For nearly forty years, Donald Hall has stood in the front rank of American poets. The title poem, an autobiographical sequence, takes Hall from his boyhood to his growing acquaintance with poets--seniors like Robert Frost and contemporaries like Robert Bly. It sees him growing into manhood, fatherhood, grandfatherhood, and a happy second marriage. When his life inevitably moves into vicissitude, even tragedy, he will tell the dreadful truth about himself and the challenges of ...
For nearly forty years, Donald Hall has stood in the front rank of American poets. The title poem, an autobiographical sequence, takes Hall from his boyhood to his growing acquaintance with poets--seniors like Robert Frost and contemporaries like Robert Bly. It sees him growing into manhood, fatherhood, grandfatherhood, and a happy second marriage. When his life inevitably moves into vicissitude, even tragedy, he will tell the dreadful truth about himself and the challenges of his time on earth.
This collection has little of the sharply observed, tender lyricism that characterizes much of Hall's earlier work, yet the four sequences here reflect preoccupations that he has made his own: family, nature, rural life, baseball. Hall's oeuvre may someday stand as a poetic record of one man's life in this last half-century, but the extent to which Hall is a memoirist more than a poet is quite evident here. "The Night of the Day," the 10-page opening poem, is a precious recounting of two heifers wandering on a road; "The Thirteenth Inning" unsuccessfully attempts to relieve thoughts of death with memories of baseball games. In the 96-page title poem, Hall employs an agile three-stress line to minor effect, conveying anecdotes of a life remembered with a tenderness that the reader is not persuaded to honor. The final poem, "Without," which the publisher intrusively insists is about the death of Hall's wife, Jane Kenyon, is indeed a despairing tract, but one that seems more fruitfully framed as Hall's embittered response to e.e. cummings's jauntily styled "Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town" than as a simple elegy: "no spring no summer no autumn no winter/ no rain no peony thunder no woodthrush/ the book is a thousand pages without commas." Unfortunately, only in this atypical piece are emotion and memory subjected to poetic transformation. (June)
Hall solidifies his reputation as a major poet with this book. The title poem is a long, autobiographical examination of a life that has embraced the pleasures and pains of marriage, the ups and downs of a literary career, and the mistakes of youth and wisdom of old age. The poem places intimacy at the forefront of all relationships, as when Hall reflects: "when my daughter was four/ or five, she acquired football language/ from sitting on my lap." There is an intimate exchange of father/daughter love, with each respecting what is important to the other through the use of a simple language that is all their own. The speaker goes on to share other expressions of intimacy when he beholds his grandson "wearing a sweater/ holding/ a carrot in his right/ hand: I feel myself inside his face." The beauty of the lines build on one another like a musical cannon. "The Old Life" is a 97-page poem without any weaknesses. The supporting cast of three other poems reveals Hall's versatility as a poet willing to take linguistic risks without alienating the reader from the significance of one man's life. Essential reading.Tim Gavin, Episcopal Academy, Merion, Pa.
DONALD HALL, who served as poet laureate of the United States from 2006 to 2007, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president.