“Hall paints scenes with the reverent earthiness of a Dutch master, getting all the textures right.” —Alicia Ostriker
“Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines.” —Billy Collins
The fourteenth United States Poet Laureate from 2006-2007, Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1951, and in 1953 his bachelor’s in literature from Oxford University. For the past 30 years he has lived on Eagle Pond Farm in rural New Hampshire, in the house where his grandmother and mother were born. He has two children from his first marriage and five grandchildren. He was married for twenty-three years to the poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995. In 1998, he published Without (Houghton Mifflin), a collection of poems expressing his grief over Kenyon’s death: “The mosaic of a whole period, with all its inner moods and its physical accessories, is masterfully accomplished” (New York Review of Books).
Hall has published sixteen books of poetry, beginning with Exiles and Marriages in 1955. In 2006, he published White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 (Houghton Mifflin), a volume of his essential life’s work. His most recent book of poetry is The Back Chamber (2011, Houghton Mifflin). Among his books for children, Ox-Cart Man won the Caldecott Medal. His twenty books of prose include Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories (2003); The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (2005); and collections of his essays about poetry, Breakfast Served Any Time All Day (2003) and Essays After Eighty (2014). He has written extensively about life in New Hampshire in his memoirs Seasons at Eagle Pond (1987), Here at Eagle Pond (2000), Eagle Pond (2007), and Christmas at Eagle Pond (2012). His memoir Unpacking the Boxes: The Life of a Poet was published in 2008.
For his poetry, Donald Hall received the Marshall/Nation Award in 1987 for his The Happy Man; both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 1988 for The One Day; the Lily Prize for Poetry in 1994; two Guggenheim Fellowships; and a National Medal of Arts. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Donald Hall has published sixteen books of poetry, beginning with Exiles and Marriages in 1955. His most recent book of poetry is The Back Chamber, and his most recent book of essays is Essays After Eighty, published in 2014. Among his books for children, Ox-Cart Man won the Caldecott Medal, and his twenty books of prose include Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories; The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon; and a collection of his essays about poetry, Breakfast Served Any Time All Day. His memoir Unpacking the Boxes: The Life of a Poet was published in 2008. Hall has received the Marshall/Nation Award; both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 1988 for The One Day; the Lily Prize for Poetry in 1994; two Guggenheim Fellowships; and a National Medal of Arts. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
ESSAYS AFTER EIGHTY (Essays, 2014)
Donald Hall has lived a remarkable life of letters, a career capped by a National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president. Now, in the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of very old age, he is writing searching essays that startle, move, and delight. In the transgressive and horrifyingly funny “No Smoking,” he looks back over his lifetime, and several of his ancestors’ lifetimes, of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, packs of them every day. Hall paints his past: “Decades followed each other—thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty extended the bliss of fifty . . .” And, poignantly, often joyfully, he limns his present: “When I turned eighty and rubbed testosterone on my chest, my beard roared like a lion and gained four inches.” Most memorably, Hall writes about his enduring love affair with his ancestral Eagle Pond Farm and with the writing life that sustains him, every day: “Yesterday my first nap was at 9:30 a.m., but when I awoke I wrote again.”
THE BACK CHAMBER (Poetry, 2011)
In The Back Chamber, Donald Hall illuminates the evocative, iconic objects of deep memory—”a cowbell,” “a white stone perfectly round,” “a three-legged milking stool”—that serve to foreground the rich meditations on time and mortality that run through his remarkable new collection. While Hall’s devoted readers will recognize many of his long-standing preoccupations—baseball, the family farm, love, sex, and friendship—what will strike them as new is the fierce, pitiless poignancy he reveals as his own life’s end comes into view. The Back Chamber is far from being death-haunted but rather is lively, irreverent, sexy, hilarious, ironic, and sly—full of the life-affirming energy that has made Donald Hall one of America’s most popular and enduring poets.
UNPACKING THE BOXES: THE LIFE OF A POET (Memoir, 2008)
Donald Hall’s remarkable life in poetry—a career capped by his appointment as US poet laureate in 2006—comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir. Hall’s invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was “secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious,” and ends with what he calls “the planet of antiquity,” a time of life dramatically punctuated by his appointment as poet laureate of the United States. Hall writes eloquently of the poetry and books that moved and formed him as a child and young man, and of adolescent efforts at poetry writing—an endeavor he wryly describes as more hormonal than artistic. His painful formative days at Exeter, where he was sent like a naive lamb to a high WASP academic slaughter, are followed by a poetic self-liberation of sorts at Harvard. Here he rubs elbows with Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and Edward Gorey, and begins lifelong friendships with Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, and George Plimpton. After Harvard, Hall is off to Oxford, where the high spirits and rampant poetry careerism of the postwar university scene are brilliantly captured. At eighty, Hall is as painstakingly honest about his failures and low points as a poet, writer, lover, and father as he is about his successes, making Unpacking the Boxes both revelatory and tremendously poignant.
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I’ve cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial-a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother’s rocker
a dead dog’s toy-valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.
—from The Back Chamber
To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.
UNPACKING THE BOXES (memoir excerpt)
Why did I come to poetry at such an age? A few years ago in Nebraska, talking about my beginning to high school students, I told about wanting to write because I loved Poe and Keats, later Eliot and Yeats. A skeptical boy asked, “Didn’t you do it to pick up chicks?” “Yes!” I answered. “How could I forget?” In the absence of athletic skill, I found that poetry attracted at least the arty girls if not the cheerleaders. Ambition exists to provide avenue for the libido. This notion begets another, less flattering to the peacock male ego: Maybe all women are the one woman, and everything gets done to woo Mom.
Read What’s In Print
Listen to Audio