FABLES AND DISTANCES by John Haines

FABLES AND DISTANCES

New and Selected Essays

KIRKUS REVIEW

 A far-reaching and frequently contentious collection of the author's writings (previously published mostly in literary journals), ranging from scathing literary and social criticism to beautifully crafted nature essays, personal remembrances, and poems. Haines (The Stars, the Snow, the Fire, 1989, etc.) pulls no punches in assessing contemporary American poetry as lacking an instructive, moral critique of society, characterizing it instead as an art form ``of increasing isolation and narcissism'' resulting in ``the absence of a meaningful dialogue between the poets and their nation.'' In lambasting a roster of present-day poets and literary critics as either self-promotional, beholden to university bureaucracies, or simply poor writers, Haines indicates as modernist exemplars Yeats, Pound, and Robinson Jeffers. Nor is Haines sanguine about the society that spawns these conditions--a society removed from nature (from which, Haines avers, all ideas originate), and one subservient to a ``corporate mentality that would overturn every human value.'' For the reader who perseveres through these instructive but caustic essays, the rewards are some lovely prose writings set in rural Alaska, where Haines homesteaded in the late 1940s. Here one is treated to scenes of a basically untrammeled and dramatic landscape (although into these scenes of physical beauty, too, Haines laments the intrusion of a spiritless, corporate society) and well-drawn narratives of berry-picking and hunting. This compilation also contains a short selection of the author's poetry, with concise explanations of how their concepts, language, and forms were achieved. Scattered elsewhere, a reader can find some delicious nuggets about the relationship between nature, art, language, and religion, and a final, painful childhood memory of the writer's doomed first love. The writings gathered here are impressive in breadth, sometimes seething, and frequently lyrical. When taken together, they form a coherent philosophy of an uncompromising artist.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-55597-227-6
Page count: 286pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995