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A Memoir of a Life in Poetry

by Donald Hall

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-618-99065-8

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his mother’s house, filled not just with a career in retrospect but also valuable glimpses of the emerging writer in unpublished stories and poems.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.