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The Harvard Advocate and meeting Robert Bly


Harvard University
Donald Hall Poet
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When I went from Exeter to Harvard, my life really changed utterly. I still went that summer between Exeter and Harvard, I... I came up here and hayed with my grandfather, but I all... I had also found my first real girlfriend. I  always was going out with girls and girl crazy, and taking girls to dances and so on, but when I was in the hospital being looked at, I had met a girl who was called a candy striper. She just came in after her... after her high school and cleaned rooms a little bit, and she was... oh maybe I was 17 and she was 16, and I took to taking her out, and I had a three year romance with her that broke up while I was at... at Harvard. But it was at the beginning of my, sort of becoming a teenager, I suppose. But then I came to... to Harvard from... from this place, and I was in a freshman dormitory - a very old building called Matthews Hall - I had two roommates - one was from Andover, and another was from high school in Saginaw, Michigan.  And I was an Eastern liberal, and therefore I had to be kind to the guy who was so unlucky as to go to a Midwestern high school, and I did everything but help him across the street. I'm embarrassed to think of this... I spent 17 years in Michigan later as a teacher.  But, I didn't particularly get along with my roommates but I began to enjoy the company of guys my own age for the first time, and there was one amazing scene in the first week or so at school when all of the incoming freshman on our floor gathered in one room - I think it was my room, the room I shared with two other guys - and we were talking, and somebody mentioned poetry, which was doubtless me, but I don't remember that, and we... everybody in the room... nobody puked, nobody said, ah, fruit poet, the way I'd been called fruit poet in high school, and so on. Everybody quoted something that they'd remembered, and it... Kipling's If, or, I don't know, stuff you memorized in school, but everyone was willing to talk about it, and it just amazed me.  And then many more amazing things happened... I took some good courses. I took Greek. I took a philosophy course. I... I got out of freshman English - it was an exam and you could get out of it - and so I took a creative writing course, and the teacher was an American poet named John Ciardi, who died a few years ago, and who's not much spoken of now, but who was an up and coming poet at that time... it was exciting. He was beginning to publish lots of his poems in The New Yorker. He was a good teacher... he had a wonderful voice and he was frank but not cruel, and it was a wonderful class. There were a number of people in there who were talented, but the most astonishing figure was up front on the left, where there was a little guy who was outrageously witty and outrageously effeminate. He was a four year veteran of the navy named Frank O'Hara, and that's my first visitation with him. He was writing short stories at that time, not poems. He became a very famous poet, and then died relatively young in an accident while he was a curator at The Museum of Modern Art... Frank O'Hara. But he was terrifying because he was so witty, but he was very smart. And Ciardi admired him, liked him, and we all got together. That was of some importance. I was with people who were writing, they wanted to be writers, for the first time. People my own age, that is.

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: Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard University, Matthews Hall, Andover, Saginaw, Michigan, Rudyard Kipling, If, The New Yorker, The Museum of Modern Art, John Ciardi, Frank O'Hara

Duration: 4 minutes, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008