeletons you see in natural history museums. 
Part of the reason I think I was so adamant in finishing my project was because of the owl who lived in our barn. There was an old barn owl whose hooty-hoo would echo through our quiet little valley farm, and I always loved sitting on the porch with my Dad trying to imitate the sound, something deeper and more lingering than the Whippoorwill. That night as I sat on the porch with my Dad listening to the owl, I felt like I had one up on him. Instead of him hiding somewhere in the distance, having secrets from me, I had one on him now: “I know what you ate for breakfast.”
Flash forward to three weeks ago when I first encountered John Haines’s “If the Owl Calls Again.” I don’t know how many times I have read that poem since, but looking it over again this morning, I am still captivated. Something in that poem sends me back to my Tennessee porch and my thirteen-year-old self, wondering what made the owl so mysterious. Suddenly what captivated me about the owl doesn’t seem silly or even child-like anymore. It seems right. It seems right that I would be amazed, that I would sit on the porch with my Dad and call back to the bird in the shadows. Haines’s poem makes me want to go back to the porch and try my owl call once again.
One of my projects this summer has been to get the word out about the John Haines Memorial Poetry Fund 49 Writers is establishing in honor of this great poet. It has been a joy to read Haines’s work, and to read the many tributes those in the Alaska writing community have written about him since his passing. It is evident, even from my brief exposure to this man’s work, that he left an incredible impact on this writing community. His poems have given me, an outsider, a deeper appreciation for this place that has been my summer home. And somewhere halfway through Winter News, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, I could make it through an Alaskan winter. Right?”
If I move to Alaska my mother will, in part at least, have to blame John Haines. And if you are interested in honoring his memory in a very lasting way, please consider a contribution to the John Haines Memorial Fund. Proceeds from the fund will go to support the works of Alaska’s poets through instructions, events, and scholarships.
Here’s to Haines and all the writers who make us embrace our forgotten questions.

1 thought on “Kayla Beth: An Outsider Considers John Haines”

  1. Thanks, Kayla Beth, that was lovely. It's also a good example of how universal good poetry is (and all of literature) in that everyone can find something in it that touches them.

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