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Jane fell in love with New Hampshire


Returning to poetry
Donald Hall Poet
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I began really to get back to poetry, and that's the most serious thing. I had been dwindling in the amount of time I spent on it. I was flail... flailing about for style. I'd sort of exhausted the style of the short lined free verse with lots of assonance and long vowels which I mentioned earlier. I repeated that a little, I went back and wrote some metrical poems... I tried some prose poems which I don't really like very much and I published some things and so on.  But I knew I was going nowhere, and I knew that the best poem... I had not written for oh, it would be about 10 years... a poem as good as something I'd written 10 years earlier.  It's a melancholy thing - it can happen to you at any point in your life that you lose it all of a sudden, and I was depressed and chaotic and so on. But then after Jane and I married, about six months after... one day I picked up a piece of paper and began to write Kicking the Leaves, the poem, Kicking the Leaves.  Which is not like anything I had been writing.  It was a little more like much earlier stuff but stylistically very, very different. And I can put together now the different places that style came from... things I'd been reading and admiring, but not trying to equal, and it doesn't sound like any poet in particular.  But I began to write Kicking the Leaves, and I picked up a paper and continued it... it's a fairly long poem - six or seven pages - and I wrote it... I began it over a period of... of a few days, but I knew when I was writing it that something had happened, and that something was opened up. That was before moving here, but the poem, Kicking the Leaves, looks ahead to living in this place, and at that time, all we knew was that we were going to come here and camp out for a year.  But the poem knew better than I did - it really foresaw the life here - and the rest of that year and into the winter, I wrote many poems which are in a volume called Kicking the Leaves and, they came much more quickly. I would finish them, I mean I... I would say normally that I'd think a poem might be done in two or three years, sort of thing, the last year I may just change a word here and there, but I was finishing them in two months or something then, and there were a whole lot of them, and it was so exciting, so utterly thrilling to be back and to feel that I was going forward. And since then, or in more recent years, when people have reviewed my work in general, there's a kind of standard sentence, and it says that Hall started early, and published a lot, and maybe did... and if they liked my work... they'd say he did some good things, but his work really began when he married his second wife, the poet Jane Kenyon and moved to the family farm in New Hampshire. Well, it really accelerated when I got to New Hampshire, but it began after marrying Jane, and anticipating coming to New Hampshire. That was, say in the first of the three years of the marriage in... no, it wasn't, no it wasn't... it was in the... in the second year, just before we came here in fact.  But something else happened that took a long time to come to fruition, and I think this was six months after Jane and I were married, that I was suddenly seized with an absolute deluge of images and lines... that in no particular shape of form... and they were a long way from being finished poems, but I felt that I was starting a book length poem. I had admired a book length poem that a contemporary of mine wrote, Galway Kinnell - The Book of Nightmares - and I wanted to write something of that capacity, not resembling it, but of that ambition and length.  And I began to write, and that time I remember, I would be driving to the supermarket, and I would be gone a mile or two and I'd pull over to the side of the road and write, and then I'd drive another block or two, and I'd pull over and write some more. It wasn't very good, but it was dynamite. It was very strong stuff, and it took me a long, long time to be able to work on it. I did - after 60 or 70 pages or so - came this strangeway... uncontrolled, manic, not happy necessarily... not happy in content, but manic in a kinda possession. After 60 or 70 pages, it slowed down and stopped and then later Kicking the Leaves started and those poems.  And when I came here, the return to this place continued the fountain that began to erupt with Kicking the Leaves. I had written about New Hampshire so much in Michigan, in England, I thought well I am living there I won't write about it any more - I really did - crazy. I came back here and wrote about it more than ever, you know. I... after I came back I wrote Names of Horses and Ox-Cart Man, and lots and lots of New Hampshire poems. So that the book, Kicking the Leaves, which began in Ann Arbor was probably, half to two-thirds of it at any rate was begun here, but it came out in 1978 which means it was finished by '77.  And it was the summer of '75 when we moved here, and I already had some of the poems. But that was incredibly exciting and that book is the one that allowed me to begin to come back in the estimation of people, and people mostly thought it was the best thing that I had done, and probably the single book that has sold more copies, whatever... whatever that means.

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: Kicking the Leaves, New Hampshire, The Book of Nightmares, Michigan, England, Names of Horses, Ox-Cart Man, Ann Arbor, Jane Kenyon, Galway Kinnell

Duration: 6 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008