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The Society of Fellows at Harvard


Starting to publish and a fellowship at Stanford
Donald Hall Poet
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All the time I was... I was working on poems. I was beginning to publish. Toward the end of my first year at Oxford, about the Newdigate time, I sent some poems to John Layman who was doing a BBC radio programme... Third Programme called, New Soundings, and he had recently published the first poems that anybody had ever heard by Thom Gunn, who was over at Cambridge.  And I sent stuff in, and he took one of mine, and it was the first time I ever received a paycheck for my... for a poem. And then I began to sell to American magazines too, while I was at Oxford first, and then after graduation we returned. At Oxford I had applied... while I was there, my last year... I had applied for graduate school at Harvard to do a PhD, and I didn't really want to do one... I wanted to spend another year on fellowship somewhere.  So I applied for a Fulbright, and I did not get one.  But also, at... in Oxford, I had... I had met an American who had had a creative writing fellowship at Stanford University, California. He told me about it. I applied for that. Anything to avoid graduate school, and I got it. So we came back to America, and drove across the country, with my wife pregnant with our first child, out to Stanford.  And I spent a year at Stanford working with the American critic... new critic, Yvor Winters, and I've written at length about working with Winters. He was a strange and powerful man - I learnt a great deal from him - and, my first child, my son Andrew was born in April, out at... in California. While I was out there that year, that year at Stanford the year after Oxford, I finally began to publish a lot. Every time I sent poems out to a magazine, they'd take something, and it was an amazing year - it was very exciting. I felt that heady thing of early success. Somebody wrote me that my letters sounded like press releases, and they were right, you know. And, I tried to tone myself down a bit, but, I wrote a poem when Andrew was born, which was published in The New Yorker under the title of First Child, and it is the poem that, probably of all my poems, that has been more reprinted in anthologies. It's called, My Son, My Executioner, which is the first name... first line of the poem. I was 25 when I wrote it, and in the poem I think I feel my age considerably at that time - I've been feeling it all my life - but The New Yorker took another poem, and then many other magazines did.

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: University of Oxford, Newdigate prize, University of Cambridge, American, Harvard University, Fulbright Commission, Stanford University, California, The New Yorker, First Child, My Son, My Executioner, New Soundings, John Layman, Thom Gunn, Andrew Hall, Yvor Winters

Duration: 3 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008