The Museum of Clear Ideas Critical Essays

Donald Hall

The Museum of Clear Ideas

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The publication in 1990 of Donald Hall’s OLD AND NEW POEMS substantiated what people familiar with modern American literature had generally understood—that Hall was one of the most interesting, imaginative, and accessible poets of the latter part of the twentieth century. The poems gathered from Hall’s earlier volumes stood the classic test of time, while newer ones demonstrated his continuing power, his facility with the craft of poetry, and his compelling angle of vision concerning the state of the world in the last decades of the century.

Now, with the publication of a volume described as “New Poems,” it is apparent that Hall has continued to write with skill, energy, and insight, and that the darkening of his life through serious illness and loss has given him an additional gravity and perspective that is both unsettling and comforting. What is especially striking about this volume, however, is Hall’s inventive capacity for placing grave matters in a context that permits wit, a range of comic devices, and an appealing personal candor to balance the devastating details of decline and pain.

Hall has always been intricately involved with baseball, as athlete, amanuensis, and acolyte. Here, he uses the seemingly arbitrary but formalistic and very functional structure of the game to shape a semi-epic in which the poet’s mind—rife with erudition and experience—rambles across the times of his life, reaching back toward early...

(The entire section is 473 words.)