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LIFE WORK by Donald Hall


by Donald Hall

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8070-7054-8
Publisher: Beacon

 From well-known poet and memoirist Hall (Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, 1992, etc.), a meditation-memoir on the theme of work that becomes something much more when, midway through the writing, the author learns he has cancer. At 63, Hall is mightily productive in poetry, memoir, essay, letter, story, and review, and he sets out to devote part of each working day (for Hall, there are seven of these a week) to writing this book, its title bespeaking its theme. In 1975, we learn, Hall gave up teaching and became a full-time writer, retiring to the farm in Vermont that had once belonged to his grandparents. As the book begins, Hall mourns the recent death of a close friend, preacher, and hard worker; settles on a definition of productive work as a state of ``absorbedness''; touches on history, family, his own literary output, his great love of the work he does, the number of revisions he puts poems through, what time he gets up, what he eats for breakfast and lunch, even when he walks the dog and drops manuscripts off with the typist. A phone call changes the tone of all of this when a routine blood test shows a recurrence of cancer and sends the poet into surgery. A couple of weeks later, facing both chemotherapy and newly diminished odds for living more than another few years, Hall picks up his narrative and--keeps going. Under the deepened shadow of mortality, he writes with eloquent simplicity about the old-fashioned working farm-life of his Vermont grandparents, the declining health of his aging mother, and--with a consummate and moving poise--his father's unhappiness in his own work, and his early death from cancer. History, life, work, art, dedication, love, and courage--all without becoming saccharine or smug or maudlin, in a treasurable small book, poetic in its plainness, about how to live well. (First printing of 25,000)