KEEPING THE SWARM: New and Selected Essays
Packed with sweetness and stinging, eleven personal essays are gathered in George Venn's KEEPING THE SWARM. Two unpublished essays narrate the prize-winning poet’s international sojourns in Spain and China; two others eulogize northwest people he loved. This book is a honey house chuckablock with eclectic gifts: stories, songs, adventures, meditations, eulogies, poems. There are new cells of joy, old black combs of grief, memories of love’s honey flow.
HILL: A Photographer's Life (2013)
and introduced by George Venn. Published by Photosmith Books, 400 Sunset Drive, La Grande, OR, 2013. (90 pages, award-winning color cover, 71 b/w photos, 21 original texts, artist notes, bibliography.) This is a rare, limited edited edition festschrift portfolio and companion volume to DARKROOM SOLDIER (2007). $40 plus S/H. Email: Fred Hill.
BACK COVER PRAISE
This welcome essay collection by the sharpest-eyed Northwest writer conjures the region he knows so intimately. His careful portraits of mining towns, wheat harvest, bee keeping, snowland wonders ring clean and true. George Venn depicts his colorful relatives and friends with such rich details that we adopt them as our own. This venerable voice blesses every reader with another brave and rewarding book.
Craig Lesley, author of Burning Fence
Keeping the Swarm is an intimate, powerful portrait of community. Dipping his pen into a mixture of blood and honey, George Venn braves the scabrous terrain of memory. Venn's prose is powerful, his narrative vulnerable. The Poet's abiding respect for creatures and for environment, for song and for languages – the gift of Alder to young Venn – shine brightly here. Keeping the Swarm will make you thirst for the clear water of the mountains, and hunger for the amber-nectar of home.
Karen Spears Zacharias, Visiting Professor, Central Washington University, and author of A Silence of Mockingbirds
George Venn is a gentle radical: In lyrical prose he enchants us with the closely observed words and acts of ordinary people–from the Pacific Northwest’s mid-20th century small towns to classrooms in post-Cultural Revolution Hunan–always connecting this fabric of local life to the global issues of social justice and human interdependence. “Who says literature makes nothing happen?” Venn asks. His memorable and moving essays inspire us to transform our humanities knowledge and skills into humanitarian work.
Jennifer Eastman Attebery, Professor, Idaho State University, and author of Up in the Rocky Mountains: Writing the Swedish Immigrant Experience
In Keeping the Swarm George Venn both asks and answers the question, “After all, what are writers for?” Venn demonstrates that our links to humanity and the universe are woven by the singular and specific rather than the abstract and orthodox. In clear-eyed, honest, and eloquent fashion, Venn examines the places and people of his childhood and adulthood, proving that the pedestrian and the profound exist not at opposite ends of a spectrum, or even side-by-side, but coalesce to form our most sacred memories, and therefore, our lives. Venn provides a guidebook for us to examine our own piece of the world, to recognize the beauty, grace, and peril, until we see it “solid and clear.”
Robert Stubblefield, Lecturer, University of Montana, and contributor
to High Desert News
SOLDIER TO ADVOCATE: C. E. S. WOOD’S 1877 LEGACY (2006)
In this carefully researched, richly illustrated presentation of Lieutenant C. E. S. Wood’s Nez Perce War diary, George Venn offers readers a compelling introduction to a most unusual army officer. Wood appeals to us because of his modern sensibilities, compassion for the enemy, and generosity of spirit. His diary demonstrates the terrible cost of war. His life represents the potential for redemption. Wood experienced the dark side of conquest and tried to make amends—a legacy his descendants carry on today.
--Sherry L. Smith, Southern Methodist University, author of Reimagining Indians: Native Americans through Anglo Eyes, 1880-1940
DARKROOM SOLDIER: PHOTOGRAPHS AND LETTERS FROM THE SOUTH PACIFIC THEATER WORLD WAR II (2007)
DARKROOM SOLDIER features a young photo reconnaissance officer’s intimate one-of-a-kind record of the invisible lives of support troops and civilians behind the lines in the Pacific Theater. Between October, 1943, and October, 1945, Sergeant Fred Hill, a young Oregon photographer, sent his wife Martha hundreds of photos and wrote her more than 300 letters. She saved them all. The selected letters and photographs create a unique record of the Pacific Theater—at once verbal and visual, civilian and military, documentary and emotional, historical and personal. The letters which had to pass Army censors are brief, vivid, candid, erotic, and they frequently refer to the image(s) on the facing page. Hill’s work is original intrahistory—a record of daily life as lived by thousands of people—both American and indigenous civilians.
The mountain in Mirror Lake does not waver
in the wind. This means Wallowa calm has come.
Even tons of stone have settled down for a few
million years of sleep. From mistletoe and fir,
shade lulls your eyes. From deep water, your
new face rises slow. Some old grief sinks away.
WEST OF PARADISE (1999)
"George Venn's scale is immense and inclusive... " --James Bertolino
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
"West of Paradise conjures the rural Northwest's colorful characters and the hard-edged codes they live by...." --Craig Lesley
"George Venn is a poet of great heart for... the wilderness gone and the wilderness still left–inside and outside us." --Primus St. John
THE OREGON LITERATURE SERIES (1989-1994)
More information forthcoming. Thanks for waiting!
MARKING THE MAGIC CIRCLE (1987)
This is a multi-genre anthology of essays, stories, poems, Chinese translations, and photos.
Award: Silver Medal and Special Award for Oregon Literature, Literary Arts, 1988
Award: 100 Best Oregon Books (1800-2000), Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, 2005
George Venn, in this collection of poetry, fiction, and essays both personal and literary, challenges his readers to root themselves in the strength of home, rather than looking for direction to far away intellectual and political centers. His writing resonates with the reality of life in the Northwest -- the spiritual richness of a life lived in harmony with the requirements of place, and the problems of unemployment and poverty faced by so many in the region. In his literary essays Venn explores the rich variety of the Northwest’s literary heritage, and undertakes to convince those who live in the region of the value and authenticity of this heritage. Venn’s blend of creativity and scholarship is unique in the Northwest, enriching both his scholarship with a poet’s vision and his poetry and fiction with a deep understanding of their context and roots in the region’s literature.
-Jo Alexander, Editor, OSU Press
OFF THE MAIN ROAD (1978)
...is a first collection of poems that reflects his immediate concern with a world close at hand. His plants,animals, weather, rivers, birds, and people help him—-and all of us—-make some kind of sense out of the experience of living. Don Gray's five pencil drawings also have their origin in a local geography, but are rich in universal implications.
-Vi Gale, 1978
SUNDAY AFTERNOON: GRANDE RONDE (1975)
This chapbook-length quest narrative recounts the transformation of an Everyman as Gatherer rather than Hunter. During a late fall visit to a walnut orchard where the nuts are ripe, he meets the owner, a woman named Virgina,and in the ritual act of gathering her walnuts, Everyman is enlightened, transformed, and reconciled with the fertility, beauty, and abundance that sustains all life. Written in the tradition of the long poem--from Ovid to Wallace Stevens to Robinson Jeffers--the narrative is enhanced by Ian Gatley's eight elemental pen and ink sketches.
Number 10–A/B: Series 1982
Writing couplets for public display is an ancient Chinese poetic tradition. Once created exclusively by scholars, couplets are now sold by stores and street painters. Especially popular during Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), bright new couplets may also be written and displayed on gateposts or walls on any important occasion: birth, birthday, homecoming, marriage, death. Travelers may also see couplets at scenic vistas, on temples, in restaurants, and on private houses. In the Chinese countryside, they are commonly displayed beside the main farmhouse door–A on the left, B on the right. While the Communist Revolution reduced this poetic tradition to political slogans after 1949, the folk couplet has regained much of its pre-revolutionary tradition today.
According to Ma Meng in Chinese Couplets (Hong Kong,1969), “A couplet is made up of two components which are called the Head and Tail. The number of characters of each must be the same, but each usually implies a connotation in contrast to the other. Word for word or phrase for phrase, the Head and Tail must correspond in syntactical arrangements.”
This couplet, collected from a street painter in Rugao, Jiangsu Province, during Spring Festival, 1982, by George Venn, is rendered in pre-revolution style. The panels all display four traditional aspects: multiple colors on one brush, the ideogram becoming image, ancient Chinese motifs–longevity and heaven, happiness and earth–and New Year sentiments: prosperity, happiness, long life. Moving rapidly, the experienced folk artist may complete one line of a couplet in a few minutes, a skill long and difficult to master.
In Chinese characters:
In Pinyin (phonetic transcription):
A. Feng yao qing hua wu
B. Chun dao niao neng yan
In English (general meaning):
A. Wind invites flowers to dance
B. Spring inspires birds to sing
Translations by Chen Zhao-quan, Changsha Railway University,
Changsha, Hunan, 1982
Chinese characters by Daisy Rothgery, Eastern Oregon University,
La Grande, Oregon. 1983
This couplet was presented to Eastern Oregon University by George Venn, Professor of English and Writer in Residence(1970-2002), on his retirement in June, 2002.