The Hippo


Jul 22, 2019








Donald Hall’s book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, a new collection of essays published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is slated to come out July 10, according to Amazon. Hall was 89 when he died on June 23 at his home in Wilmot, according t

Reading Hall
His Best: Without (1998)
One of the finest and most important books of poetry written by any poet. Without is a brutally honest and raw exploration of Hall’s grief at the death of his wife Jane Kenyon. Hall began writing the book while Kenyon was still alive. In it, Hall’s words are direct and devoid of poetic flourishes. The sorrow and helplessness in the face of death evoked in Without is nearly unreadable in intensity. If there is one book to explain why the Library of Congress selected Hall as U.S. Poet Laureate, this is it.
Deep Cut: Essays After Eighty (2014)
By now, Hall had given up writing poetry and had devoted his career to memoir non-fiction. In this, his final collection of essays, his self-effacing sense of humor is on full display. He’s old and he’s fine with it. He reflects on his old job of poet laureate with a joke, “Look at the sad parade of Poet Laureates.” The book is full of philosophical musings on fame, falling down, poor balance and the indignity of having your license taken away. 
Poem I’ll bet you’d be surprised by: “The Seventh Inning” from The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993) 
Hall was an avid Red Sox and baseball fan, and he wrote about baseball often. In this poem, baseball is a fitting metaphor for the passage of time, time Hall knows is creeping up on him. In the tone and language of old-style baseball yarns, the poem explores the game as life.  

NH’s poet is dead
Long live Donald Hall


 By Dan Szczesny

In 2006, shortly after Donald Hall was appointed the U.S. poet laureate, I sat down with him at his home, Eagle Pond Farm, in Wilmot, N.H., to talk about the appointment, old age and his continuing attachment to his poet wife, Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995. 
It wasn’t the first time we had talked, but it was early in my New Hampshire career, and I felt timid, intimidated by a man of letters who had surpassed the mere role of poet and had become something akin to living poetry himself. He was the Hunter S. Thompson of poetry, his life and work tied inextricably together; his poetry was raw and unbound, stripped to the nerve endings. Reading Hall’s poetry during those post-Jane years was like scratching open wounds. 
I am not a talented poet, but I do love poetry. I love how the best poets, like Hall, can expose you, strip you of pretense and leave you naked and shivering in the cold light. Each time I made the pilgrimage out to his farm, he’d plant me in a soft couch in the living room with his cats clawing at our feet and a cup of tea steaming next to his rocking chair. 
He always spoke to me as an equal (though we clearly, wildly, were not). 
When I interviewed Hall, I always strove to be just as raw, just as authentic, but this was a master I was speaking to. What authority did I have to ask him personal questions?
I recall a moment in our talk when I was working around a way to ask him about his current relationships, how difficult was it after Jane, what was it about grief that could create such art? 
“Dan,” he said softly, “don’t be afraid. Ask me anything you like, directly, I’ll answer.”
Fifteen years later, I carry that around in my heart. Don’t be afraid. Just ask. Be direct. And he did answer, with humor, and directly. I carry that around as well. 
More recently, he was not doing so well. He’d given up writing poetry a few years ago and was focusing more on essays. He’d likely say his time had come. But it feels like my (our) world is slightly more diminished now. It feels like we could use as many poets like him as we could get these days. 
Hall was one of ours, a New England poet with the pedigree of Frost, complete with an old farm and a rural sensibility. But he also had the wanderlust and raw emotional vulnerability of Whitman. No poet, no human, was like him, and it’s unlikely that there will ever be another. 
In his later years, he thought and wrote a great deal about dying and death. In his 2000 poem, “Distressed Haiku,” Hall wrote:
You think that their dying is the worst thing that could happen.
Then they stay dead. 
Don Hall, master of letters, and a New Hampshire institution is dead, and he’s staying that way, and we are all less because of it. 

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