Venn, George (Andrew) 1943-
VENN, George (Andrew) 1943-
PERSONAL: Born October 12, 1943, in Tacoma, WA; son of Ernest Fyfe (a hydroelectric operator); adopted son of Frank A. (a minister) and Beth Alice (a teacher; maiden name, Mayo) Venn; married Elizabeth Anne Cheney (a nurse), July 29, 1966 (divorced, September 14, 1998); children: Alicia Anne Cheney, Alex Andrew Fyfe. Ethnicity: "Scots/English/German/Jewish." Education: Albertson College of Idaho, B.A., 1967; University of Montana, M.F.A., 1970. Politics: "Independent." Religion: "Ecumenist; mystic; no literalistic ethnocentric orthodoxy; everything universal." Hobbies and other interests: Carpentry, house renovation, organic gardening, beekeeping, solar energy, music, wilderness preservation, free-flowing stream restoration and protection, bicycling, bird watching, folklore, folk life, literary history, languages.
ADDRESSES: Home—706 B. Ave., La Grande, OR 97850. Offıce—Department of English, Eastern Oregon University, La Grande, OR 97850. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Alliance High School, Quito, Ecuador, basketball coach, 1964; United States Information Service Language Center, Quito, English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) instructor, 1964; American Language Institute, Salamanca, Spain, ESL instructor, 1965; Missoula County High School, Missoula, MT, lay reader in English, 1968; University of Montana, Missoula, teaching assistant in English, 1968-70; Eastern Oregon University, La Grande, instructor, 1970-73, assistant professor, 1974-76, associate professor, 1977-87, professor, 1987-2002, professor of English emeritus, 2002—, writer-in-residence, 1974-2002. Writer on tour for Western States Arts Foundation writers' community workshops in Oregon and Idaho, 1976; Changsha Railway University, Hunan, China, foreign expert in ESL literature and composition, 1981-82. Scholar/grant writer for Storylines America Project, American Library Association, 1996-97; teaching poet for Family Poetry Workshops, Oregon State Poetry Association, and Oregon Center for the Book, Oregon State Library, 1998-99; research fellow, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, 1999; writer-in-residence, Albertson College, 2002. President, Oregon Council of Teachers of English, 2001-03. Advisory board member, Institute for Indian Education at Eastern Oregon University, 1970-80, and Fishtrap Gathering: Writing West of the Rockies, 1989—; consultant to Oregon Literary Map, Oregon Council of Teachers of English, 1989; honorary advisory board member, Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, 1997—. Chair for Committee for Catherine Creek, 1973-77, Mt. Emily Food Cooperative board of directors, 1974-76, and Union County Overall Economic Development Committee agriculture subcommittee, 1977; supervisor for Comprehensive Employment and Training Youth Solar Water Heater Project, Union County, 1978. Frequent lecturer, keynote speaker, workshop coordinator, manuscript reviewer, editor, grant writer, literary competition judge and juror, and coordinator for various educational and arts organizations throughout Pacific Northwest.
MEMBER: Poets and Writers, Associated Writing Programs, Oregon Historical Society.
AWARDS, HONORS: Breadloaf Writer's Conference fellowship, 1971; Oregon Arts Commission grants, 1972, 1973, 1974; National Endowment for the Humanities seminar fellowship, 1976; Pushcart Prize in Poetry, Pushcart Press, 1980, for poem "Forgive Us . . ."; Oregon Committee for the Humanities fellowship, 1981; Oregon Book Awards special award, Oregon Institute of Literary Arts, 1988, for Marking the Magic Circle: Poetry, Fiction, and Essays; Stewart Holbrook Award, Oregon Institute for Literary Arts, and Multicultural Publishing Award, National Council of Teachers of English, both 1994, both for general editorship of "Oregon Literature Series"; Andres Berger Award in Poetry, Northwest Writers, Inc., 1995, for "The Emperor Breeds Only on the Ice"; Purchase Award, Oregon Zoo, 1997, for two Cascade Crest Exhibit poems; research stipend, Eastern Oregon University, 1998; research awards, Eastern Oregon University, 1999 and 2000; Oregon Book Award finalist, 2000, for West of Paradise; "Poetry in Motion" selection, Poetry Society of America, 2001, for "Eagle Cap"; Silver Anniversary Award, Eastern Oregon Regional Arts Council, 2002; Distinguished Teaching Faculty Award, Eastern Oregon University, 2002; listed in "Literary Oregon: 100 Books, 1800-2000," Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission/Oregon State Library, 2005.
Sunday Afternoon: Grande Ronde (poetry chapbook), drawings by Ian Gatley, Prescott Street Press (Portland, OR), 1975.
Off the Main Road (poems), illustrations by Don Gray, Prescott Street Press (Portland, OR), 1978.
Marking the Magic Circle: Poetry, Fiction, and Essays, photography by Jan Boles, Oregon State University Press (Corvallis, OR), 1987.
(Author of introduction) Nard Jones, Oregon Detour, new edition, Oregon State University Press (Corvallis, OR), 1989.
(Editor) Zacharias and McCombs, Rufe, Benched: TheAutobiography of a Georgia Supreme Court Justice, Mercer University Press (Macon, GA), 1997.
(Editor) Lars Nordstrom, Making It Home, Prescott State Press (Portland, OR), 1997.
(Editor) Gail Wolf, The Three Ingredients ReadingProgram, Blue Bird Publishing (Mesa, AZ), 1998
(Editor, with Paulann Petersen) River Hills Rounded with Wind, Dalles Wasco County Library (The Dalles, OR), 1998.
(Editor) Pulling Together: An Anthology of BakerCounty Poetry, Baker County Public Library (Baker City, OR), 1998.
West of Paradise (poems), Wordcraft of Oregon (La Grande, OR), 1999.
Translator of Chinese poetry by Ai Qing. Contributor to books, including The Pushcart Prize IV: Best of the Small Presses, 1979-80; Way out In Idaho: A Celebration of Songs and Stories, edited by Rosalie Sorrels, Confluence Press (Lewiston, ID), 1991; The Stories We Tell: An Anthology of Oregon Folk Literature, edited by Suzi Jones and Jarold Ramsey, Oregon State University Press (Corvallis, OR), 1994; Portland Lights: A Poetry Anthology, Press 22 (Portland, OR), 1999; and Worldviews and the American West: Essays in Honor of Barre Toelken, edited by Polly Stewart, Utah State University Press (Logan, UT), 2000.
Contributor of poetry to anthologies and collections, including Bowl of Stories II, edited by Steve Jones and Ann Staley, Casoria Woods Press (Corvallis, OR), 2003; Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, edited by Samuel Intrator and Megan Scribner, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2003; The Other Side of the Hill: A Serial Poem by Eighteen Eastern Oregon Poets, edited by Jack Lorts, Ice River Press (La Grande, OR), 2003; This Should Be Enough: Poems from the Second Skagit River Poetry Festival, edited by Sam Green, Skagit River Poetry Festival (LaConner, WA), 2002; Prescott St. Reader, edited by Vi Gale, Prescott St. Press (Portland, OR), 1995; Stafford's Road: An Anthology of Poems for William Stafford, edited by Tom Ferte, Adrienne Lee Press (Monmouth, OR), 1993; Idaho's Poetry: A Centennial Anthology, edited by Ron McFarland and William Studebaker, University of Idaho Press (Moscow, ID), 1988; Rain in the Forest, Light in the Trees: Contemporary Poetry from the Northwest, edited by Rich Ives, Owl Creek Press (Missoula, MT), 1983; Fourteen Oregon Poets, edited by William Stafford, Oregon Arts Commission (Salem, OR), 1976; Portland Poetry Festival Anthology, edited by Barbara LaMorticella, Portland Poetry Festival (Portland, OR), 1975; Ten Oregon Poets, edited by Vi Gale, Prescott St. Press (Portland, OR), 1975. Poetry is included in "Tamanawis Illahee," a film by Ron Finne, 1982.
Contributor to periodicals, including Kerf, Hubbub, Talking River Review, OLA Quarterly, Poetry International, Windfall, Oregon East, Oregon English Journal, Jefferson Monthly, Oregon English, Portland Review, Poetry Northwest, Willow Springs Journal, Poetry Texas, Poetry Oregon, Hyperion, Underpass, Beacon, Coyote, Northeast Oregon, Garret, Student Times Literary Supplement, Prospectus, Calapooya Literary Review, Pacific Historical Review, Chalkboard, Oregon Humanities, Writer's Northwest, Western American Literature, Publishing Northwest, Folklore India, and Idaho Yesterdays. Coeditor of Prospectus magazine for College of Idaho, 1965; editor, Eastern Oregon Literary Supplement, 1972-74. Advisory editor, Oregon East, 1971-88; member of editorial board, Northwest Folklore, 1985-94, and Oregon Historical Quarterly, 1999-2003; developmental editor, The Three Ingredients Reading Program, by Gail Wolf, 1998.
ADAPTATIONS: A five-movement cantata composed in 1979 by James Eversole, includes lyrics from Venn's poetry; "Setting Backfires" was adapted for choir by Benjamin Tomassetti, 1993; "Directions for Visitors" was adapted for trio by John McKinnon, 1994.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Keeping the Swarm, a collection of personal essays; The Lie That Told the Truth, an historical narrative; Honeycomb, a novel; editing journals kept while in China during 1981 and 1982; a collection of folk literature.
SIDELIGHTS: Sometimes called the unofficial poet laureate of Oregon, poet George Venn has been praised for his verses, which reflect his love of the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest and the folk-culture traditions that reside there. Venn, who Oregonian writer Jeff Baker dubbed as "one of the best-known and most respected poets in the state," is also an active conservationist of the wild lands of Oregon, and has been highly praised for his service as general editor of the "Oregon Literature Series," six anthologies of the best prose, fiction, poetry, diaries, letters, and folk literature penned by Oregon natives. Venn himself contributed some of his writings to the series and is widely regarded to be, as a writer for the Tennessee Tech Times put it, "one of the best new voices in modern American realism." A recipient of numerous literary prizes, Venn most notably earned a Pushcart Prize in 1980.
Although Venn has been tremendously active in the literary world, he has published poetry collections infrequently, and his works have all been released by small presses. His collections include Sunday Afternoon: Grande Ronde, Off the Main Road, and West of Paradise. His poems can also be found in his collection Marking the Magic Circle: Poetry, Fiction, and Essays, in twenty different poetry anthologies, and in over thirty different periodicals. Noting Venn's regionalist tendencies, Louie Attebery, writing in Tough Paradise: The Literature of Idaho and the Intermountain West, said of Marking the Magic Circle that: "imaginative writing which has been produced by this awareness of and loyalty to a fragment of the globe is often solid and, at its best, profound."
Venn's first chapbook, Sunday Afternoon, demonstrates the poet's respect and love for nature. The book is comprised of a narrative poem in which the speaker goes on a walnut gathering quest that, as James McAuley wrote in Willow Springs, "becomes a ritual reconciliation between the protagonist and those elemental, simple aspects of a way of life he had withdrawn from. . . . by the large Mr. Venn is successful with a kind of poem we haven't seen much of since D. H. Lawrence and Robinson Jeffers." Basil Clark, writing in Green River Review, commented that the work "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." Although Mindy Aloff, writing in the American Grain, had reservations about what she felt was too much "solemnity" in the poem's tone, she added that "the poem is fashioned with care and is, in its theme and subject, a good look at the American Grain."
Off the Main Road, another paean to nature, also incorporates other themes, such as the importance of individualism and family. Critics of this collection who had read Venn's earlier work noted that it demonstrates "serious growth over Sunday Afternoon: Grande Ronde," as Dennis Grunes remarked in an Encore review. "In a steady and deliberate way," wrote Vern Rutsala in Willamette Week, "Venn is taking possession of his own poetic territory. . . . Off the Main Road shows clear evidence that he is working that claim with skill, integrity, and feeling." Grunes, writing in Small Press Review, lauded Venn's second work as "a beautiful book—strong, honest, individual, important," and Oregon Magazine writer John Boly held it up as evidence that Venn "is about the truest disciple of [American poet] Walt Whitman I have found in contemporary poetry."
After Off the Main Road, Venn did not release another book for almost a decade, when Marking the Magic Circle was published. In planning this multi-genre collection, which Venn had originally titled Sasquatch Looking for an Audience, the author assembled what he considered to be some of his best uncollected essays, poems, and stories, which had been gathering in his desk since 1968. Working with Jo Alexander of Oregon State University Press, he created a series of seven collages that drew high praise from many critics. The book includes Venn's translations of some of Chinese poet Ai Qing's stories of youths growing up in farm country and of a poor man having to poach a deer to feed his family, a selection of Venn's own poetry, and his essays discussing topics that range from regionalism as a universal paradigm and the connection of language to folklore, to the importance of barns and the history of Pacific Northwest literature. Nathan Douthit, writing in Publishing Northwest, described the multi-genre collection as alternating between the humorous and the serious, while altogether it comprises a "unified statement on regionalism." "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,"-Douthit concluded,"and that publishers would make them available." In a Northwest Review essay, Glen A. Love observed, "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."
Venn continued his celebration of place with his third poetry collection, West of Paradise. Here, according to Erik Muller in Fireweed, the author "convincingly marks off the magic circle and even initiates expanding ripples." Different Northwest subregions are detailed about in these verses: from the Blue Mountains, down the Columbia River, and along the Pacific coast. He also writes of childhood memories, such as beekeeping with his grandfather; and there are love poems as well. "Venn writes confidently," remarked Faris Cassell in a Register Guard review, "with strong rhythms and vivid imagery."
A number of reviewers offered their assessment of Venn's work in their reviews of West of Paradise. In Pacific Northwest Quarterly, for instance, William McRae wrote: "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." In his "Introduction" to The Literary West: An Anthology of Western American Literature, Thomas J. Lyon named Venn as being among "the writers who, along with the Indians, are giving clear voice to today's West." And Tim Coone, writing in the Voice, noted that "Venn has been described by many as being one of the best known and most respected poets in Oregon."
Although his book publications have been relatively few in number, Venn's contributions to poetry will likely be enduring. His commitment to literature, through his teaching and editing work, has also been widely acknowledged, most notably for designing and for serving as general editor of the "Oregon Literature Series." Writing in Updating the Literary West, Glen Love wrote that the series "demonstrates how all of the diverse themes and approaches" to a place "can be found in the literature of a single state. . . . They suggest in another format the newly informed attention to place in the study of literature which marks so much of the emerging writing of the Far West."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ives, Rich, Rain in the Forest, Light in the Trees:Contemporary Poetry from the Northwest, Owl Creek Press (Missoula, MT), 1983.
Milosz, Czeslaw, A Year of the Hunter, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (New York, NY), 1994.
Muller, Erik, Vern Rutsala, Boise State University Press (Boise, ID), 1998.
Nordstrom, Lars, Theodore Roethke, William Stafford, and Gary Snyder: The Ecological Metaphor as Transformed Regionalism, University of Uppsala (Uppsala, Sweden), 1989.
Northwest Perspectives: Essays on the Culture of thePacific Northwest, edited by Bingham and Love, Universities of Washington and Oregon, 1979.
Tough Paradise: The Literature of Idaho and theIntermountain West, Idaho Humanities Council (Boise, ID), 1995.
Updating the Literary West, Texas Christian University Press (Fort Worth, TX), 1995.
World View and the American West, edited by Polly Stewart and others, Utah State University Press (Logan, UT), 2000.
American Grain, April, 1976, Mindy Aloff, "George Venn: Sustenance of a Sunday Afternoon," pp. 1-2.
Corvallis Gazette Times, September 8, 1995, Molly Larson Cook, "Chronicling Oregon's Literary Tradition," p. 4.
Fireweed, winter, 2001, Erik Muller, review of West ofParadise, pp. 33-35.
Green River Review, Volume 7, number 2, 1976, Basil Clark, review of Sunday Afternoon: Grande Ronde, pp. 123-127.
Newsletter of the Washington Poet's Association, June, 1995, Teresa Bachman, "Peeves at Readings."
Northwest Review, 1988, Glen A. Love, "Place and Confidence," review of Marking the Magic Circle: Poetry, Fiction, and Essays, pp. 133-139.
Oregon, August, 1979, John Boly, "The Prescott Street Poets," p. 72.
Oregon East, 1995, Annie Tester, "At the Foul Line," pp. 93-106.
Oregonian, June 17, 1995, Jeff Baker, "Oregon Writers Win Andres Berger Awards.";
Pacific Northwest Quarterly, spring, 2001, William McRae, review of West of Paradise, p. 92.
Portland Review, 1976, "The Search for Sacred Space in Western American Literature," pp. 6-19.
Publishing Northwest, September-October, 1987, Nathan Douthit, review of Marking the Magic Circle, p. 5.
Register Guard, November 28, 1999, Faris Cassell, "Northwest Bound: Exploring the Literary Landscape" (review of West of Paradise).
Small Press Review, September, 1979, Dennis Grunes, "The Poets of Prescott Street" (review of Off the Main Road), p. 4.
Tech Times (Tennessee), February 20, 1987, "Noted Writer to Visit Tech", pp. 3-7.
Voice, January 13, 2000, Tim Coone, "Venn Releases West of Paradise," p. 9.
Western American Literature, Volume 30, number 1, George Venn, "Keeping the Swarm: A Northwest Exploration of Place," pp. 59-89.
Willamette Week, August 8, 1978, Vern Rutsala, "Extending Metaphors to Breaking Points," review of Off the Main Road, pp. 128-129; January 15, 1980, Will Hoyt, "Searching for a Northwest Voice," p. 9.
Willow Springs, 1979, James J. McAuley, review of Sunday Afternoon: Grande Ronde, pp. 83-84.