The writing life at age 85.
In this collection of 14 autobiographical essays, former U.S. Poet Laureate Hall (Christmas at Eagle Pond, 2012, etc.) reflects on aging, death, the craft of writing and his beloved landscape of New Hampshire. Debilitated by health problems that have affected his balance and ability to walk, the author sees his life physically compromised, and “the days have narrowed as they must. I live on one floor eating frozen dinners.” He waits for the mail; a physical therapist visits twice a week; and an assistant patiently attends to typing, computer searches and money matters. “In the past I was often advised to live in the moment,” he recalls. “Now what else can I do? Days are the same, generic and speedy….” Happily, he is still able to write, although not poetry. “As I grew older,” he writes, “poetry abandoned me….For a male poet, imagination and tongue-sweetness require a blast of hormones.” Writing in longhand, Hall revels in revising, a process that can entail more than 80 drafts. “Because of multiple drafts I have been accused of self-discipline. Really I am self-indulgent, I cherish revising so much.” These essays circle back on a few memories: the illness and death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, which sent him into the depths of grief; childhood recollections of his visits to his grandparents’ New Hampshire farm, where he helped his grandfather with haying; grateful portraits of the four women who tend to him: his physical therapist, assistant, housekeeper and companion; and giving up tenure “for forty joyous years of freelance writing.”
That sense of joy infuses these gentle essays. “Old age sits in a chair,” writes Hall, “writing a little and diminishing.” For the author, writing has been, and continues to be, his passionate revenge against diminishing.