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Letting the mysterious come through in poetry


International modernism and changes in writing style
Donald Hall Poet
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My friend Robert Bly spent a year in Norway and discovered International Modernism. We had all grown up on English and American Modernism, on Eliot, and on Pound, and... and on the poets who had followed them, and it was... that's frequently called Modernism, but it's very different from what, a kind of expressionist use of metaphor. Georg Trackl, the German [sic] poet, killed himself during the First World War - and wrote sort Blue Rider poems - he... he was a friend of Franz Marc, I believe - and they are kind of surreal. I tend to avoid the word surrealism, because it got taken over by André Breton, and became a set of rules and so on. The greatest practitioners... there were many in... in Scandanavia who were not well known even now in translation, Harry Martinson and Gunnar Ekelöf, but there were many, many in Spain - Lorca from the '30s, but Jiménez, Sulomono [sic].  They were apparently Gongoresque - I have no Spanish - they wrote with extravagant metaphors and mysterious poems, and French symbolism in some ways gave license to it, but it was much less tidy, much less reasonable than French symbolism, or French surrealism.  And, particularly with Bly's help - with his own translations, and his also putting me to look at translations of other poets - I became aware of Neruda, and Neruda was one of those poets who translates well. A poet like Goethe can't translate at all, Pushkin can't translate, but often poets who rely on the expressive image can be more translatable.  And I began to write poems more in this style, and I began to experiment moving away from syllabics, with varieties of free verse, and my poetry in particular took on a... a sound - it was rather short lined, and the sense moved over to the end of the line, a lot - not invariably - but there was a lot of enjambment, and there was great... a great many long vowels, and often the long vowels were in assonance.  So if I could use a line like 'high tide line', I'd love it.  And for many years my... my poems, which were my own and not sounding like anybody else's, were making their own kind of noise because it was a noise that pleased me the most and shivered my timbers.

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: Norway, International Modernism, English Modernism, American Modernism, WWI, Scandanavia, Spain, Spanish, French surrealism, French symbolism, Robert Bly, TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, Georg Trackl, Franz Marc, André Breton, Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf, Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Pablo Neruda, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alexander Pushkin

Duration: 3 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008