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Moving to New Hampshire after a year off work
Donald Hall Poet
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We didn't want to sell it while Kate was alive - just out of piety - so Jane and I then had the idea... I'd written a book, a textbook which had made quite a bit of money, so that I could take a year off and we could just go somewhere for a year, and spend a year writing, just she and I.  And we had the idea we would come and camp out in this house - there was no central heat, there was wood stoves, and no insulation, but we didn't mind and we decided that for the year of 1975/76, we would take leave and camp out in this house, and then go back to Ann Arbor, and the old life.  And after we were able to buy it, maybe we'd come here in summers, and maybe I could even think of early retirement. I was 45 at the time I'm speaking of, and so we went ahead and got leave, and came here with a U-Haul carrying a television set, and a chair or two that was comfortable enough to sit in, and my grandmother took a turn for the worse and died. It's as if she knew that we were moving, or that Donny was back, and that she could let go. I was holding her hand when she died. My mother was rubbing her head and I was holding her hand while she died at 97, and we came back and my mother stayed a week or so, and packed up. We buried my grandmother, and my mother went home and Jane and I were alone in this house, and the autumn happened, and the leaves, and we went to church - three years marriage in Ann Arbour, we had never entered a church -  and down the street was the cousins' church where many cousins still went - still one there now - and we went down, and the preacher was quite wonderful.  That first sermon we heard he referred to Rilke the German poet, and that was pretty interesting, that had never happened in the South Danbury Christian Church before, and the feeling of community... some wonderful cousins and other old friends who weren't cousins.  Their attitude toward me was... oh Donny you went away and now you're back. Good. You know, it wasn't a momentous event for them, it was what any sensible person would do, you know, live here, in this house in New Hampshire. For me it was momentous - for them it was, good, you're back. The sense of community was... was beautiful, wonderful - Jane adored it - we always went to church henceforth, and the minister started giving us, oh theological texts, like The Cloud of Unknowing and so on, and we actually... she began to read the scriptures.  The church became important to us, and after a little while, probably in October, Jane announced that she would chain herself into the root cellar rather than go back to Ann Arbor.  And I really wanted to live here, I really wanted to, but I would never have had the courage or the stupidity to quit my job and move into this place. One kid was in college. One wasn't yet in college. I had a mortgage... the house was unimproved, without central heating, with... it was still a gravity well, at that time and... but I did it. I said, 'I want to do it... let's wait'. I waited until December and I wrote a letter to the Department of English saying, 'I'm resigning'. They wrote back in saying, 'We reject your resignation, you have another year's leave'. But they didn't follow me up. I never changed my mind once I had done that.

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: Ann Arbor, New Hampshire, South Danbury Christian Church, The Cloud of Unknowing, Jane Kenyon, Rainer Maria Rilke

Duration: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008