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Coping with life after Jane Kenyon's death


Back to metrical poetry
Donald Hall Poet
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Of course by the time Without came out, I had already begun many more poems.  And the... the next book - the last book I've published at this moment - was called The Painted Bed. And about the first half of it is more poems... further poems of grief about Jane, and they are a little more distant. I began to write... I wrote a series of 10 of these poems in rhymed metrical stanza, for which Thomas Hardy's poem was my model. I love Hardy - I've always loved Hardy - but I had never gone to him as a kind of model until this moment, and I did it. For that section of the book I quoted a little Hardy, just to say I know, I know, I know what I'm doing. And they're not poems that, you know, could pass for Hardy - the language is 20th century poetry... but 21st I guess, too... but I knew that the... the refrain, the... some... some of Hardy's awkwardness, I copied in there too, and did... did other things. I was pleased with them, and I had not written much of any metrical poetry, except maybe for epigrams - comical things - for a long, long time, but it came back.  And one thing that's interesting to me, just in the craft of poetry, was that they were a little less difficult to write than free verse.  That is, I would finish them often in 50 drafts, or 60 drafts, whereas the free verse poems I was writing at the same time would be more apt to go a 100 drafts. It's... it's easy to understand if you think about it. Once you have the sense of what a metrical poem is... a meter and... and you really know the craft, you don't entirely lose it, and when you're beginning a poem that's in stanzas, once you've established a stanza, you know a lot about the next stanza and the next one if there's a third... you know how many syllables you're going to have and you know where they're going to rhyme and so on. With free verse you have to improvise toward a sense of fixity, that no word could be other than it is, or in another place, but you have to make it up new, every time you do it. Whereas with metrical verse, there is... there is something you know ahead of time before you find the words, that the words simply fix, so that's clear enough I suppose. And I'm still occasionally writing some metrical poems now.

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: Without, The Painted Bed, Jane Kenyon, Thomas Hardy

Duration: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008