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Changes in style, new collections and poetry readings


Letting the mysterious come through in poetry
Donald Hall Poet
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I remember the first poem I wrote where I had no idea what I was writing about but I wrote it with conviction. It was a poem called The Long River that Jane came to love. Jane was 10 years old at the time I was writing it, and I did not know her, but I had a thumping noise in my head and a lot of long vowels, and I pounded it out and it came bit by bit, and finally when I worked on it for a while, I realized what I was talking about, which was sex, and particular aspects.  But, I had earlier, in the poems that I no longer liked so much - mostly - I always seemed to need to know what I was writing about before I wrote it.  A ridiculous idea, because most of what... a poet is an engine for saying things he doesn't know he is saying, often, and if you try to control so that you know everything you are saying and you let yourself get away with it, it's... it's going to be shallow stuff finally. When the poems were... when these reasonable poems turned out to be good poems, it was because there was something in them that I was not aware of, but, or besides what I was aware of, not necessarily in opposition, but something was... something invisible was driving the engine.  Oh, well, I got to... to try to write poems, some of the time, at any rate, that had no reasonable side to them at all, that were purely the mysterious.  That's not always possible or desirable either, but I still hold to the notion that whatever I write, however sensible it may seem, and so on... if it's worth writing, there's more going on that I'm not initially aware of, and maybe ever aware of.  But many times I have looked at a poem 10 years after writing it... five years after writing it... and seen something about it that's incontrovertibly true, it's there, but I'm positive I never had a conscious notion of it, and other times... many times people point things out to me in my poems that I have to admit are there, but that I had not engineered into place on purpose.

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 Long River, Jane Kenyon

Duration: 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008