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Prose Pieces

by Donald Hall

Pub Date: April 30th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8070-6202-2
Publisher: Beacon

 Gathering fugitive essays, published for the most part over the past ten years, Hall (Life Work, 1993, etc.) constructs a model miscellany. To introduce readers to his preoccupations, Hall opens with a long investigation of the baseball poem ``Casey at the Bat'' and follows with a short paean to trees. He treats poetry, of course, and sport, most often baseball; also history, whether ancient, national, local, or natural. New England's peculiar culture and unique landscape have a particular hold on his imagination. After an intriguing ``tour of the less-read books of Henry Adams,'' Hall considers small-town New Hampshire in a trio of short essays that delicately chart the passage into history of the grammar schools, parlors, and graveyards that formed the horizons of his childhood. With a memoir of the eccentric New England author Robert Francis, Hall segues into a section on poetry. Here he places astute treatments of Marvell, E.A. Robinson, and James Wright, as well as a stirring defense of public funding for the arts. Other pieces include a moving account of how Hall's recent illness has influenced his attitude toward reading. At this point returns diminish somewhat: A piece from the early 1960s on sculptor Henry Moore feels out of place, while profiles of Boston Celtic fixtures Bob Cousy and Red Auerbach--and even an account of meeting Red Sox World Series hero Carlton Fisk--lack verve. But Hall reestablishes his indomitable voice in a concluding quartet of essays, moving from recollections of the magical baseball summer of 1941, through a parable about country stores and a wry discussion of rural real estate, to a fascinating childhood memory of how a Hollywood melodrama about the Spanish Civil War led him to renounce war play. ``I take sentences apart, and put them together again,'' goes Hall's concluding clause here. So he does--and who does it better?