George Venn



“A beautiful part of the country, the Northwest is home to many poets. A few of them—William Stafford, Gary Snyder, David Wagoner—have written memorable poems about it. But hardly any can be said to have Oregon coursing through their veins. This is what the delighted reader will find in George Venn’s Lichen Songs: vivid poems of the region, and far beyond. A long-awaited and highly recommended collection.”

—John Witte, Editor (emeritus), Northwest Review, Eugene, OR

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“George Venn, one of the best-known and most respected poets in the state, won the [Andres Berger Poetry Award] for “The Emperor Breeds Only on the Ice.”

—Jeff Baker, The Oregonian

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Off the Main Road is a beautiful book, strong, honest, individual, important. Venn’s poetry combines rugged individualism, a strong sense of family history, a passion for nature and wilderness, and—the integrating matrix for all these—a tragic perception of the durable frailty of roots anchoring us to mortal memory...Vi Gale and Prescott Street Press have given us, at least once, one of our country’s great books.”

—Dennis Grunes, Small Press Review

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“There is no sentimentality here, no nostalgia for the mud....He knows the land, how stubborn and capricious it can be.... This awareness, mixed as it is with the subtly metaphysical, allows for an ease free of the misty romanticism of much recent poetry.”                                                   

—Vern Rutsala, Willamette Week

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“George Venn is a master of the detail that exudes the spirit of place, of time, of the hopes and joys of the human soul.”

—Karen Swenson, The Cold Counsel

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“Venn is a poet of great heart for the majesty of place and creatures, of water running and the old trees still standing, for epics of the first people and those who came later, for the wilderness gone and the wilderness still left—inside and outside us.”

—Primus St. John, Communion

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“In Lichen Songs George Venn, veteran Pacific Northwest scholar and bard, collects his poems that observe both sides of the wet-dry (West-East) divide. If you want to taste the rural Northwest on your tongue, turn to Venn’s poems.”

—O. Alan Weltzien, Exceptional Mountains

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“What a detective of place George Venn is; how private his eyes are! Yet in Lichen Songs you come to know what a good man can make known, what an avid man can feel, and what, in George Venn's hands, the craft of poetry can do. He magnifies the landscape and what he sees turns to music—a choir of wheeling nature, students, family, lovers, still rooms. You will find much to care for in this bright man's new and selected work.”

—Dan Lamberton, On the River Through the Valley of Fire

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“This is poetry of big love, great heart. George Venn's scale is immense and inclusive…. Like Tom McGrath, George Venn tells the stories of his region in such a way as to make them magical, luminous, and permanent…”

—James Bertolino, Ravenous Bliss


“For several years I have known George Venn, and have come to admire his poetry and criticism. I have read and listened to him in the company of other writers and scholars: we agreed on our assessments: high quality. There is a special quality about these writings -- they are direct, clear, cogent. They flourish in the language, too. In particular, I have realized George’s background and scope in his criticisms; he is a self-motivated scholar with great ability and authority.”

—William Stafford (1976)

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Marking the Magic Circle is the kind of book that makes one wish more writers had the interest and ability to explore their worlds of consciousness in different literary forms and that publishers would make them available. The pieces collected here fit together well, forming a natural habitat.”

—Nathan Douthit (1987)

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“Few people know as much about our region and its values as George Venn:
The Oregon Institute of Literary Arts and the Oregon Book Awards were created not only to recognize writers but to encourage Oregonians and others to learn about our rich literary heritage and its history. The Oregon Literature Series does just that. On behalf of Literary Arts, Inc., it is my great pleasure to present to George Venn the 1994 Stewart Holbrook Award for outstanding contributions to Oregon’s literary life.”

—Brian Booth (1994)

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“Running like Blake’s “Golden Thread” throughout all of George Venn’s extraordinary career is a single, humbling, and unifying idea: whatever is close at hand, whatever is local, possesses all the qualities of excellence, or the possibilities for excellence that we are forever seeking in some other distant place. George Venn always reassures us that this very place is good enough, no apologies necessary. And we are all capable and sufficient for the hard task ahead of us: making something that is equally beautiful and enduring from whatever we’ve been fortunate enough to be given.”

—David Axelrod (1995)

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“Professor Venn’s work as General Editor of the Oregon Literature Series changed the way Oregonians think about their cultural traditions. His service to the region has been incalculable. He is an acknowledged scholar, poet, and teacher whose work has already made a difference to the cultural and historical literature of the region.”

—Marianne Keddington-Lang (2002)


“As Beaver’s Fire makes clear, for more than forty years now, George Venn — writer, editor, critic, and cultural documentarian — has contributed to and worked tirelessly to define, deepen and preserve a Northwest literary tradition. He served as general editor of The Oregon Literature Series — and for that alone he already deserves our fullest esteem and gratitude. Venn’s own words about poet John Haislip could as easily apply to Venn himself: he has ‘held to his art by finding and holding his ground.’ Gathered here, George Venn’s wide-ranging work is at once foundational and essential.”

—Lex Runciman, Author, One Hour That Morning, Luck, The Admirations (Oregon Book Award), Out of Town, and Starting from Anywhere

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“I have loved George Venn’s work since I first read the draft manuscript of Marking the Magic Circle in 1986. Beaver’s Fire is a fine anthology, beautifully illustrated.”

— Jo Alexander, Editor Emerita, Oregon State University Press

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“For decades George Venn has been among the preeminent editors, scholars, and advocates of Pacific Northwest literature. Beaver’s Fire is, for me, a long-awaited distillate of Venn’s contributions in this field. Eclectic, at times strident, and deeply insightful, this is a carefully vetted collection of work gleaned from that span of decades, and an encapsulation of his life’s work. It will enrich, and likely alter, any reader’s understanding of the region and its literature.”

—Rob Whitbeck, Author,
Writing Home Notes on the History and Literature of the Northern West

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“George Venn’s collection Beaver’s Fire usefully covers a lot of important ground — not just his own long and indispensable career as a Northwest writer and editor, but also the whole subject of Northwest history, literature, and lore. These are wise markings to travel our region by, and it is a welcome gift to have them done up handsomely in a book.”

—Jarold Ramsey, Author, Thinking Like a Canyon
Coyote Was Going There, and Reading the Fire

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Beaver’s Fire is an inside look at the tremendous, mind-boggling variety of Pacific Northwest literature. Venn is both practitioner (poet, essayist, teacher) and cool critic. He calls up a whole, mysteriously vibrant, growing region. His inner world, revealed in his own poems and little introductions to each writer, brings a sharp sense of place.”

—Thomas J. Lyon, Editor, The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature (1998); Editor, “Western American Literature” (1974 –1997); Editor-in-Chief, Updating the Literary West (1997)

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“George Venn’s Beaver’s Fire is much more than a valuable compendium of his life-long work to describe and promote the literature of our region. He understands the importance of place and has been its champion. He ranges over it, giving us context and honest assessment without sentimentalism. In his many roles — historian, writer, teacher, husband, friend, and colleague — George is a passionate champion of the power of stories to teach us and unite us, even in our differences. He has blazed trails, not of tears but of celebration, connecting our past to our future. It’s been a delight to follow them.”

— Dennis Stovall, Publisher, Writer, Educator, and Literary Activist

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Beaver’s Fire brings together in a single volume the gems of George Venn’s writings over thirty-plus years in academia. Teaching in a fairly small college in a small town in sparsely populated eastern Oregon, George lived what he taught and wrote about: the local, the regional. These varied essays/​poems/​interviews/​reviews are held together by a core perception: region is seen as microcosm, not as province. ‘Place’ takes on philosophical import that yields meaning through the particular and speaks to an audience far beyond the bounds of subject matter. I enjoyed my journey through this book, especially learning about C. E. S. Wood’s transition from soldier to advocate through his role in the pursuit of Chief Joseph’s fated Nez Perce tribe. Other highlights were his interactions with writers whose works he discussed — William Stafford, Wallace Stegner, and many others. This volume is a multifaceted book that is at once personal, literary, and eclectic.”

—Barbara Howard Meldrum, Professor Emerita, University of Idaho; past President, Western Literature Association; Editor, Old West-New West; Centennial Essays (1993)

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“George Venn is iconic, a Lewis and Clark of Northwest literature. Beaver’s Fire exemplifies his unflagging quest to explore, share, encourage, and contribute to the region’s rich literature. Here we perceive Venn’s scholarly appreciation for the Northwest’s complex history and outstanding literary figures which, combined with his broad cultural vision and personal generosity, have created a lasting and productive regional fellowship of students, editors, and fellow writers.”

—Lois Barry, Professor Emerita, Eastern Oregon University;
Author, Always First Class: The Pleasure of Personal Letters (2009)

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“George Venn uncovers many hidden histories of the Pacific Northwest, a region he cares about deeply. Between these covers, you will encounter stories you didn’t know and counter stories for the ones you thought you knew. You need to know these other histories.”

—Nancy Cook, Professor of English, University of Montana

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“Like the myth of its title, Beaver’s Fire works its magic by carrying the warmth of wisdom to the seeker in us all. The breadth and depth of this collection/​anthology/​portfolio of literary biographies, interviews, reviews, lectures, poetry, translations, and essays (personal, textual, critical, historical) is stunning and illuminating — offering a penetrating coherence that marks it as a distinct and invaluable work. The selections in Beaver’s Fire span almost half a century in their publication dates and scan a great swath of Northwest literature in their contents. Poet, scholar, essayist, historian, and teacher, Venn has an original and essential grasp of Northwest literary history and a profound awareness of the play of place in its making. To read this wonderful miscellany is to feel Northwest culture and literature animate overlapping circles. The roads and rivers, fields and forests, neighborhoods and towns — where you live — might never be the same.”

—Tim Barnes, Author, Definitions for a Lost Language
(2010) and Everyone Out Here Knows: A Big Foot Tale (2014)

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Beaver’s Fire is an amazing piece of work! George Venn is one of our best writers and observers.”


—Shannon Applegate, Author, Skookum: A Pioneer Family’s History and Lore and Living Among Headstones: Life in a Country Cemetery;
Co-editor, Talking on Paper: An Anthology of Oregon Letters and Diaries
and Minus Tides, an unpublished novel

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Beaver’s Fire combines George Venn’s passion, scholarship, and artistry by collecting in one volume legacy material and contemporary work. Venn proves that stories are not metaphors, symbols, or documents, but entities entirely unto their own, providing sustenance, solace, and seed, enriching our individual and collective lives. In Marking the Magic Circle we share and experience a snowbound evening looking simultaneously out into the world and deeply into ourselves. This is but one example of Venn's focusing intently on the world at hand, and placing it in a complex, unique, and illuminating context. His gift is proving that this close attention to our immediate physical and cultural surroundings renders us less provincial and more human and humane as citizens and selves. We encounter Stafford, Kizer, and Hugo considering and creating the work that has become so important and vital to the larger Northwest. History encountered in these pages is neither placid nor past. We learn from soldiers, writers, activists, and witness examples in how to speak and act out against inhumane wars and the exploitation of workers, to shatter the dullness and conformity that can encase and isolate. Beaver’s Fire demonstrates Venn’s value to our region as a teacher, scholar, activist, and artist. I place Beaver’s Fire upon my bookshelf knowing I will return to the pages again and again for knowledge, inspiration, and sheer pleasure.”

—Robert Stubblefield, Author, University of Montana


Fran Bach Review: Are you, or do you know a beekeeper history buff? Here is a beautiful reminiscence you can't help but enjoy!

The book’s title essay and other pieces -- including a eulogy -- feature one of the Pacific Northwest’s first migratory beekeepers, George L. Mayo from Alder, Washington (1894-1980) and author George Venn's grandfather.

From the gorgeous cover photo by California beekeeper-photographer (and WAS member) Kodua Galieti to the very personal family photos and gentle boyhood remembrances, Venn paints a picture of beekeeping and family forever intertwined.

The very first essay describes Grandpa Mayo's very special gift to his two young grandsons. You can smell the paint and feel the smooth wood and cold metal as the mystery of this most out-of-character event is revealed. Grandpa Mayo made history that day, and it is now recorded for posterity as a bit of background to the life of a man who made far more history than he knew.

Mayo sold his bees about 1962 to Ernie Buchholz, a beekeeper in Snohomish, WA and son-in-law of Howard Graff, owner of Silverbow Honey. George worked for both Ernie and Silverbow during the summers.

Among the essays are also poems, including "Down the Colfax Grade", based on George's memory of moving bees into yards set in massive fields of yellow sweetclover in the Palouse region around Colfax, Washington in the late 1950s, and "Sleeping Upstairs", about the security he felt with his grandparents after his father died.

Keeping the Swarm: New & Selected Essays by George Venn. Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-877655-76-0, 224 pages (6" x 9"), 20 photos. $15.95 + $3.50 shipping & handling. Order from Wordcraft of Oregon LLC, PO Box 3235, La Grande OR 97850. For more information, e-mail info@​

Western Apicultural Journal, February 2013, page 14

Jeff Baker Review: Venn is the bard of La Grande, a longtime teacher at Eastern Oregon University who retired in 2002 and has continued to walk the writer's walk with poetry, historical monographs and now "Keeping the Swarm: New and Selected Essays." The collection is personal and universal, grounded in the small towns of the inland Northwest that Venn knows so well -- Burlington and Puyallup, Wash., Spirit Lake, Idaho, and of course, La Grande. There are memories of family and friends long gone, of experiences that shaped a young poet's path, and of trips to Spain and China that were formative in other ways. Wordcraft of Oregon published this fine collection and included photos from Venn's collection.

The Oregonian, "Bookmarks: New in Northwest: books by George Venn, et al. December 10, 2013


Mike Allegre Review: When Fred Hill is asked what he did during the war, he says he shot many things including people, but never injured one of them. From 115 personal letters and more than 200 photographs, the retired photographer from La Grande has created a unique record of war in the Pacific Theater of operations during World War II. This uncensored personal record, entitled Darkroom Soldier, is Hill's only published work and shows a world at war as seen though a combat camera lens between 1943-45.

Prior to December 1941, Hill was assigned to an Army National Guard infantry unit, but in November was transferred to the Oregon Air National Guard's 123rd Observation Squadron. As the war raged on, "weekend warriors" like Hill were reassigned to active duty units worldwide. Hill joined his new unit in 1942 and would train at Gray Field, located at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Before being called to active military duty, Hill had been studying in his hometown of La Grande at the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Art Center and what is now Eastern Oregon University. He wanted to become a commercial photographer. While on duty, he split time as a clerk and performing other duties before an astute captain recognized his background and the need for trained photographers and photo lab technicians. Hill was soon reassigned as a photo lab chief in Salinas, California in November 1942. By October 1943, he was on his way to the South Pacific with the 5th Air Force's 17th Reconnaissance Squadron.

Portions of Hill's wartime photo album and letters to his wife, Martha, chronicled much of the U.S. military involvement from Australia to New Guinea and the East Indies to the East China Sea. The photos depict a record of life as lived by thousands of military members and indigenous people caught between war and their daily lives.

While in a support role, Hill says his unit's mission of processing aerial photos and developing them quickly was crucial for senior military officers. Photo crews worked tirelessly, from mid-afternoon and into the early morning, developing and providing these valuable photos showing enemy locations for U.S. combat leaders to make battle plans.

Sergeant Hill had a close call while aboard the USS Juan Cabrillo anchored near Tacloban, Leyte in the Philippines. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to photograph the nearby nighttime Kamikaze attempt on other American ships. "I was very scared for that short period of time. Those Marines reacted quickly and shot him down over the sea before he could target our ships."

Following the war, Hill would train at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and study with noted photographer Ansel Adams. Between 1948 and 1986, Hill's professional photography career would thrive and earn him awards and notoriety. By 1989, he felt it was time to retire and return home to La Grande.

The feisty Hill, now 87, is still a well-known freelance photographer in Union County. His scenic outdoor photos, historical images and military history reprints are in demand and keep him busy. Much of his photo collection has appeared in 14 different books and he has produced hundreds of reprints for veterans. One battle in Hill's photo negative collection shows members of the Army's 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment jumping into battle on the Philippine island of Corregidor.

Hill's letters to Martha were kept in a safe place and bound in white string for decades. "There's nothing too personal in there. It gives readers a different view than other accounts from that era," Hill said. "The 'blood and guts' war stories are always popular, but home-front accounts are also interesting."

Vets News, March/​April 2008, 6.

Paul Shea Review: This 287-page book is a fast-moving account of the voyage to New Guinea by a young just-married photo processor. He will supervise the processing of 50,000 of photos taken by our armed forces. During the next two years he wrote his wife over 300 letters, which she saved. The most interesting letters are combined with 270 photos and illustrations to vividly acquaint the reader with the islands, the natives who lived there, and the soldiers and the airmen who backed up those in the front lines.

His reader follows Hill from New Guinea through the campaigns that end at Ie Shima. Here the Betty bombers bring the Japanese representatives to arrange the surrender, and Hill was there to photograph their arrival with color film.

Voice of the Angels, March 2008, 31.



Kelly Andersson Review: “Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Looking Glass is dead. Toloohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead.

“It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are - perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead.

“Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

That speech, at the Bear Paw battlefield in northern Montana on Oct. 5, 1877, is one of the most recognized moments in history related to Indian culture and legend.

But Chief Joseph didn't make that speech. It was written by a cavalry soldier.

Joseph lived for 27 years after the war, and he never was allowed to return to his Nez Perce homeland in the Wallowa Valley of northeastern Oregon. Though he was known for his leadership and articulate speeches - both before and after the war - he never did acknowledge those words as his own. Neither did anyone else who was there on that day when the Nez Perce agreed to stop fighting.

Lt. C.E.S. Wood, a soldier under Gen. Oliver O. Howard, had during the war become sympathetic to the plight of the Nez Perce - who lost friends and family members at battlefields in five states. Wood remained loyal to his commanding officer for many years, however, and his struggle to balance that loyalty with his perspective on the war was a dilemma for him.

His 1877 drawings, the only eyewitness images of the war, are included in a recent book, along with his diary. “Soldier to Advocate: C.E.S. Wood's 1877 Legacy,” by Oregon author George Venn, was published in fall 2007 and was featured in a recent special on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Charles Erskine Scott Wood served as Howard's aide-de-camp and was tasked with defending the general's reputation as a successful Indian fighter - by leaking sketches and stories to the New York press. He thus played an important role, says Venn, “in what historians generally agree was the ‘meanest, most contemptible, least justifiable thing that the United States was ever guilty of' - the U.S. Army's eviction and 1,700-mile pursuit of around 800 fleeing and fighting nontreaty Nez Perce men, women and children with their baggage and horse herd.”

Literary biography, according to Venn, is a cumulative art - each successive biographer hopes to add new information, correct errors and offer interpretations. And his work does just that - Nez Perce historian Otis Halfmoon said the book adds that “missing piece” to some of the misunderstandings of the Nez Perce War.

The book is actually a monograph - part of a longer work in progress with which Venn's been involved for more than 10 years. Its scholarly style, with copious footnotes and bracketed comments throughout, may prove a bit tedious if you read only romance novels and newspapers. But Venn's notes provide a wealth of background and understanding for readers.

Wood gradually transitioned from a more-or-less loyal soldier to a man whose advocacy and friendship for the Nez

Perce lasted decades. Along with his diary entry for July 17, Venn's notes clarify this transition.

The troops were camped on the east bank of the Clearwater River at Kamiah, and they'd captured a number of prisoners. “Red Heart's band of 35 non-combatants - just returning from buffalo hunting in Montana - were designated ‘hostile' when they voluntarily surrendered,” Venn explains.

Wood was responsible for the prisoners; his brief diary entry speaks volumes about his shifting attitude.

“Night with the prisoners. Musings on the unhappy people and the fate before them. Thoughts on the Indian as a human being, a man and brother. His strange history. Inability to fuse with the white man.”

Though Wood wrote the first sentence of that famous “Chief Joseph speech” during his time as Howard's advocate, he laced the other 16 sentences together later, hoping to “redeem their suffering and the injustice of their situation through the grace and strength of impassioned language.”

In 1918, Wood's lines depicted his postwar perspective:

I have lived with my brown brothers
Of the wilderness,
And found them a mystery.
The cunning of the swift-darting trout
A mystery, also;
The wisdom of voyaging birds;
The gophers' winter-sleep;
The knowledge of the bees.
All a mystery.
I have lain out with the brown men
And know they are favored.
Nature whispered to them her secrets,
But passed me by.

Though the bulk of the book illuminates Wood's diary and experiences during the war, Venn offers readers an in-depth view of the soldier's life. The first section details Wood's early years, including his travels to the Northwest and to Alaska - and his budding friendship with Howard.

The last section of the book, though, is truly moving. After the war, as the friendship with Joseph's family deepened, Wood's young son, Erskine, spent two summers at Joseph's home on the Colville Reservation. Wood wrote to Erskine, telling him that he wanted to present a gift to Joseph, and that Erskine should find out what Joseph would like for a gift.

Joseph thought for a long time and replied that he would like a horse - a good stallion to improve his herd.

But Erskine didn't get it. He said later he didn't understand the value of a horse, so he didn't tell his father what Joseph said. Erskine in his later years came to deeply regret that decision, and he died in 1983 at the age of 104. But the Wood family descendants managed to fulfill Joseph's request. Funds were raised and a suitable Appaloosa stallion was found.

At a 1997 gathering in a meadow in the Nez Perce homeland, beneath the craggy peaks of the Wallowa Mountains, the stallion was presented by the Wood family to its new owners, the descendants of Chief Joseph - more than 100 years after he had requested a horse and 120 years after the war.

Lt. C.E.S. Wood has been called the one officer who “rejected the fundamental assumption of American civilization's superiority.” His life was one of conflicting loyalties and choices; in the end, though, Wood chose friendship and respect for Chief Joseph and his people.

“Those choices and decisions and transformations,” says Venn, “make Wood's legacy essential and contemporary - with the Wallowa band still living in exile, the ownership of the Wallowa valley still an open question, and apology to, meaningful restitution for, and repatriation of Joseph's exiled non-treaty band nowhere in sight.”

Kelly Andersson is a freelance writer and contributor to the Missoulian Book Life page. She lives in the Bitterroot Valley.

The Missoulian (Territory section) 10 March 2008
(Used by permission)

Nez Perce National Historic Trail


Steven R. Evans Review: Author George Venn must be a unique person with special skills, knowledge, concerns, and insights to have conceived and completed this story — a monograph focused on Charles Erskine Scott Wood (1852–1944) and Wood's relationship with Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce, and the War of 1877. The book is divided into four parts. The first describes Wood's early life and his career as a fractious 1874 West Point graduate who ended up in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, then became judge advocate to General Oliver Otis Howard. During the War of 1877 with the non-treaty Nez Perce, Wood became Howard's aide-de-camp.

The second part of Venn's monograph is a thoroughly edited rendition of Wood's diary, kept during the 1877 War. Here readers find the words of Wood, facing combat and striving to do his duty. Wood also used his artistic and writing skills to record the scenes of war in Idaho and Montana territories, and he leaked both words and drawings to an eager Eastern press. His offerings from the field were attributed to "an officer of General Howard's staff" (p. 60). Wood was also an eyewitness to the famous Chief Joseph stand on October 5, 1877, an event destined for legend and controversy.

Part 3 of the volume deals with Wood's transformation to advocate for American justice. Before, during, and after the 1877 War, his personal friendships with Native people — including Chief Joseph and many other Nez Perce — and his free-thinking caused him to abandon any belief in racial superiority, and to conclude that the 1877 War was unjust. He became an advocate for the Nez Perce in their quest to return to the Wallowas and Salmon River country, their home in the Pacific Northwest. His intellectual journey was all the more tortured due to his affection for and commitment to his old mentor, General Howard. Ultimately, his belief in justice and freedom overcame all other persuasions.

Wood drew on his personal knowledge of the 1877 War to articulate the realities of the racial and cultural conflict that it represented. He knew, for example, his old friend General Howard was a protagonist in the struggle with the Nez Perce. It was Howard who decided to arrest Toohoolhoolzote, the spokesman for the non-treaty tribe at the May 1877 Lapwai council. This violation of understood protocol proved a critical spark in the explosion of violence that followed. In Wood's poetic account of the meeting, it is the Indian, not the white, who makes a heroic stand for freedom:

"Too-hul-hul-soot let fall
His robe and standing, naked, powerful, a
Bronze athlete; on his breast a necklace of
Bear claws with discs of abalone shell.
His voice the sound of a great cataract afar
Or distant thunder, spoke: 'Tell him that I
'Am not afraid to die. I am afraid to live.
'I will not live a coward who refused
'My mother and denied the spirits of my fathers.
'I would rather die as a brave man ... (pp. 70–71)

This piece was written well after the war, but was based on a real event. Wood continued to call on his wartime experiences and on his notes and diaries to search for meaning in his own life and for justice for Native Americans.

His advocacy was enhanced by studying at Columbia Law School and by embracing the life of an attorney in Portland, where he became deeply involved in intellectual life and an icon of cultural life. He never abandoned the question of justice for American Indians, and he continued his involvement in Nez Perce history and friendship with the non-treaty bands.

As noted, there is considerable controversy concerning the historicity of the Chief Joseph speech at Bear Paw. Wood, who was present at the time, maintained for most of his days a telling that ultimately proved most likely a manipulated version that served his literary purposes. For most of his life, Wood insisted that, as he handed over his rifle, Joseph spoke the words that Wood often quoted. Wood said those words came through Arthur "Ad" Chapman and Captain John, interpreters. Venn, however, discovered a note from Wood to historian Lucullus McWhorter in 1936, which revealed that the "speech" was a "literary item," and not a verbatim record (p. 76). This does not prove that Joseph was not a great orator or that he did not say words to the effect that he is often credited. He may have said something close to the famous speech in council with his fellow tribesmen just before the actual cease-fire (Captain John was there, too.) But Wood's note to McWhorter does cast further doubt on the classical oration to Howard and Miles that was often promoted by Wood.

There is much to this fascinating book, a must-read, must-have for students of Nez Perce tribal history. The first three parts alone are compelling. Readers are most indebted to Venn, however, for including in his scheme of material the dramatic fourth portion of the book. This is the Wood legacy, both his lasting friendship with Chief Joseph and the attempts he and his family made at enhancing racial understanding. Venn describes Wood's son Erskine's stay with Joseph and later events, even through the 20th century. The Redheart Memorial ceremony at Fort Vancouver in 1998 and other events, such as the presentation of a beautiful stallion to the Redthunder family of Nespelem, show a dedication to healing. I was present at many of these events, and Venn has offered accurate renditions within proper historical context. This was and will remain a difficult task, but Venn has done well, and his teamwork with Wordcraft of Oregon, the publisher, has produced an outstanding work that will be a treasure now and in the future. Hopefully, we have seen the end of narrative histories of the 1877 War. Jerome Greene's Nez Perce Summer 1877 (2000) and Bruce Hampton's fine Children of Grace (1994) will have the last and perhaps best word in that department. Let us now have more of the unique kind of scholarship represented by Venn, who artistically and seamlessly ties modern tribal history to that earlier troubled time.

—Lewis & Clark State College, Lewiston, Idaho
(Used by permission)

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall, 2007, Vol. 108.3, 492-494.

History Cooperative

Jeff Baker Review: “C.E.S. Wood and Chief Joseph: An Eloquent Empathy."

When Chief Joseph surrendered to the U.S. Army on Oct. 5, 1877, a young lieutenant named Charles Erskine Scott Wood observed the Nez Perce warrior with fascination and admiration. A talented artist, Wood made a pencil sketch of Joseph and interviewed him, using a translator.

What Joseph actually said that day is a matter of great debate. The conclusion of Joseph's "surrender speech" -- "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever'"-- is arguably the most famous phrase ever attributed to a Native American. It’s also highly unlikely Joseph said anything like it. Among Wood’s other talents was writing poetry, and it's more accurate to consider the surrender speech the way George Venn does, as a "disguised heroic sonnet" written by Wood, rather than as a verbatim transcription of Joseph's words.

In his book Soldier to Advocate: C.E.S. Wood’s 1877 Legacy, Venn makes the nuanced argument that the military campaign against the Nez Perce was a transformative event in Wood’s life and that at the surrender he was acting in dual roles: as an advocate for Gen. 0.0. Howard, a mentor and father figure who promoted him to aide-de-camp but whose conservative Christianity and high-handed treatment of the Indians differed from Wood’s views; and as advocate for the Nez Perce, a people Wood admired for their dignity, courage and individuality.

Venn believes the first sentence of the surrender speech- - "Tell General Howard I know his heart"-- represents Wood serving as Howard's advocate and the remaining 16 sentences are a synthesis of Nez Perce facts, translations "and his own observations and fictions." Joseph and Wood began a friendship that day that lasted the rest of their lives, but Joseph, an articulate man, never confirmed the surrender speech as his own words. Neither did anyone else who was there that day.

Wood spent the next 40 years revising and refining the surrender speech, which he first leaked to a North Dakota newspaper with the help of a Portland journalist and then published anonymously in Eastern newspapers and magazines. The effect, especially when combined with Wood's accurate, evocative drawings, was to bolster Howard's reputation while creating a positive image of the Nez Perce.

Venn, professor emeritus of English at Eastern Oregon University and an award-winning poet, believes the surrender speech is a key to understanding Wood’s "legacy of dissent." Wood was the rare 19th-century military officer who did not believe in Manifest Destiny and who recognized the humanity of Native Americans and sought to understand their culture. Venn thinks it is simplistic to dismiss the surrender speech as a clever fabrication; better to see it as Wood’s "most imaginative, enduring and articulate dissent," one that "elevate[d] Chief Joseph to the status of a military genius" while defending Howard.

Soldier to Advocate is a monograph, printed in a limited edition of 500 copies by La Grande publisher Wordcraft of Oregon. Its contents includes a transcription of Wood's 1877 diary, a year in which he went to Alaska on a scientific expedition before being sent to join Howard on the Nez Perce campaign. The book is full of period photographs and drawings, including numerous sketches by Wood that were discovered by Venn and are in print for the first time since 1877.

Venn got the kind of lucky break that sometimes comes to thorough researchers when he requested microfilm of The Daily Graphic, a New York newspaper, and received the bound volumes of the paper instead. He found numerous drawings by Wood, often attributed to "an Officer in the Field." Wood's drawings were the first published images of the Nez Perce.

There's plenty more in Venn's monograph: newly transcribed letters by Joseph, Wood and Howard; previously unpublished poetry relating to war and the Nez Perce by the prolific Wood; a section on the relationship between the Wood family and the Nez Perce in modern times.

Wood lived in Portland for decades, working as a lawyer and establishing himself as a liberal civic leader before moving to California and devoting himself to writing and art. His involvement in the story of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce is crucial to our understanding of that essential part of Pacific Northwest history, and Venn's work breaks new ground.

The Sunday Oregonian, December 10, 2006
(Used by permission)


Gillian Berchowitz Review: In West of Paradise, George Venn weaves a love of family, friends, and a sense of keen belonging to the character and landscape of the rural Northwest into poems rich in detail and wonder...
Ohio University Press/​Swallow Press

Jonathan Nicholas Review: Ice River Press, the Simon & Schuster of La Grande, has just released West of Paradise, a splendid collection of new poems by George Venn. Still wondering what’s the big deal about the Snake River country, Hells Canyon, the high Wallowa? Venn sings...and we understand.
"What's happening to Oregon? Where's the vision?
Where's the common ground?The Oregonian, 14 Nov. 1999

Farris Cassell Review: Venn writes confidently, with strong rhythms and vivid imagery. The stories he tells in verse are clear as snow-melt river, the larger truths glimmering beneath the surface. Even readers who don’t often turn to poetry will find in his work a true and compelling voice of the Northwest.
"Northwest Bound: Exploring the Literary Landscape."
Eugene Register Guard, 28 Nov. 1999

Andy Whipple Review: West of Paradise is Venn’s way of describing today’s culture of opportunity. "It’s about the West as paradise -- the world our ancestors thought of as a place where nothing could go wrong," he says. "We live west of that -- between the dream of life and the reality." The voices in Venn’s collection are varied and memorable....
"Culture via People, Comment via Poem."
The (Bend) Bulletin, 5 Jan. 2000: B1+

Karen Zacharias Review: Sometimes, paradise isn’t to the west of us. Sometimes, it’s right beneath our feet. Too often, we don’t notice it. Not until someone like Venn comes along and ever so tenderly points out the landscape before us. Such skill surely makes Venn not only one of the best poets in the Northwest, but one of the region’s finest teachers.
"Venn a Great Poet and Teacher."East Oregonian, 8 Jan. 2000: 6A

Jeff Baker Review: West of Paradise is a collection of poems, mostly set in Oregon.... The final poem in the book, "Water Music, Upper Imnaha River," is a beautiful love poem....
"Literary Snapshot."The Sunday Oregonian, 16 Jan. 2000

W. M. McRae Review: If you want a poet like Walt Whitman, who ranges over a multitude, from wind and water to the loss of love, from the geopolitics of agriculture to the economics of hydroelectricity, from the broken dreams of hardscrabble farmers to memories of a father’s canoeing the river with his children, read George Venn...."
Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 92, No. 2, Spring, 2001: 92

Erik Muller Review: Venn is big-hearted, broadly interested. He writes best, I feel, in a commemorative style, reminiscent of Richard Hugo’s. Yet Venn is the warmer; he allows for belief. Venn is a fine and frequent elegist...Venn admires people who do their work well, whether or not they are thanked or famous. ***Rightfully acknowledged for his leading role as General Editor of the Oregon Literature Series, George Venn deserves further recognition as a poet."
Fireweed: Poetry of Western Oregon, Vol. 12, No. 2, Winter, 2001: 33-35

Charles Coate Review: Is paradise a place or concept? George Venn has seen the world and understands its vastness and connections. He says we owe our lives to 120 million year love affair of Fungi and Algae. His ancestors remind him "you can never be alone in America again." In the last poem, we glimpse paradise in human love, transcending time and location yet simultaneously temporal and place bound....
Calapooya [basalt], Vol. 21, 2000: 26

(Under construction)

The World Begins Here: An Anthology of Oregon Short Fiction
with Glen Love

Many Faces: An Anthology of Oregon Autobiography
with Stephen Dow Beckham

Varieties of Hope: An Anthology of Oregon Prose
with Gordon Dodds

From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry
with Ingrid Wendt and Primus St. John

The Stories We Tell: An Anthology of Oregon Folk Literature
with Suzi Jones and Jarold Ramsey

Talking On Paper: An Anthology of Oregon Letters and Diaries
with Shannon Applegate and Terence O'Donnell

Oregon State University Press


Anita T. Sullivan Review: The result of Marking The Magic Circle is not regional literature, strangely enough, at least not as I imagine it. The boy running away from school and hitchhiking...could be any of us...
" 'Magic Circle' Sings Joys of the Northwest."
Corvallis Gazette-Times, 10 July 1987

Paul Pintarich Review: Venn's poetry has been celebrated among Oregonians for some time. Now they can see Venn's versatility...
Pintarich, Paul. "The Nurturing Northwest."
The Oregonian (NW Magazine), 5 July 1987:19.
See also Pintarich, Paul. "Marking One for the Books." The Oregonian, 1 October 1988: B1+.

Louie Attebery Review: Marking the Magic Circle is a superb evocation of the sense, the meaning, and the values of times and places... the book is prima facie evidence that the concept of regionalism is so rich and lambent that only the creative act can begin to articulate it.
"The Editor's Smokehouse."
Northwest Folklore, Vol. 5, No. 2, Spring 1987: 59

Glen Love Review: George Venn is one of the foremost serious regionalists in the Northwest, and one of its fine poets... For me, Marking The Magic Circle is a "best of Venn" collection and the best of Venn I find in the excellence of his poetry and the insights of his essays on the grounding of Northwest literature in its native place...
"Place and Confidence."
Northwest Review, 1988: 133-139

Carol Long Review: Venn's text is an example of continuity "among language, experience, and environment. It is a defense of regionalism in the best sense, by both example and precept. All this is not new, but it is humane. And it is universal in its impulse because it is aware of other regions and their intimacy... "
"Book Review."Western American Literature, Vol. XXIII, No. 2, 1988: 179

David Memmott Review: Marking the Magic Circle will be read, talked about, argued about, and the ripple ring will widen in a much bigger pond that Venn would have guessed... His name will be mentioned in the same breath with Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, and William Stafford, as well it should...
"Book Review."Ice River, Vol. 3, No. 3, June 1987: 5

Nathan Douthit Review: This is the kind of book that makes one wish more writers had the interest and ability to explore their worlds of consciousness in different literary forms and that publishers would make them available. The pieces collected here fit together well, forming a natural habitat."
"New George Venn Book: Writing About Self and Region."
Publishing Northwest, Sept/​Oct 1987: 5


Vern Rutsala Review: The fine "Directions for Visitors"– Venn is off the main road, remember–has, along with a clever use of place names, this poet's serious playfulness which, with great variety of phrasing, mingles a feeling for the concrete with the fantastic. Venn's wit is present as well. Following a page and a half of directions, the fifth stanza ends:

"...If you want an hour or more
and I don't appear somehow,
I'm simply not the George you knew."

“Extending Metaphors to Breaking Points.”
Willamette Week, 8 August 1978 (Fresh Weekly Section): 4-5.

John Boly Review Venn loves the world he sees around him, the world of places like Hells Canyon, Ohanapecosh and Bear Springs. He loves the simple hard honesty of their work, which he elegizes in sturdy secular litanies: "I know the faller's ax, polaski, froe,/​ peavy, scythe, the cross cut saw." I could say that instead of talking to himself, Venn charges out of the Muses' Temple to accost his readers in their daily lives, except that would be too simple. For in accosting us as a poet, Venn also wants to transform us into poets in our own right. As with Whitman, his exuberance in poems such as "Words" masks the humble faith that everyone is, or must become, a poet to his own experience.

“The Prescott Street Poets.” Oregon Magazine, August 1979: 72

Dennis Grunes Review: The central poem of Off The Main Road, an uncommonly good new book, pleads for the poet's –or anyone's– right to be left alone with his own life.... Family (by extension, history) joins with the poet's passion for wilderness – wild plants, trees, animals, streams–to define him spiritually and give his character integrity. He must work at preserving this integrity, this aloneness that makes him human.

“Books Received.” Encore, Vol. III, 1978: 21

Martin Robbins Review: There's an openness in Off The Main Road which invites you to "lay a fire full of answers that tell you "Stay...unpack," because these poems, like the book's last phrase, "just move in and in" with well-crafted exactness...

St. Andrews Review, Vol.3, No.3,1979: 128-129


Mindy Aloff Review: Sunday Afternoon is an American variant of the quest for the Grail, and retains traditional details of the story, such as the darkness of weather and mind at the journey's beginning, the temporal allegory(Sunday afternoon), and the maiden who keeps the Grail itself. In addition to allusions like the sacramental table cloth of snow, we find "walnut limbs the gray of whitetail,/​ the silver of tarnished chalice" and voices who tell the hero as he eats, "This is not forbidden fruit. Accept it all." For Parzival, the medieval German version of the Grail knight, the Grail is a plate that miraculously provides whatever food one wishes, and its vision inducts him into a chivalric brotherhood under divine law. For Venn's hero the orchard is the provider and his vision inducts him into an animal brotherhood under nature's law. Parzival must do battle in the name of his vision; Venn's hero learns, almost instinctively, how to sing with "only the poem in his teeth."

“George Venn: Sustenance of a Sunday Afternoon.”
In The American Grain Vol. 4, 30 April 1976: 1-2

Basil Clark Review: Sunday Afternoon: Grande Ronde is a thoroughly engaging poetic narrative. There is an impressive consistency in development of theme throughout, and the imagery at its best dresses the lines and elevates one man's journey and makes it live...

Green River Review Vol. VII, No.2 1976:123-127

James McAuley Review: Only George Venn's narrative poem, however,demonstrates some devotion to good printing, with forthright drawings by Ian Gatley, good paper and type. Mr. Venn's poem recounts the visit of an anonymous man to the homestead-orchard of a friend, Virginia, at the opening of hunting season. The gathering of walnuts becomes a ritual reconciliation between the protagonist and those elemental simple aspects of a way of life he had withdrawn from. These very tenuous threads of a barely suggested "plot" are woven through a progression of what George Venn himself would refer to as imagistic "moments" –small epiphanies, or recoveries, which illuminate the movement to a resolution. The poem has the great virtue of what Rimbaud called "transparency": we follow the protagonist through these small events and recollections without having to wrest anything from diction or rhythm, seeing through the imagery to its significance without having to make crossword puzzle intellectual leaps.

“Three Chapbooks.” Willow Springs Magazine Vol 5, 1979: 83-84

Selected Works

Pulitzer prize 2018 nominee. Fifty-one poems reprinted from earlier books. Ten poems published and collected here for the first time, along with 18 new and unpublished poems.
"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
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
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