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Visitors and the cover of Otherwise


Planning for Jane Kenyon's death
Donald Hall Poet
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When we were making up the content of the posthumous book, Otherwise [sic], I kept trying to think of contingencies. There were two women with whom Jane worked on her poems - Alice Mattison and Joyce Peseroff - her two closest friends, and they would meet in workshop three or four times a year. Of course they hadn't during the leukemia. But it occurred to me that Jane might have cut out poems that they particularly preferred, and she liked the idea of them being involved with it.  So I suggested to Jane that she let Alice and Joyce each choose one poem to add to what Jane had chosen.  And she liked that idea.  And also she had written one poem while she was sick, but she hadn't finished it. She'd drafted it only a few times. It was called, The Sick Wife. And I knew she would have improved it. She knew she would have improved it. And I said, 'If I find a way to print that as an unfinished poem, would that be ok?', and she said, 'Yes'. And it... it was... I did find a way. I wrote an afterword, which was partly about assembling it on her deathbed, and I could then build it in to that afterword, print it right after the afterword.  And actually it's one of her popular poems - it's been reprinted a lot. And then we had other plans - we planned her funeral.  She picked out the psalms and the hymns for her funeral, and we also wrote her obituary - that is I drafted it, and Kendel typed it up and we read it over, and she made some changes... probably about three drafts on the obituary. There was one thing that kind of tickled me.  A few years earlier Jane had received a Guggenheim fellowship. It was a high moment. She had many honors and prizes but that was the one that she cared about the most - the distinction - and she wanted that in the obituary.  So as I wrote it, I put it as a kind of climactic last sentence of the first paragraph, forgetting the manner of newspapers... build from top down.  So that when The New York Times printed that obituary, they needed a line so they cut out the line about the Guggenheim.  But I didn't have the brains to realize that... the fact that Jane was Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, an honour which didn't matter to her at all, that it would take the attention of newspapers.  And when the obituary... well the Concord Monitor... the local paper, ran it the top of page one, the Sunday - she died on a Saturday - on the Sunday after her death, with a great big color picture of Jane, and a story about her life, and another story about her work, and they mentioned it... but when the obituary turned up in The Globe, and The Times, and so on, they... when, in a Philadelphia paper, some paper in California, some in Texas, it was always: New Hampshire Poet Laureate Dies.  That was what drew their attention and I wanted everybody to know... I wanted all the attention possible to her.  But we worked on the obituary together, and it was the last piece of writing we worked on together - so strange. When we finished, maybe on the third day, we finished the obituary, Janey said, 'Wasn't that fun - to work together?' And she wasn't just talking about working on an obituary together, but we had been working together for 25 years on... on her poems, first as teacher and student, and Otherwise.

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: Otherwise: New and Selected Poems, The Sick Wife, Guggenheim Fellowship, The New York Times, New Hampshire, Concord Monitor, Philadelphia, California, Texas, Jane Kenyon, Joyce Peseroff, Alice Mattison, Kendel Currier

Duration: 3 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008