George Venn

Bernard L. Thomas Photo

Jan Boles Photo



A "declaration of identity and territory as personal as a journal... It is rich, various...striking."
-Wallace Stegner

This book speaks with an authentic voice, a placed voice... which makes it rare and useful.
-Thomas J. Lyon, Editor, Western American Literature

George Venn engages his native region with passion and clarity...
-William Kittredge, University of Montana


From the shapes of men's lives imparted by the places where they have experience, good writing comes.
--William Carlos Williams

Here, it is morning now. Long dreaming drifts have laid their curves high and deep across the roads. Public power is still off. Not even the mailman or the paper carrier will make it through today. White shifting skiffs of snow still move over the fields flowing like currents over riverbed. I build up the fire again and the stovepipe begins to ping, the drafts wheeze, the fly ash circles softly upward, then disappears. Water for coffee heats on the stove. But for the skittish wind, there is no movement outside. I wait at the desk. Suddenly, a red-shafted flicker lights among the ice-glazed branches of the apple tree and begins to peck its way into a frozen core. I watch that black half-moon on its breast as it pecks, stops, a black shining eye cast upward, then pecks again. In the frozen field, the horses wait for their oats and alfalfa and I see the shapes of two pheasants by their feeders -- guo gi picking up the smallest kernels of grain. Everyone still sleeps. I close the draft and damper on the stove. The dog has finished her morning dance and whine and is ready to go out.

At the open door, I see the Blue Mountains darkened with pine, the lower slopes open, white, smooth. I remember my earliest crayon-scribbled pictures on that heavy paper from grade school: huge white mountains in the background, a foreground of trees on green hills, blue creek coming down, and in the center always a gabled house, smoke scrawling gray out the chimney, a few stick figures with hats. I think of my grandfathers and grandmothers in their coastal graves in the shadows of Mt. Rainier, of my wife and children in their inland beds asleep, of the Columbia waiting for all our lives to melt as this snow will soon. I go inside to the silence, surrounded by the old wood walls with openings to the light, openings leaking wind....

A region is a microcosm -- a magic circle centered on home. The values generated by that circle are many, but I have limited myself here to three -- confidence, wholeness, and intimacy. For me, the authentic map of the universe is composed of these microcosms -- a mosaic of specific human constructs crossing all abstract political, geographic, economic, and racial boundaries. This view of region as microcosm stands in contrast to the more dangerous metrocentric fantasy of region as province. When defined as province, region becomes an edge in a far remote place, a fragment of some empire with a far-away center. When the magic circle is defined as province, local life can be drained of significance, since only those who live at The Center are real. Thus, local intimacy, confidence, and wholeness are threatened. In contrast, region as microcosm enables an artist living anywhere -- including the Northwest -- to get work done, to achieve character, belief, aesthetic, purpose, and style. Region as province imposes a centralizing political and demographic metaphor which can artificially elevate the significance of artists who live in political or population centers, and artificially dismiss significant artistic achievements that are not centralized by non-artistic forces. An artist who chooses not to live in political or population centers, who chooses not to become an alien to the oldest and most immediate sources of human nurture, who chooses not to become a victim of nationalism -- such an artist must assert the region as microcosm -- this locust flowering, that hive by the Columbia -- and where do you live? (written winter, 1986)


Here -- a sweet stone
to ride your shelf
a lost summer
given shape to last.

Here -- what keeps
guarded by stinging.
This is your voice
whispering "Home."

Here, the perfect
field is flowing
against the bitter
that winter brings.

The specks of wax
will hope to feel
your slowly stare.
Savor such light

as your tongue can say.
Thousands and thousands
of shimmering lives
have brought you love.

Here is proof.
Dip in your hands.

(written summer, 1981)

(translated from the Chinese)

The way you darted
The way you leaped, shimmering
From swell to swell
Free to dive deep or swim

Then, bad luck. The volcano? Ground swell?
Some upheaval boomed.
Your play and flash all smothered
In evolutionary ash -- your tomb.

Billions of years later
A new federal assayer hammered
Found you, life-like as ever
In some remote dark stratum

But you're hushed now
Not even a breath
Scales and fins all perfect
Petrified, petrified.

You're all inert
Your give and taking gone
No vision for sky or wave.
An ear for surf left? None.

Staring at just one piece of you
Any numbskull can see that
Arrested movement means
Slow obscure hardening to death.

The living need to strive
To act, to move, go on
Then die
Like candlefish who burn, burn.

from Songs for Coming Home (1980). Translated by George Venn and Lu Pei Wu, Changsha Railway University, Hunan Province, China, winter, 1982. Notes: A self-portrait, Ai Qing wrote “Fish Fossil” in 1977 after the fall of the Gang of Four when he was again allowed to return to Beijing after twenty years of exile and silence in Xinjiang.


Fifty years of your butchering art
are here, Grandfather. I hear the crash
of your falling ax into alder, the whisk
of your keen knife on the blue steel
while lambs and wethers bleat in the barn.

They know your one quick stroke across
their throats would make their ends
the best you could create. I still don't
like the blood, Grandfather, but I know
now the need for meat.

"Nothing should suffer," you said,
and sought out old dying queens in hives
and pinched their heads. Mensik's calf–
you told us not to watch; bad dreams
would come, you said, so we walked out

and watched you anyway through a crack
in the wall -- one deadly swing, no more --
from the spiking maul buckled the calf
instantly to its knees on the hay.
We knew your power then, and ran away.

And now this God, Grandfather, this God
whose songs you sang, whose church
your worship built, whose book you read,
whose name you never said in vain --
He's got you here in his shepherd's barn.

Oh, he's a shoddy butcher, Grandfather.
He's making you suffer his rusty dull
deathknife for years, crippling your legs,
then cutting off your speech to tremble,
then tying you up in a manured bed.

He won't bring you down with any grace
or skill or swift humane strike of steel.
Day after day, you sit in His hallway
in your wheelchair and nurses walk by
like angels and shout half your name.

Ah, this God of yours, Grandfather, this
God has not learned even the most simple
lesson from the country of your hands.
You should have taught him how to hone
His knife, that the slaughtering of rams
is the work of those brave enough to love
a fast deft end.

(written summer, 1977, Pushcart Prize, 1980)


ISBN: 0-87071-352-3, $19.95 (hard cover); 0-87071-353-1, (paperback) $12.95.
Data: 208 pages (6" x 9"), acknowledgments, seven Jan Boles photos, bio sketch.

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Oregon State University Press

Selected Works

Non-fiction/Literary History
Fifty images. 400+ pages. Cover art by Stephani Stephenson. Release date 9/1/2016. $25 + S/H. Paperback. 7" x 10"
pages; 20 black/white photos; color cover by Kodua Galieti; released 10/1/12; $15.95; To purchase, go to
Limited edition festschrift portfolio by student of Ansel Adams and Minor White.
Non-fiction/Literary History
Non-fiction/Military History
"A true and compelling voice...."
--Eugene Register Guard
"One of the best poets in the Northwest"
--East Oregonian
Finalist, Oregon Book Award in Poetry, 2000
Poems by George Venn and drawings by Don Gray
With drawings by Ian Gatley
Stewart Holbrook Award, Oregon Institute of Literary Arts, 1995 for "Outstanding contributions to Oregon's literary life."
Multi-genre anthology
1988 Oregon Book Award
Best 100 Oregon Books 1800-2000