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Poetry readings: Without
Donald Hall Poet
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111. Poetry readings: Without 616 03:47
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Without. This is a poem that I began to write during Jane's leukemia, in the present tense, describing the landscape of leukemia we were living through. But when I came to assemble the book of poems about her death, Without, it became obvious that it would be best at the moment of her death, and I put it in the past tense, and changed a word or two here and there.

Without

we lived in a small island stone nation

without color under gray clouds and wind

distant the unlimited ocean acute

lymphoblastic leukemia without seagulls

or palm trees without vegetation

or animal life only barnacles and lead

colored moss that darkened when months did

 

hours days weeks months weeks days hours

the year endured without punctuation

February without ice winter sleet

snow melted recovered but nothing

without thaw although cold streams hurtled

no snowdrop or crocus rose no yellow

no red leaves of maple without October

 

no spring no summer no autumn no winter

no rain no peony thunder no woodthrush

the book was a thousand pages without commas

without mice oak leaves windstorms

no castles no plazas no flags no parrots

without carnival or the procession of relics

intolerable without brackets or colons

 

silence without color sound without smell

without apples without pork to rupture gnash

unpunctuated without churches uninterrupted

no orioles ginger noses no opera no

without fingers daffodils cheekbones

the body was a nation a tribe dug into stone

assaulted white blood broken to shards

 

provinces invaded bombed shot shelled

artillery sniper fire helicopter gunship

grenade burning murder landmine starvation

the ceasefire lasted forty-eight hours

then a shell exploded in a market

pain vomit neuropathy morphine nightmare

confusion the rack terror

 

vincristine ara-c cytoxan vp-16

loss of memory loss of language losses

pneumocystis carinii pneumonia bactrim

foamless unmitigated sea without sea

delirium whipmarks of petechiae

multiple blisters of herpes zoster

and how are you doing today I am doing

 

one afternoon say the sun came out

moss took on greenishness leaves fell

the market opened a loaf of bread a sparrow

a bony dog wandered back sniffing a lath

it might be possible to take up a pencil

unwritten stanzas taken up and touched

beautiful terrible sentences unuttered

 

the sea unrelenting wave grey the sea

flotsam without islands broken crates

block after block the same house the mall

no cathedral no hobo jungle the same women

and men they longed to drink hayfields no

without dog or semicolon or village square

without monkey or lily without garlic

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: Jane Kenyon

Duration: 3 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008