November 3, 2006

Donald Hall: Poetry of Illness and Disease

Read a piece about the current Poet Laureate, Donald Hall that had some interesting thoughts on his more recent poetry.

Much of his recent poetry is about the illness and death of Jane. She died of leukemia in 1995 when she was 47 and he was 66. Much of that writing is in his book Without.

"The only time of the day I was actually happy was when I was writing these miserable poems. Because I felt a connection to her. People seem to be reaching for a connection with poetry."

On writing poetry about illness and death:
"All I can say is that they reconcile in certain poems. And other poems that have no relevance to disease and death have spirit in them. And they're tutoring schools for the spirit, for the education of the emotions. I have come to admire many members of the medical profession for what I would call their spirituality. Their empathy in the face of suffering."

In a lighter spirit, he said that the duties of the New Hampshire poet laureate "could be accomplished by Gus the dog." Hall was that Laureate before he recently was appointed U.S. Poet Laureate. On that new position he said, "I think Gus the dog would find it more difficult. His line breaks weren't so good."

He lives in Wilmot, N.H., in the farmhouse where his mother and grandmother were born since 1975 when he moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan with his late wife, the poet Jane Keynon. He was on leave from teaching and Kenyon said she'd chain herself in the root cellar rather than leave.

"It was the second smartest decision we ever made. The first was marrying each other."

His mornings at the farm typically are:
  • wake up at 5 or 6, to write poetry ("I felt best early in the morning and wanted to do what I loved best.")
  • do a domestic chore, like chopping wood
  • focus on his cardboard file box that contained other writing projects - a children's book, a review, an anthology.

Information on Donald Hall and audio of him reading is currently at the Library of Congress web site. www.loc.gov/poetry/laureate_current.html

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