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Planning for Jane Kenyon's death


Working on Otherwise: New and Selected Poems with Jane Kenyon
Donald Hall Poet
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We had been frank all along - we were never euphemistic with each other. Out in Seattle, when she was in particular pain, Janey would say, 'Am I going to live Perkins?' Meaning, or am I going through all this for nothing? I would never say, 'Yes, you are going to live'. Because I knew I didn't know and I knew she knew I didn't know, and I'd say, 'That's what we're doing, that's what we're doing. That's why you're going through this horror, to try to live'. But there were things we didn't talk about, that... well, for instance she told me where she wanted her papers to go, and she didn't have to tell me that earlier, but now she did. We had one important task. While we were in Seattle, her publisher had suggested that her next book be a New and Selected Poems. And it sounded like a wonderful idea as a way to get back to poetry, to writing poetry, to edit a New... New and Selected Poems. Well now we had, we thought, maybe, as long as a month.  It was only 11 days. We didn't know how... how long her mind would hold up.  So the day after we found out, the day we found out I just took the phone off the hook and we lay and hugged each other, and didn't talk very much. The next day we worked on assembling that book - the posthumous New and Selected Poems - Otherwise.  And we would go over her old books and I would remember which poems she still liked and which she didn't like so much, and didn't want to read, so I could propose a selection, and she mostly agreed. Sometimes she wanted one out, and I'd read it out to her, and she would say that, 'Well maybe that was alright', and so on.  And we went through that first day.  We worked a couple of hours on it before she was totally exhausted, but we got through a good deal of the... of the old work, and the new poems - the poems that is that had not been published in book form - the ones that she had written and finished after her last published book.  And then we stopped that day to start again the next day.  And the next day she felt really tired, and I said, 'Well, let's postpone it, let's do it later', and she said, 'No, we've got do it now', and she was right. We did it, we really... I think, pretty much finished the selection that day for her posthumous book, and it was something positive to do in the face of this horror of course.

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: Seattle, Otherwise: New & Selected Poems, Jane Kenyon

Duration: 2 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008