Thursday, Jan. 29, George Venn, award winning author, Emeritus Professor and long-time La Grande resident treated 162 Ars Poetica attendees to a reading from his newest book “Keeping the Swarm.”
Attendees packed into the main floor and onto the second floor balconies of Pierce Library as they prepared to listen to Venn read. Extra chairs had to be brought out for the overflow of people.
Professor David Axelrod introduced Venn to the throngs of people. “We better get this started,” he said. “I think I saw a tremor in George.” Axelrod described his first face-to-face meeting with Venn.
“I heard a knock on the door and when I opened it, there stood George with an arm full of huge cabbages and a smile on his face,” Axelrod said. After introducing himself, Axelrod asked Venn how he was doing. “Thriving!” he said. This was twenty years ago; today the answer would be much the same.
Venn’s list of accomplishments is a long one. He is a noted poet, linguist, EOU Emeritus Professor, and an editor. Before his retirement, Venn taught creative writing at EOU; advised the Ars Poetica series and “Oregon East” magazine; and has won several awards for his writing. His awards included the Pushcart Prize, the Andres Berger Award and he was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. He has also been known to travel internationally.
Venn read the essay “The Red Weasel Dream,” a narrative essay in which he describes his relationship with his neighbor and co-worker at the time, Jean Haufle.
It’s a story about life and death and burgeoning friendship.
Venn describes his daily encounters with Haufle as he walked home from work, passing her house and visiting with her as she worked in her well-kept yard. At first, their relationship was one of acquaintance; she would say “Good Morning” or “Good Evening, Mr. Venn” and he would reply in the same cordial manner—always calling her “Mrs. Haufle.” After Haufle retired, their relationship grew more towards friendship.
He became known to her family and would often help them with small chores or assist her in the yard. “After all, what are neighbors for?” Venn said. When Haufle became sick and knew her death was imminent, she asked Venn to help her plan her memorial—specifically to write her eulogy. She also asked him to interpret a strange dream she repeatedly had. The dream featured Haufle as a little girl and a red weasel which she was determined to catch, only to get bit when she finally does.
Venn read, “I only had my literary training to help her, that common writers’ work of reading and writing and teaching the importance of symbols.” They spent days together; she would dictate her life’s story while he took notes. “Writing her story I stopped calling her ‘Mrs. Haufle’ and started calling her ‘Jean,’” Venn said.
Venn’s essay runs the gamut of human emotion. It rings with a subtle truth that is hard to ignore. His essay is a testimony to one woman’s life as Venn witnessed it. As Venn said, “After all, what are writers for?”