Hall, Donald (Vol. 151)
Donald Hall 1928-
(Full name Donald Andrew Hall, Jr.) American poet, essayist, memoirist, children's writer, short story writer, editor, playwright, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Hall's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 13, 37, and 59.
Hall is considered by many to be among America's greatest living poets. He achieved success early in his career, with his poetry collection Exiles and Marriages (1955), and his reputation as a poet has steadily increased over time. His later poetry is generally regarded as the best of his career, and some consider it the best of his generation. Critics have compared Hall with such poets as Robert Bly, James Wright, and James Dickey, who favor simple, direct language combined with surrealistic imagery. Hall is also a respected essayist, educator, and editor, and his thoughtful prose—like his carefully crafted poetry—is widely praised for its clarity and integrity.
Hall was born in Hamden, Connecticut, a middle-class suburb of New Haven, in 1928. He often spent summers at his grandparents' farm in New Hampshire, and his memories of this time and of the rural landscape figure prominently in his poetry and children's literature. Hall attended Phillips Exeter Academy and later attended Harvard University, where he received his bachelor of arts and socialized with fellow poets John Ashbery, Robert Bly, and Adrienne Rich. After receiving a second bachelor's degree from Oxford in 1953, Hall became a member of Harvard's Society of Fellows. It was during this period in which Hall published Exiles and Marriages. From 1953 to 1961, Hall served as the poetry editor for Paris Review. Hall turned his attention to academia in 1957 and accepted a professorship at the University of Michigan. He eventually left the position in 1975 to begin writing full-time at his family's farm in New Hampshire. He lived at the farm with his second wife, noted poet Jane Kenyon, until her death resulting from leukemia in 1995. An accomplished speaker, Hall was the host of Poets Talking, a series of television interviews with poets in 1974, and has given poetry readings at more than 1,500 colleges, universities, schools, libraries, prisons, and community centers. Hall won the Lenore Marshall/Nation Prize for his collection The Happy Man in 1986 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry for The One Day in 1988.
Hall garnered critical acclaim with Exiles and Marriages, a landmark in his early career, in which he wrote in a tightly structured style with an extremely formal application of rhyme and meter. The poetry in both Kicking the Leaves (1978) and The Happy Man reflect on Hall's return to his family's farm in New Hampshire, a place rich with memories and links to his past. Many of the poems explore and celebrate the continuity between generations, as the narrative voice in his poetry often reminisces about the past and anticipates the future. Hall's award-winning The One Day is one long poem consisting of 110 stanzas divided into three sections. The poem presents several narrative voices which comment on the meaning of life from the perspective of an individual experiencing the onset of old age. In the first and final segments of the poem, Hall alternates between a male and female narrator, speaking in blank-verse stanzas that expose personal details about their lives. Old and New Poems (1990) is divided into nine time periods, collecting revised poems from earlier collections and poems that had not previously been published. The earlier poems are more classical in form, while the later poems mix traditional and modern styles. In The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993), Hall examines how individuals cope with change and death. The collection also includes one of Hall's more famous works, “Baseball,” which serves as his ode to the American past-time. The poem is structured around the sequence of a baseball game, but instead of innings, it contains nine stanzas with nine lines each. The poems in Without (1998) confront Hall's grief over the death of his wife, Jane, and examine the details of his life after her passing. Without gives an objective appraisal of Kenyon's illness and relates many of Hall's emotions about being left alone after sharing his life with another. In addition to poetry, Hall has written many prose works. In Remembering Poets: Reminiscences and Opinions (1978)—which was revised and expanded as Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets (1992)—Hall recounts his conversations with and impressions of poets such as T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas, and Robert Frost. He has also authored several books on the craft of writing, including Writing Well (1974) and The Weather for Poetry (1982). In 1993, Hall published Life Work, a memoir recounting his life at Eagle Pond Farm and his years working in literature. The book highlights Hall's rigorous daily writing schedule and his bout with liver cancer, which threatened to upset the balance between his life and his work.
While Exiles and Marriages received a favorable response from reviewers, it is the work from the latter part of Hall's career that has received the most critical acclaim. Lawrence Joseph stated in his review of Old and New Poems that Hall's writing “reflects the gifts of a poet whose powers have expanded during his fifties, into his sixties—a rare accomplishment.” Reviewers have praised Hall for continuing to be ambitious and challenging in his poetry, while keeping his subject matter firmly rooted in the everyday. They have also complimented the simplicity of his style and the naturalness of his imagery. Many critics were particularly fond of The One Day, with Frederick Pollack stating that it “may be the last masterpiece of American Modernism. Any poet who seeks to surpass this genre should study it; any reader who has lost interest in contemporary poetry should read it.” In addition to his accomplishments as a poet, Hall is respected by critics as an academic who has made significant contributions to the study and craft of writing. Hall is considered by several of his peers, as Peter Thorpe asserted, to be “one of the few living American examples of an authentic Man of Letters, after the grand old manner of Edmund Wilson and T. S. Eliot.”
Fantasy Poets No. 4 (poetry) 1952
Exiles and Marriages (poetry) 1955
Andrew and the Lion Farmer (juvenilia) 1959
String Too Short to Be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm (essays) 1961; revised 1979
A Roof of Tiger Lilies (poetry) 1964
An Evening's Frost (play) 1965
The Alligator Bride: Poems, New and Selected (poetry) 1969
The Yellow Room: Love Poems (poetry) 1971
Writing Well (essays) 1974
A Blue Wing Tilts at the Edge of the Sea: Selected Poems, 1964–1974 (poetry) 1975
The Town of Hill (poetry) 1975
Kicking the Leaves (poetry) 1978
*Remembering Poets: Reminiscences and Opinions (essays) 1978
The Ox-Cart Man (juvenilia) 1979
The Weather for Poetry: Essays, Reviews, and Notes on Poetry, 1977–1981 (essays) 1982
Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball) (essays) 1985
The Happy Man (poetry) 1986
Winter [with Clifton C. Olds] (essays) 1986
The One Day (poetry) 1988
The Ideal Bakery (short stories) 1990
Old and New...
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SOURCE: “Donald Hall: An Interview by Liam Rector,” in American Poetry Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, January–February, 1989, pp. 39–46.
[In the following interview, Hall discusses his body of work and the state of contemporary poetry and poetry criticism.]
[Rector:] You've written poignantly about time and generation. Jose Ortega y Gasset had a scheme for generation:
60–75 Old Age, “Outside of Life”
How have these moments moved in consort with the time of your life, your work, and the scheme of literary generations as you've experienced them?
[Hall:] Schemes irritate me. Maybe this scheme annoys me because I'm supposed to move “outside of life” in a few months and I'm damned if I'm ready to. Rigidities, separations get my back up. Maybe I left childhood at fourteen and remained adolescent until forty-three. I like the word “dominance”—and I suppose I felt it first at about fifty, though I think I was looking for it from the age of fifteen. So I respond, not by...
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SOURCE: A review of The Ideal Bakery, in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter, 1990, pp. 121–22.
[In the following review, Christopherson offers a positive assessment of The Ideal Bakery, calling Hall “one of contemporary literature's gourmet chefs.”]
The characters in Donald Hall's first collection of short stories, The Ideal Bakery, are mainstream, and their plights are all too recognizable: a divorced father trying to get back in touch with his bookish nine-year-old during a weekend fishing trip; a middle-aged professor trying to rekindle a relationship with an embittered former lover; a graduate student of literature whose stationery-store-proprietor husband will never be the romantic she dreams of. But that is not to say the stories are common. On the contrary, Hall shows uncommon sensitivity in treating themes like loneliness, loss, and the erosion—or demolition—of innocence by experience.
In the title story, the narrator reminisces about the breakfasts he and his father used to share at a local bakery, where they would chat about the Brooklyn Dodgers' prospects and banter with the shop's proprietors, Gus and Mrs. Gus. This plotless reminiscence (“no story at all,” apologizes the narrator: “a boy and his father eat crullers”) is followed by a coda cataloguing the deaths, illnesses, tragedies and indignities that have overtaken the...
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SOURCE: “Donald Hall's The One Day,” in Salmagundi, Nos. 85–8, Winter, 1990, pp. 344–50.
[In the following review, Pollack offers a positive assessment of The One Day and classifies the poem as a modernist work.]
Born in Hamden, Conn. in 1928, Donald Hall has lived since 1975 in a New Hampshire farmhouse where his grandmother was born in 1878 and his mother in 1903. The mother seems a supportive figure; when, as a child, the poet cried for her after lights-out, she made much less fuss about it than, say, Proust's mother. Hall (by which I mean both the reigning persona of the poems and the man in the interviews) seems remarkably unalienated. Not “happy”; Freud's remark about replacing “hysterical misery” with “ordinary unhappiness,” one of the epigraphs in The One Day, is its article of faith. What is true of sense of self also applies to that of history: the speaker in Part I of Hall's poem imagines “an old man hedging and ditching / three hundred years ago in Devon”; someone in Part II announces that “For four hundred years and sixteen generations, I kept / my castle while vassals baked flatbread.” Such pasts are easier to bear than the past of pogroms and gas chambers, but not necessarily easier to write about.
The stories Hall has told about himself in essays and interviews, and in “A Note on this Poem,” are germane to The One...
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SOURCE: “Keeping the World Going,” in Ohio Review, No. 46, Spring, 1990, pp. 116–28.
[In the following excerpt, Looney offers a positive assessment of The One Day, complimenting the poem for its sense of wonder and beauty.]
In “Toward a Changed Poetics,” the final chapter of Praises and Dispraises (1988), Terrence Des Pres wrote that “Writers must, it seems to me, vote to see the world keep going.” About this there can be no sane argument. What is arguable is how writers must go about casting that vote. If the imagination is, as Wallace Stevens suggested, “a violence from within that protects us from a violence without,” a “pressing back against the pressure of reality,” then Terrence Des Pres' call for a poetry of witness to the horrors, political and personal, of the twentieth century may be self-defeating. If, as Des Pres suggests it is, the horror of this century is primarily the result of the intrusion of the political into our personal lives, then what's needed is a poetry that presses back against any such intrusion and, while certainly not being blind to or denying the forces that would intrude into our lives and into language itself, keeps that intrusion from being complete exactly by the act of not allowing it to intrude into poetry. The poet's vision certainly can, and should, include the intrusiveness of politics, but it must not be another victim of that...
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SOURCE: “An Interview with Donald Hall about The One Day,” in Ploughshares, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring, 1991, pp. 71–75.
[In the following interview, Hall discusses the process he used to write The One Day and the events that inspired the poem.]
[Myers:] Your work on The One Day lasted more than a decade, I believe. How long exactly?
[Hall:] It was sixteen years from the time I started the poem—not knowing what I was starting—until I finished it. (I'm always tempted to put quotations around the word, when I say “finished,” because, when I have a chance to republish anything, I tinker.) I wasn't working on it all that time. After the initial onslaught of language, I worked on it very little for the next eight or nine years; I looked at it, every now and then, resolved to get back to it … and then I quailed, and closed the book. I was frightened of the material; I was also frightened by the magnitude of the task, but the first fear was greater.
Did you know at the start that you were working on a poem that would run fifty pages?
No, because I did not know what I was working on. It felt like something big, something long, but I did not know—I did not have any notion—what it would turn out to be, or if it would turn out to be anything. In my head, I called it Building the House of...
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SOURCE: “Donald Hall's Old and New Poems,” in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 30, No. 4, Fall, 1991, pp. 699–716.
[In the following essay, Joseph explores how Old and New Poems is an example of how Hall's poetry has evolved throughout the years and how the collection relates to the genre of American Modernist poetry.]
In 1978, when he was fifty, Donald Hall published his seventh book of poems, Kicking the Leaves, to widespread acclaim. Hall's reputation as a critic, anthologist, editor, literary journalist (and, arguably, one of our leading persons of letters) was by then already established. Almost suddenly Hall was talked about as a poet. The publication of his next book, The Happy Man, eight years later, more than enhanced Hall's reputation. At fifty-eight, Hall not only was writing poems as well as he ever had, but was writing, some claimed, as well as anyone in his generation. The Happy Man (which received The Lenore Marshall/Nation Prize) served as a prelude for The One Day, published two years later, on Hall's sixtieth birthday. In The Washington Post Book World, David Lehman unequivocally declared the book “major work.” Widely, often extravagantly, praised, The One Day received the 1988 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.
Last year Ticknor & Fields—in a...
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SOURCE: A review of Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 239, No. 29, June 29, 1992, pp. 48–49.
[In the following review, the critic offers a positive assessment of Their Ancient Glittering Eyes.]
“Curiosity endures, surviving criticism or philosophy,” affirms poet and critic Hall (Here at Eagle Pond) as he introduces a distinguished gallery of poets [in Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets]—Frost, Thomas, Eliot, Moore, MacLeish, Winters, Pound—with verisimilitude and freshness enough to satisfy readers. An expansion and revision of Remembering Poets (1978), this records the younger Hall's involvement with the “old ones” even as it adds depth and grace to his designated genre of “literary gossip.” His respect for the writers does not preclude frankness or significant revelations: readers learn that the elderly Frost, behind his mask of benign farmer-poet and eventual reputation as a monstrous egotist, was startlingly vulnerable—burdened with sadness, driven by guilt. The most thorough portrait follows Hall's relations with Eliot, disclosing a personality rather than a “monument”—an unusually humorous and surprisingly “American” poet. And his reminiscences of the lonely, disconcerted Pound may be the book's most insightful. Although Hall's voice in these recollections...
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SOURCE: “A Poke Over the Wall,” in Commonweal, Vol. 120, No. 16, September 24, 1993, pp. 21–23.
[In the following positive review, Keen argues that The Museum of Clear Ideas is primarily about how humans cope with endings and issues of closure.]
Donald Hall's new book of poems, The Museum of Clear Ideas, made me want to run out into the yard and shout. And check the tomatoes, and the box scores. To reread Horace, James Wright, and to undertake a study of the undervalued art of tone. As I write, we have shaken loose the bonds of the basketball season, and turned our full attention to baseball. If you're near a major league stadium, you're probably close to a bookstore that carries poetry. Get The Museum of Clear Ideas; it's perfect for the season, and you can reread it when winter comes and the tyranny of the hoop grips the nation once again.
Clad in Williams-and-Sonoma yuppie green, the book's cover only hints at its organizing conceit with an outline of home plate. The poems in this volume tackle the problem of coming to an ending from a variety of perspectives and forms: elegy, lyric sequence, and Horatian ode. Hall deploys his work in and against these genres in a sequence that invites meditation on their characteristic relations to time and to human means of marking time.
If the shape of the sequence “Baseball,” in nine innings, made...
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SOURCE: “The High Pasture,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. 102, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. lxxxix-xc.
[In the following review, Sherry offers a positive assessment of both Life Work and The Museum of Clear Ideas.]
[Life Work and The Museum of Clear Ideas] are olympian books. They are wise, but are written against every convention of wisdom.
Life Work turns its diary of the quotidian into a treatise in which the duties and pleasures of labor are measured. The mixed attitude of duty and joy suffuses Mr. Hall's prose, its cadences alternately stately and capricious, elegiac and carnivalesque. A mock-classical decorum provides tonal unity for the long title poem of The Museum of Clear Ideas, whose shadowy protagonist—Horace Horsecollar—holds the sequence together in a fusion of Horatian gravities and cartoon simplicities.
Such combinations are high artifice, and the hand of a master craftsman shows in his fashioning of sentences into sententiae. But, if one moral can be attached to the story told in Life Work, the lesson is that it is only through work that ideas come at all: discipline is the one effort we can make at wisdom. It is a writerly wisdom to which Mr. Hall has attained, and if his yoke seems easy, his burden light, this impression is fostered by a success that is primarily stylistic, a success evidenced equally in...
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SOURCE: A review of Lucy's Summer, in Quill & Quire, Vol. 61, No. 5, May, 1995, p. 51.
[In the following positive review, Schott commends Hall's ability to bring the past to life in Lucy's Summer.]
Lucy is the author's mother and this account of the events of the summer of 1910, Lucy's seventh, come from the stories she told about her childhood. Her mother started a home-based millinery business that summer but still had to can hundreds of jars of peas, beans, tomatoes, and rhubarb. The routine is broken by an itinerant photographer who takes a portrait of Lucy and her little sister, by the Fourth of July parade, and by a trip to Boston, where Mother buys supplies for her hats.
One of the trip's wonders is a visit to the penny toy counter in Woolworth's. Some of those toys, along with the old hat pedestals, still rest in an upstairs room of the house where Hall himself now lives. No wonder he can make the past so real and so immediate. A prize-winning poet, he illuminates the ordinary events of that summer with careful detail and expressive language.
Accurate detail and variety in perspective make these illustrations strongly narrative. The scratchboard technique gives them a richness of texture and an appropriately old-fashioned appearance, and creates almost magical effects of glowing light and dark shadows. [Lucy's Summer] is a book to pore over...
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SOURCE: A review of Life Work, in Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 15, No. 4, July–August, 1995, p. 29.
[In the following review, Thorpe offers a mixed assessment of Life Work, faulting the work for indulging in too much “name-dropping.”]
There are plenty of definitions of work, including the cynical one by Bertrand Russell—that it's merely moving matter from one location to another. Additional words—or ideas—for work include labor, toil and moil, struggle, swink (archaic), drudge, grub, plod, exert, strain, and goodness knows how many others.
This memoir by Donald Hall [Life Work] seeks to put the concept of work into a context of the literary and intellectual life, yet not lose sight of the word's basic denotations of laboring or “swinking.” In the full sense of the term, work is as spiritual as it is physical. The idea that “labour” is somehow spiritual too is not new—it goes back at least as far as the “Works and Days” of Hesiod in ancient Greece, and it figures beautifully in the “Georgics” of Virgil in ancient Rome. What Donald Hall seeks is to put his own idiosyncratic stamp on the term and to share it with a large audience of general readers.
Life Work is a (salubrious) book for several reasons. The chief of these is that Hall is one of the few living American examples of an authentic Man of Letters, after the...
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SOURCE: “Proseurs,” in Sewanee Review, Vol. 104, No. 1, January, 1996, pp. 142–49.
[In the following excerpt, Gwynn criticizes Hall's use of publishing sales figures to defend modern poetry in Death to the Death of Poetry.]
What happens when poets turn their hands to prose? We might expect that they would have an easy go of it, wouldn't we? Prose, after all, is easier to forge than poetry. Prose writers are spared having to learn phrases like medial caesura or substitute foot: all that each of them has to know is how to put a semicolon in its place and make subjects and verbs agree. Poets, on the other hand, go mad worrying about such silly matters as when to end their lines; now that everyone uses a computer, prose writers have even that minimal decision made automatically for them, courtesy of Bill Gates. Any hack can write a sentence like “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens,” but it takes a true genius, a poet, to break it into eight lines that have kept English majors bemused for the better part of a century. Yes, when poets shed all that nasty baggage of rhyme, meter, and terminology they have been forced to lug across the Landscape from Hell (“All out for Onomatopoeia. Next stop Synecdoche”) you'd expect them to soar. For the most part they do, though some soar distinctly higher than others....
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SOURCE: “The Harvard Advocate,” in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 35, No. 4, Fall, 1996, pp. 745–54.
[In the following review, Goldstein assesses three examples of Hall's nonfiction works—Principal Products of Portugal, Death to the Death of Poetry, and Life Work,—and explores what these works reveal about his poetry.]
These days the theory of literature has taken up, again, the infinitely interesting matter of literary production—how writing gets written, revised, edited, published, distributed, reviewed, reprinted, canonized. It is a subject that has fascinated Donald Hall all of his life, the more so after 1975, when he resigned from his tenured position in the English Department at the University of Michigan to return to his ancestral farmhouse in New Hampshire and begin life as a free-lance in the literary marketplace. His principal goal in going it alone, liberated from the routine of teaching, grading, serving on committees and socializing with other academics, was to write the major poetry he felt stirring within him, his equivalent of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets or, in his own generation, Galway Kinnell's The Book of Nightmares (1971), John Ashbery's Three Poems (1972), or Adrienne Rich's Diving into the Wreck (1973). His much-honored volumes, Kicking the Leaves (1978). The Happy Man (1986), The One Day (1988), The...
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SOURCE: “‘Building the House of Dying’: Donald Hall's Claim for Poetry,” in Agni, Vol. 47, 1998, pp. 175–83.
[In the following essay, Walsh discusses the role of history and modernity in The One Day.]
“In my head for a long time I called it Building the House of Dying.”
—Hall on the book that became The One Day
“Diatribes from our current art-bashers—columnists, senators, fundamentalists—bring nothing new to our culture,” says Donald Hall, characteristically blunt in his most recent collection of literary essays, Death to the Death of Poetry (1994). “America's eminent know-nothings have always understood: Artists are sissies providing pastimes for rich folks.” His italics, his sarcasm. Hall's not here to help pass the time. He's more ambitious than that. He's nothing if not ambitious. “As I like to say,” he writes in his paean to vocation, Life Work, “I average four books a year—counting revised editions of old books, counting everything I can damned well count. Counting books, book reviews, notes, poems, and essays, I reckon I publish about one item a week, year-in, year-out.” But Hall's ambition runs deeper than numbers. He laments the limited aspirations and achievement of contemporary American poetry. “McPoems,” he calls the typical product. “Usually...
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SOURCE: “Donald Hall: Elegies from Eagle Pond,” in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 245, No. 12, March 23, 1998, pp. 72–73.
[In the following interview, Hall discusses the death of his wife (poet Jane Kenyon), his editing of her last collection of poetry, and Without, his own poetry collection about their life together.]
Eagle Pond Farm is familiar to even the casual reader of Donald Hall. The weather-beaten spread, hard by Route 4 at the foot of Ragged Mountain in Wilmot, N.H., has been home to Hall's maternal clan since 1865. It is the subject or setting of many of his poems and essays, providing a consistent reference point for more than 40 years of work. It is the place where Hall spent summers growing up, returning for good in 1975 after remarrying and giving up tenure at the University of Michigan to write full-time. And it is the house where his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, died in 1995.
In Without, due from Houghton Mifflin in April, Hall records the unbearable facts of a present he and Kenyon were powerless to alter. A slow-motion portrait of Kenyon's descent into the horrors of aggressive treatment following her leukemia diagnosis in 1994 at the age of 46, the collection continues without recoil through to her last days, spent choosing the poems for Kenyon's Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, and her final minutes. A second section addresses Kenyon directly,...
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SOURCE: “The Way We Write Now,” in New York Review of Books, Vol. 45, No. 12, July 16, 1998, p. 41.
[In the following excerpt, Bayley discusses Hall's exploration of grief in Without.]
Poets must often write to cheer themselves up, and in so doing the good ones can cheer up their readers as well. Thomas Hardy's passionate love lyrics to his dead wife, the wife to whom when she was alive he had paid very little attention for thirty years and more, are also an acknowledgment of himself as he was, an acceptance of what he had done, or failed to do. So moving are these poems, and in a sense so self-delighting, that the reader too feels calmed and blessed at second-hand, endowed while he reads them with the same sort of self-acceptance.
This is the art that moves Donald Hall's poems to and for his dead wife, the poet Jane Kenyon [in Without]. These, too, are poems addressed to the dead which in reality can only have been written for the poet and for his reader. Unlike Hardy's they celebrate a marriage of deep intimacy and great happiness, but all things come to the same in the end. Hardy mourned that his wife had abruptly left him, just as she sometimes did when callers came to the house. She had departed finally “in the same swift style,” as if to say “Goodbye is not worthwhile.” Like all who have been bereaved, Hall in his poems lives among the same sort of memories....
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SOURCE: “With Jane and Without: An Interview with Donald Hall,” in Massachusetts Review, Vol. 39, No. 4, Winter, 1998–1999, pp. 493–510.
[In the following interview, Hall discusses his relationship with his late wife and how he has coped emotionally since her death.]
Anyone acquainted with the story of Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon cannot help but stand in awe of the irony which, if it appeared in fiction, would appall by its tear-jerking manipulation. The reality, as I stand before Jane Kenyon's grave, leaves me saddened and numb.
The lines on their shared stone are from Kenyon's poem, “Afternoon at MacDowell.” Although she wrote it with Hall in mind when he, as he has said, was “supposed to die,” they now stand in testimony to Kenyon, and look, mistakenly, like words he must have written for her:
I BELIEVE IN THE MIRACLES OF ART BUT WHAT PRODIGY WILL KEEP YOU SAFE BESIDE ME
Four miles North of the Proctor cemetery on Route 4, just past Eagle Pond Road, in the shadow of Ragged Mountain, is Eagle Pond Farm. There is no sign, no name on the mailbox, but the satellite dish overwhelming the North side yard announces the home of a man who cannot live unconnected to his beloved baseball games.
The living room seems truly a living room, a room lived in, informal. It is surrounded, as would...
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SOURCE: “Expansive Poetry,” in Hudson Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, Winter, 1999, pp. 792–802.
[In the following excerpt, McDowell argues that Without is an example of expansive poetry and lacks the sentimentality one might expect from the emotional subject matter.]
More then a decade has passed since the anthologies Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, edited by David Lehman, and The Direction of Poetry, edited by Robert Richman, made the first ensemble attempts to recognize a change in our poetry: the renewed interest in form. It has been ten years since the special issue of Crosscurrents (1989), edited by Dick Allen, gave the name Expansive poetry to the writing of a number of poets, most of them in their thirties, who argued for more accessible poetries, including the use of form and story, and honest, clear, critical prose that illuminated texts for general readers.
Since then the early Expansive poets, and others of their generation with whom they share common ground, have published more than a hundred books of poetry and criticism, and hundreds of magazine and newspaper essays and reviews. All of this work has served many useful purposes, not the least of which was giving the lie to the claims of some critics (who seldom bothered to read the writers they were criticizing) that Expansive poets could not back up their goals with their own poems....
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SOURCE: A review of Without, in Poetry, Vol. 173, No. 4, February, 1999, p. 312.
[In the following positive review, Ullman compliments Hall's candor and his ability to put his grief into words in Without.]
Grief's soundings—their depth and intricacy—arise from Donald Hall's thirteenth poetry collection as naturally as mist over water, even as they also provide the harshness from which the book takes its form. Without is described by the publisher as “a companion volume” to Hall's most recent collection, The Old Life, which also is autobiographical but covers a greater territory of Hall's life up to the present and offers names, events, and gossipy or literary recollections that might appeal to a reader of biography as well as poetry.
Without, in contrast, is more focused and, understandably, more steeped in feeling that is never excessive yet never lets up. It trains a magnifying beam on the fifteen months his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, battled leukemia, and on the following year of mourning during which Hall shapes his grief, his memories, and his solitary experience of their once-shared home and friends into letter-poems addressed to her.
These poems are marked by candor that is often helpless, always stoic. Many of them display a simplicity, a domesticity, and a willingness—or maybe a need—to hover in the silence of white...
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SOURCE: “How to Peel a Poem: Five Poets Dine Out on Verse,” in Harper's Magazine, Vol. 299, No. 1792, September, 1999, pp. 45–60.
[In the following roundtable discussion, poets Hall, Cynthia Huntington, Heather McHugh, Paul Muldoon, and Charles Simic discuss their favorite poems and what makes them special.]
Poetry has been described, in eras past, as “the natural language of all worship,” “the hop-grounds of the brain,” “devil's wine,” and “the bill and coo of sex.” Contemporary assessments tend to be less poetic. Poetry today is something that the federal government should fund, that our publishing houses must support, that the public schools ought to permit a larger place on the syllabus, that our creative-writing programs might give more recognition, that we honor each year (as we do “Quality,” “Math Awareness,” and “Medical Librarians”) with a “National Poetry Month.” Rarely does the public discourse on poetry speak directly to the value of poems; rarer still is the suggestion that poems simply be read and heard and enjoyed.
Hoping to correct this oversight, and taking a cue from the Chinese proverb “Recite poetry only with a poet,” Harper's Magazine invited five practitioners of the art to dine together at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Each was asked to bring to the table a poem he or she truly loved, and then to tell us...
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Burke, Kathleen. “Smithsonian's Notable Books for Children, 1996.” Smithsonian 27, No. 8 (November 1996): 161–64.
Burke discusses Hall's skillful evocation of farm life in his children's fiction.
Gavin, Tim. Review of The Old Life, by Donald Hall. Library Journal 121, No. 10 (1 June 1996): 112.
Gavin discusses the intimate relationships described in the poems of The Old Life.
Lane, J. B. “Disengaged.” Canadian Literature, No. 133 (Summer 1992): 152–54.
Lane offers a negative assessment of Here at Eagle Pond, criticizing the essays as superficial.
Skow, John. “Misty about Baseball.” Time 141, No. 12 (22 March 1993): 70, 72–73.
Skow explores Hall's use of a baseball game as the framing device for his poem “Baseball” in The Museum of Clear Ideas.
Additional coverage of Hall's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5–8R; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 2, 44, and 64; Contemporary Poets; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5; DISCovering Authors Modules: Poets; Literature Resource Center; Major...
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