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High school, ambition and rewriting


Early love of poetry
Donald Hall Poet
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I was, you know, writing terrible long poems and they would be... one was called Night Wanderer and it was about me wandering around the Haven at night, sort of a romantic figure of course. I... part of all this was I loved poetry... I didn't know much about it, of course, but I loved revelling in it, and reading it, and I think I came to writing poetry most out of loving poetry, but there was another thing that is always there... I wanted to be attractive to the girls, and I tried being an athlete, which was sort of the best way but I was terrible. I was cut from the eighth grade team in baseball, and never bothered to go out for anything in high school... I was just a terrible athlete, and so instead I would be the romantic figure. I would be the actor or I would be the poet, and became a poet, and that was certainly a motive. A few years back I was out in Nebraska and some... in a high school and a kid asked me how I got started writing poetry and I told about Edgar Allan Poe and Dave Johnstone, and a tall blond boy said 'Didn't you do it to pick up chicks?', and I said, 'Oh yeah, I forgot about that, yeah, I forgot about that part'. But that was certainly part of it, and I went about high school being the flâneur. I invented a sentence, that I used to utter from time to time, just trying to be interesting, crazy, weird, and the sentence was, 'Dead people don't like olives'. And out of nowhere, silence, walking along beside a girl, I would say, 'Dead people don't like olives'. I don't think it was very effective, really, but there was all that side to everything, and at the same time I was reading poems. In my... in the freshman English textbook, there were poems by someone called HD - the American Hilda Doolittle who wrote under her initials - and I loved them. And they are very beautiful imagist things, very Greeky, and very assonantal. In so many ways, my way into poetry has been the sound the poetry makes. Beginning with Poe, who sounded kinda vulgar, but going on to poets like Pound and like HD, and made very beautiful assonance, particularly deriving from... the parts I liked the best probably... I think derived more from Greek lyric poetry than from anything else... it's the most musical poetry in the world.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Night Wanderer, Nebraska, New Haven, Connecticut, Edgar Allan Poe, Dave Johnstone, Hilda Doolittle, Ezra Pound

Duration: 2 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008