a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Suffering from migraines and my last year at Exeter


A sarcastic teacher
Donald Hall Poet
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

And then this man did an extraordinary thing, and it has some importance in my life really.  He spent the entire class period reading aloud my poems to the brightest kids in the school, and saying sarcastic things about them, just sarcasm, mere sarcasm.  He also told the class - we did not know each other's grades - and he told the class that I was flunking.  And these guys were all taking special math classes, special physics classes... they were the generally bright people. And, at the beginning, as he'd read aloud a poem, he'd say something to dismiss it, they would laugh, and then they stopped laughing, it was just so extreme. I think it was 50 minutes, and he didn't do anything else but read through these sort of 20 pages of single space of poems, and ridicule. And he did say from time to time that he knew what it was like to want to be a poet, he'd wanted to be one too, and Hall was flunking because he was spending all his time on this nonsense. And we were gonna... he was doing this to shake it out of me, that's all. And I felt like tears in the class, but I didn't cry and these... the other students simply became very silent.  They were bright kids, but they were adolescent males at a prep school - they were not compassionate sorts, but as I left the room, two or three of them sort of touched me on the shoulder, or something... it was amazing. I got back to my room and howled with tears of rage, and swore that I would work harder on my poems than I had ever worked before. I don't know that I did, but I had... I had the motive of revenge going for me. And the story goes on, oddly enough, not forever, but it's... I think it's worth telling. I grad... I recovered, I learnt how to study. I began to get my B's. I... I got admitted to Harvard. I began to publish poems quite a bit. Then I began to publish professionally, and I published my first book of poems when I was 27, and Exeter invited me back to give a poetry reading to the students.  And, fine... I remember driving into the town feeling the old terror coming over me, as I went back into the town, but of course I was glad to be asked and so on, and when I arrived, I discovered to my astonishment and some horror that they had has asked Chilson Hathaway Leonard to introduce me that night. Nobody knew what he had done except the other students in that class. I had been uncharacteristically silent about it. I hadn't talked about it to my parents, to my best friend. It was just so horrible, I shut up about it. I thought about it all the time, but... so people didn't know. What they did know was that he had come into the, you know, English coffee room grumbling about my terrible poems when I was a student, and then, whenever something turned up in The New Yorker or The Atlantic [sic] or something, they would tease him about it, so it was something whereby they... they teased their friend, whom they were a bit irritated with in general anyway. And they thought it was funny.  And my book came out, my first book came out and got a lot of praise and then they asked me up to read so they teasingly got him to introduce me. Well, you know, I thought of getting up there and telling the story. I thought briefly... public revenge is always revolting and so I didn't do it... I just said thank you and read my poems and so on. A few years later - this story has one more episode - a few years later I was writing a piece for The New York Times Sunday Book Review about a poem by Wordsworth - the daffodils poem that everybody knows - in which I have a sort of unusual interpretation - I won't go into it, it's kind of fresh of me, but I think actually it's pretty valid, and talk about the relationship of... of daffodils and daydreams to gold and investment, and so on.  And at the end of the piece, I knew people would... some people who love that poem would hate my reading, and I said, well anybody who thinks this disturbs his reading of the poem, never really cared about the poem anyway they just remembered some postcard that an English teacher handed around in a classroom. Well, I had no recollection. I thought I was making up this scornful thing, and I got a postcard of daffodils in the lake country, put inside an envelope, and Chilson Hathaway Leonard had written on the back of it, I suppose your fingerprints are still on it. Incredible. I still don't remember that he handed it around, but it would seem too extreme a coincidence. I believe I was taking unconscious revenge, and as long as revenge is unconscious, you can forgive yourself.

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: Harvard University, Phillips Exeter Academy, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Magazine, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Chilson Hathaway Leonard, William Wordsworth

Duration: 5 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008