The former U.S. poet laureate reaches his 20th book in unmistakably honest form, aggressively plain and unfailingly open about sex, old age, suicide, recovery, the friendship of poets, the business of poetry, dogs, New Hampshire, and baseball. Some of Hall's best-known books mourn his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, whose absence grieves him here again. More prominent, though, are the poems about sex—some erotic, some comic, all frank, and intent on the ironies that attend lust in old age. A long and underwhelming narrative poem, "Ric's Progress," occupies the middle of the volume; Hall follows the courtship, marriage, and adulteries of a predictable, slightly Updikeish everyman, leavening his errant ways with grim wisdom—"we divorce for the same reasons that we marry,/ and we seduce the executioner when we desire/ to be hanged." More vivid and durable are the short poems about old age, old friends, sad memories, and younger versions of Hall himself. "Meatloaf" finds Hall "counting nine syllables on fingers/ discolored by old age and felt pens"; "Closing" remembers the poet and critic Liam Rector, while "The Offspring" imagines the grief of "an adolescent who was not here," the child that Hall and Kenyon could not have. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"For the reader boiling in triple-digit SoCal heat at the end of the summer, Donald Hall's "The Back Chamber: Poems" arrives like a sudden cloudburst and shower of cooling rain. . .A former U.S. poet laureate, Hall has always had this elemental power — to vividly evoke his particular New England climate and geography so that it can't be mistaken for any other — but what is more unexpected in this new collection of poems, his 16th, is passion."LA Times
"If the poems in it are relatively somber, they’re equally witty, consummately well-crafted."Booklist, STARRED review
"Featuring moving, amusing, musical poems about love, aging, and baseball, this work will have broad appeal and is recommended for all collections."—Library Journal
"The former U.S. poet laureate reaches his 20th book in unmistakably honest form..."Publishers Weekly
Former U.S. poet laureate Hall's considerable fan base will welcome what is billed as his first full-length volume of poems in a decade, a mix of naughty, funny, sweet, and sad pieces about love, family, death, and the poignancy of things. The old rooms of his grandfather's farmhouse in New Hampshire, where Hall has lived since the 1970s, set the stage for recalled intimacies with his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, and recollections of the childhood that first brought him there, "too young for chores." One lovely poem, "Goosefeathers," retraces his boyhood train journey from the Connecticut shore to inland New Hampshire, as he moves through a progression of smaller and smaller enclosed conveyances into the feather bed in his grandfather's house. "Meatloaf" revisits a favorite topic, the relationship between baseball, abstraction, and art. Sex, food, baseball, suicide, adultery, and poetry—the poet sidesteps sentimentality as he counts out the measures of grief, disgust, and joy that conjure the vanished present: two married poets reading "under separate cones of light." VERDICT Featuring moving, amusing, musical poems about love, aging, and baseball, this work will have broad appeal and is recommended for all collections.—Ellen Kaufman, Baruch Coll., New York
Read an Excerpt
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker,
a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable detritus that my children will throw away as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.
When love empties itself out,
it fills our bodies full.
For an hour we lie twining pulse and skin together
like nurslings who sigh and doze, dreamy with milk.
Snow rises as high as my windows. Inside by the fire my chair is warm, and I remain compounded of cold.
It is unthinkable that we will not touch each other again.
As the barn’s bats swoop, vastation folds its wings over my chest to enclose my rapid, impetuous heart.
It is ruinous that we will not touch each other again.
Ten miles away, snow falls on your clapboard house.
You play with your children in frozen meadows of snow.