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UNPACKING THE BOXES

A MEMOIR OF A LIFE IN POETRY

Splendid, poignant prose.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Hall (White Apples and Taste of Stone, 2006, etc.) applies his magical way with language to a history of self.

To be published on his 80th birthday, this memoir roves among a lifetime of memories, many of them unearthed by unpacking a collection of boxes inherited after his mother’s death in 1994. Despite growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression, Hall arrived early in his teens at the decision to pursue the unremunerative profession of poetry. An early anecdote, as endearing as it is audacious, describes Hall boldly refusing “with sixteen-year-old hauteur” an opportunity to audit the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference as an unpaid waiter, insisting on his right to attend as a contributing poet. Accepted on those terms, he met Robert Frost, Richard Wright and a young woman who contributed a memorable rite of passage on V-J Day. Poe, Keats and Shelley impressed upon the adolescent Hall a notion of accomplishment and experiment in style; later on, Eliot and Pound inspired him, as did late-1940s Harvard, where “no one spoke with scorn, no one made a gagging sound, no one mimed effeminacy” when the word poetry was uttered. In 1951, he moved on to Oxford, where he established a foothold in the emerging literary elite. Throughout his text, the poet draws back to those boxes from his mother’s house, filled not just with a career in retrospect but also valuable glimpses of the emerging writer in unpublished stories and poems. Hall writes with voluptuous recall, listing childhood dates and names with alacrity, providing adult reflections on his parents’ lives and his own adventures in love and fatherhood. The most heartbreaking chapters are dedicated to his late wife, poet Jane Kenyon, with whom he spent 25 years ensconced in his maternal grandparents’ New Hampshire farm. From his life and the tragedy of her loss, Hall has produced a waterfall of poems in works such as The Happy Man and Without; this touching memoir will make you want to read them all.

Splendid, poignant prose.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-99065-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2008

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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  • National Book Award Winner


  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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