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The One Day


The Happy Man and developing adult onset diabetes
Donald Hall Poet
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Well we came here and we published books in the same year - 1978 - her first book of poems and my book, called, Kicking the Leaves, and our second books came out the same year. We always swore we wouldn't come out the same year, so we wouldn't be reviewed together but we always did, more or less.  It was... it was '86 maybe... I think it was '86 when her second book, which was a kind of breakthrough - The Boat of Quiet Hours - came out, at the same time as a book of mine, called The Happy Man.  And The Happy Man, the title of it, I took from some note by Tolstoy, in which he talked about the happy man, and all happiness and he's full of thoughts of suicide, and it's a book with a lot of depressing poems in, but not entirely. When I told Jane, 'I've found a title, I've found a title - I'm going to call it, The Happy Man''.  Typical of Jane, she said, 'It sounds too depressed'. And... but anyway I did call it The Happy Man. But at... there was... at this time in my life, as a writer, there was a sort of physical and psychological element than the writing that I... I have talked about in print, and that is that, when I was about 50, something like that, I became an adult onset diabetic, and my diabetes is still with me, and it's very much under control and so on, but it had the effect, gradually, in my 50s of making it impossible for me to sustain an erection.  And this was depressing, it was depressing for both of us, of course, and my poems suddenly turned kind of old and resigned, and... it was not... I was not in any deep depression, but it was difficult for both of us, and my poetry became sort of more passive, or old and so on.  And I think some of the poems are good that are in this mode, but... I finally solved the problem by having a penile implant surgery, and potency came back. I was always... always orgasmic, but I just couldn't have an erection but I got a permanent one, and it was wonderful, and Jane adored it, and said... kept saying, 'Perkins, what you did for me', and I would point out it wasn't just for her, but, at that same time, my poems got back their liveliness and energy, just because of a bit of surgery, but it's very noticeable. And it was noticeable in what a lot of people think is the best thing I ever did, which was the book length poem.

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, The Boat of Quiet Hours, The Happy Man, Jane Kenyon, Leo Tolstoy

Duration: 3 minutes, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008