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Life at Harvard


The Harvard Advocate and meeting Robert Bly
Donald Hall Poet
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Then I went out for The Harvard Advocate. The Harvard Advocate is the literary magazine at Harvard, and it's been around since the 1860s. It published TS Eliot when he was young. It published all sorts of people, EE Cummings published there, Malcolm Cowley, Wallace Stevens, the... Frost was briefly at Harvard but he never published there. It was probably beneath him... I don't know, but I... you tried out to become a member of the editorial board, and I tried out in my second term. First term, I didn't know what college was going to be like, and I didn't want to be confused, so... it was easy compared to Exeter. The grades were much easier, and so on.  And so I tried out for The Advocate, and trying out, you came to the organization's building... a big room,,, and mixed with the other editors and talked literature. You also read manuscripts for them and made your comments and they could read your comments and so on... they were judging you, and the first night I was there, in February of 1948, I met the man who's the poet Robert Bly, who has been my best friend now for, what is it, going on 57 years.  Just last week I was out in Minneapolis doing a series of platform events called Literary Friendships, run by Garrison Keillor, the great American radio host for A Prairie Home Companion, and Bly and I were on the stage reminiscing and poking fun at each other and so on for an hour and a half, and later this will become a radio programme.  But I met him, and he was an austere looking figure at that time... very skinny, in a three piece suit... he's been very flamboyant for the last 40 years, but he wasn't then. He was in a brief Harvard man mode... he didn't open his mouth much, and didn't find much to praise in the world. At Harvard, you said of somebody, he's not very bright, or he's rather bright. I gave it a little Oxford in my accent there, but Oxford had some similarities.  But at any rate, he was very bright, and we had a wonderful time. We'd be talking about Robert Lowell who had just published Lord Weary's Castle a year earlier, or Richard Wilbur who was publishing his first book maybe that year, The Beautiful Changes, and we both knew the poetry cold, and we both knew Yeats very well. We talked about the poets that we were fondest of, and when I came back another time, I went to find him and talk to him and soon enough, I think by that summer we were hitchhiking together and starting a correspondence.

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: The Harvard Advocate, Harvard University, Phillips Exeter Academy, Minneapolis, A Prairie Home Companion, Oxford, Lord Weary's Castle, The Beautiful Changes, Literary Friendships, TS Eliot, EE Cummings, Malcolm Cowley, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Robert Bly, Garrison Keillor, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, WB Yeats

Duration: 3 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008