Donald Hall

b. 1928
Donald Hall

Donald Hall is considered one of the major American poets of his generation. His poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature. Although Hall gained early success with his first collection, Exiles and Marriages (1955), his more recent poetry is generally regarded as the best of his career. Often compared favorably with such writers as James Dickey, Robert Bly, and James Wright, Hall uses simple, direct language to evoke surrealistic imagery. In addition to his poetry, Hall has built a respected body of prose that includes essays, short fiction, plays, and children’s books. Hall, who lives on the New Hampshire farm he visited in summers as a boy, is also noted for the anthologies he has edited and is a popular teacher, speaker, and reader of his own poems.

Born in 1928, Hall grew up in Hamden, Connecticut. The Hall household was marked by a volatile father and a mother who was “steadier, maybe with more access to depths because there was less continual surface,” as Hall explained in an essay for Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series (CAAS). “To her I owe my fires, to my father my tears. I owe them both for their reading.” By age twelve, Hall had discovered the poet and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe: “I read Poe and my life changed,” he remarked in CAAS. Another strong influence in Hall’s early years was his maternal great-grandfather’s farm in New Hampshire, where he spent many summers. Decades later, he bought the same farm and settled there as a full-time writer and poet.

Hall attended Philips Exeter Academy and had his first poem published at age sixteen. He was a participant at the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, where he met Robert Frost, that same year. From Exeter, Hall went to Harvard University, attending class alongside Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly, Frank O’Hara, and John Ashbery; he also studied for a year with Archibald MacLeish. Hall earned a BLitt from Oxford University and won the Newdigate contest for his poem “Exile,” one of the few Americans ever to win the prize. Returning to the United States, Hall spent a year at Stanford, studying under the poet-critic Yvor Winters, before returning to Harvard. At Harvard, Hall assembled Exiles and Marriages, a tightly-structured collection crafted in rigid rhyme and meter. In 1953, Hall also became the poetry editor of the Paris Review, a position he held until 1961. In1957 he took a position as assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan, where he remained until 1975. While at Michigan, Hall met the young Jane Kenyon. They later married and, when Hall’s grandmother, who owned Eagle Pond Farm, passed away, bought the farm, left teaching, and moved there together. The collections Kicking the Leaves (1978) and The Happy Man (1986) reflect Hall’s happiness at his return to the family farm, a place rich with memories and links to his past. Many of the poems explore and celebrate the continuity between generations. The Happy Man won the Lenore Marshall/Nation Prize. Hall’s next book, The One Day (1988), won the National Book Critics Circle Award. A long poem that meditates on the on-set of old age, The One Day, like much of Hall’s early work, takes shape under formal pressure: composed of 110 stanzas, split over three sections, its final sections are written in blank verse. The critic Frederick Pollack praised the book as possibly “the last masterpiece of American Modernism. Any poet who seeks to surpass this genre should study it; any reader who has lost interest in contemporary poetry should read it.” Old and New Poems (1990) contains several traditional poems from earlier collections, as well as more innovative verses not previously published. “Baseball,” included in The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993), is the poet’s ode to the great American pastime and is structured around the sequence of a baseball game, with nine stanzas of nine lines each. It remains one of Hall’s best-known poems.

In 1989, Hall was diagnosed with colon cancer. Though his chances for survival were slim, he eventually went into remission. In 1994, Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia and died fifteen months later. Kenyon’s death had a profound effect on Hall and he has struggled to document his loss in both his poetry and prose. The poems in Without: Poems (1998) were written as Kenyon underwent chemotherapy and assembled her final volume, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems (1997). They bluntly address the facts of Kenyon’s death, detailing her physical deterioration and Hall’s own rage and grief. In The Painted Bed (2002), Hall continues to grieve Kenyon. The New York Times reviewer J.T. Barabese found the book “filled with raw sexual disclosures, rowdy anger and a self-blasting mockery.” The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, a memoir about their marriage, was published in 2005. Opening with his account of Kenyon’s death, Hall describes their first meeting in 1969 at the University of Michigan. At the time, Kenyon was a student and Hall a professor of literature. The couple, married for twenty-three years, lived and wrote side by side on their farm, pausing from their work to take walks and tend to their garden—the story of their “harmonious life,” as a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews referred to it, is also a history of the treatments his wife had to undergo for leukemia. White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 (2006) was published the same year Hall received his appointment as the 14th U.S. poet laureate. David Hamilton, writing for the Iowa Review, noted that “Hall is a poet of fierce appetite and is fierce as a poet of appetite . . . Hall says what he thinks in these poems.” Hall served as poet laureate for one year.

In addition to his accomplishments as a poet, Hall is respected as an academic who, through writing, teaching, and lecturing, has made significant contributions to the study and craft of writing. As Liam Rector has explained, Hall “has lived deeply within the New England ethos of plain living and high thinking, and he has done so with a sense of humor and eros.” His books on the craft of writing include Writing Well—in its ninth edition by 1997—and Death to the Death of Poetry (1994). Hall is also a noted anthologist and helped assemble the influential New Poets of England and America (1957) with Louis Simpson and Robert Pack. He also edited Contemporary American Poetry (1962; revised 1972). Life Work (1993) is Hall’s memoir of the writing life and his tenure at Eagle Pond Farm. His early children’s book, Ox-Cart Man (1979), is one among several works that have established him in the field of children’s literature. A fable on the cyclical nature of life, Ox-Cart Man expresses for readers “the sense that work defines us all, connects us with our world, and we are all rewarded . . . in measure of our effort,” according to Kristi L. Thomas in School Library Journal.

Hall continues to live and work on his New Hampshire farm, a site that serves as both his home and an inspiration for much of his work. In addition to the poet laureate position, Hall has been awarded many honors including two Guggenheim fellowships, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for poetry and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

 

[Updated 2009]

Career

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, junior fellow in Society of Fellows, 1954-57; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1957-75, began as assistant professor, became professor of English; full-time freelance writer, 1975—. Bennington College graduate Writing Seminars, poet-in-residence, 1993—. Broadcaster on British Broadcasting Corporation radio programs, 1959-80; host of Poets Talking (television interview series), 1974-75; has given poetry readings at colleges, universities, schools, and community centers.

Bibliography

FOR CHILDREN

  • Andrew the Lion Farmer, illustrated by Jane Miller, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1959, illustrated by Ann Reason, Methuen (London, England), 1961.
  • Riddle Rat, illustrated by Mort Gerberg, Warne (London, England), 1977.
  • Ox-Cart Man, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.
  • The Man Who Lived Alone, illustrated by Mary Azarian, Godine (New York, NY), 1984.
  • (Editor) The Oxford Book of Children's Verse in America, Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • The Farm Summer 1942, illustrated by Barry Moser, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
  • I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, illustrated by Barry Moser, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
  • Lucy's Christmas, illustrated by Michael McCurdy, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1994.
  • Lucy's Summer, illustrated by Michael McCurdy, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1995.
  • When Willard Met Babe Ruth, illustrated by Barry Moser, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Old Home Day, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Harcourt Brace, (New York, NY) 1996.
  • The Milkman's Boy, illustrated by Greg Shed, Walker (New York, NY), 1997.

POETRY

  • Fantasy Poets No. 4, Fantasy Press, 1952.
  • Exile, Fantasy Press, 1952.
  • To the Loud Wind and Other Poems, Pegasus, 1955.
  • Exiles and Marriages, Viking (New York, NY), 1955.
  • The Dark Houses, Viking (New York, NY), 1958.
  • A Roof of Tiger Lilies, Viking (New York, NY), 1964.
  • The Alligator Bride: Poems, New and Selected, Harper (New York, NY), 1969.
  • The Yellow Room: Love Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
  • The Gentleman's Alphabet Book (limericks), illustrated by Harvey Kornberg, Dutton (New York, NY), 1972.
  • The Town of Hill, Godine (New York, NY), 1975.
  • A Blue Wing Tilts at the Edge of the Sea: Selected Poems, 1964-1974, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1975.
  • Kicking the Leaves, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
  • The Toy Bone, BOA Editions, 1979.
  • Brief Lives: Seven Epigrams, William B. Ewart, 1983.
  • The Twelve Seasons, Deerfield Press, 1983.
  • Great Day in the Cow's House, illustrated with photographs by T. S. Bronson, Ives Street Press, 1984.
  • The Happy Man, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
  • The One Day, Ticknor & Fields, 1988.
  • Old and New Poems, Ticknor & Fields, 1990.
  • The Museum of Clear Ideas, Ticknor & Fields, 1993.
  • The Old Life, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1996.
  • Without, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
  • The Purpose of a Chair, Brooding Heron Press (Waldron Island, WA), 2000.
  • The Painted Bed, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
  • White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Poems, 1946-2006, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

Contributor of poetry to numerous periodicals, including the New Yorker, New Republic, New Criterion, Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, Georgia Review, Ohio Review, Gettysburg Review, Nation, and Atlantic.

PROSE

  • String Too Short to Be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm (autobiography), illustrated by Mimi Korach, Viking (New York, NY), 1961, expanded edition, Godine (New York, NY), 1979.
  • Henry Moore: The Life and Work of a Great Sculptor, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.
  • As the Eye Moves: A Sculpture by Henry Moore, illustrated with photographs by David Finn, Abrams (New York, NY), 1970.
  • Marianne Moore: The Cage and the Animal, Pegasus, 1970.
  • The Pleasures of Poetry, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
  • Writing Well, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1974, 9th edition (with Sven Birkerts), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
  • (With others) Playing Around: The Million-Dollar Infield Goes to Florida, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.
  • (With Dock Ellis) Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, Coward (New York, NY), 1976.
  • Goatfoot Milktongue Twinbird: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry, 1970-76, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1978.
  • Remembering Poets: Reminiscences and Opinions—Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Harper (New York, NY), 1978, revised edition published as Their Ancient Glittering Eyes, Remembering Poets and More Poets, Ticknor & Fields, 1992.
  • To Keep Moving: Essays, 1959-1969, Hobart & William Smith Colleges Press, 1980.
  • To Read Literature, Holt (New York, NY), 1980.
  • The Weather for Poetry: Essays, Reviews, and Notes on Poetry, 1977-1981, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1982.
  • Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball), North Point Press, 1985.
  • Seasons at Eagle Pond, illustrated by Thomas W. Nason, Ticknor & Fields, 1987.
  • Poetry and Ambition, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1988.
  • Here at Eagle Pond, illustrated by Thomas W. Nason, Ticknor & Fields, 1990.
  • Life Work, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1993.
  • Death to the Death of Poetry: Essays, Reviews, Notes, Interviews, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1994.
  • Principle Products of Portugal: Prose Pieces, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1995.
  • Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
  • Breakfast Served Any Time All Day: Essays on Poetry New and Selected, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2003.
  • The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (memoir), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.

Contributor of short stories and articles to numerous periodicals, including the New Yorker, Esquire, Atlantic, Playboy, Transatlantic Review, and American Scholar. Author of afterword to Jane Kenyon's Otherwise: New and Selected Poems.

PLAYS

  • An Evening's Frost, first produced in Ann Arbor, MI; produced Off-Broadway, 1965.
  • Bread and Roses, produced in Ann Arbor, MI, 1975.
  • Ragged Mountain Elegies (produced in Peterborough, NH, 1983), revised version published as The Bone Ring (produced in New York, NY, 1986), Story Line, 1987.

EDITOR

  • The Harvard Advocate Anthology, Twayne (New York, NY), 1950.
  • (With Robert Pack and Louis Simpson) The New Poets of England and America, Meridian Books, 1957.
  • Whittier, Dell (New York, NY), 1961.
  • Contemporary American Poetry, Penguin (London England), 1962, Penguin (Baltimore, MD), 1963.
  • (With Robert Pack) New Poets of England and America: Second Selection, Meridian Books, 1962.
  • A Poetry Sampler, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1962.
  • (With Stephen Spender) The Concise Encyclopedia of English and American Poets and Poetry, Hawthorn, 1963.
  • (With Warren Taylor) Poetry in English, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1963.
  • A Choice of Whitman's Verse, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1968.
  • Man and Boy, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1968.
  • The Modern Stylists, Free Press (New York, NY), 1968.
  • American Poetry: An Introductory Anthology, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1969.
  • (With D. L. Emblem) A Writer's Reader, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1969, 9th edition, Longman (New York, NY), 2002.
  • The Pleasures of Poetry, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
  • The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1981.
  • To Read Literature: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Holt (New York, NY), 1981, 3rd edition, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.
  • Claims for Poetry, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1982.
  • To Read Poetry, Holt (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition published as To Read a Poem, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.
  • The Contemporary Essay, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1984, 3rd edition, 1995.
  • To Read Fiction, Holt (New York, NY), 1987.
  • (With Pat Corrington Wykes) Anecdotes of Modern Art: From Rousseau to Warhol, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
  • Andrew Marvell, The Essential Marvell, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1991.
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson, The Essential Robinson, Ecco Press (New York, NY), 1993.
  • Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Former poetry editor, Paris Review. Former member of editorial board, Wesleyan University Press poetry series; editor, University of Michigan "Poets on Poetry" series.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
  • Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988, pp. 55-67.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 13, 1980, Volume 37, 1986, Volume 59, 1989.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 5: American Poets since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
  • Hall, Donald, Riddle Rat, Warne (London, England), 1977.
  • Hall, Donald, The Man Who Lived Alone, Godine (New York, NY), 1984.
  • Hall, Donald, I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
  • Hall, Donald, The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.

PERIODICALS

  • Book, May-June, 2002, Stephen Whited, review of The Painted Bed, p. 85.
  • Booklist, March 15, 1996, Bill Ott, review of When Willard Met Babe Ruth, p. 1262; March 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, p. 1380; March 1, 2002, Ray Olson, review of The Painted Bed, p. 1079; April 15, 2003, Ellen Loughran, review of Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories, p. 1448.
  • Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1980, Zena Sutherland, review of Ox-Cart Man, p. 110; July, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Farm Summer 1942, p. 358; October, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of Lucy's Christmas, pp. 48-49; December, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, p. 129.
  • Horn Book, February, 1982, Mary M. Burns, review of Ox-Cart Man, pp. 44-45; July-August, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Farm Summer 1942, p. 441; September-October, 1994, Ann A. Flowers, review of I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, p. 577; November-December, 1994, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Lucy's Christmas, p. 711.
  • Junior Bookshelf, December, 1980, review of Ox-Cart Man, pp. 283-284.
  • Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1994, review of I Am the Dog, I Am the Cat, p. 1129; October 15, 1994, review of Lucy's Christmas, pp. 1420-1421; November 1, 1984, review of The Man Who Lived Alone, p. 88; March 1, 1996, review of When Willard Met Babe Ruth, pp. 374-375; July 15, 1996, review of Old Home Day, p. 1048; March 15, 2003, review of Willow Temple, p. 416; March 15, 2005, review of The Best Day the Worst Day, p. 334.
  • Library Journal, April 15, 2003, review of Willow Temple, p. 128.
  • New York Times Book Review, January 13, 1985, Thomas Powers, review of The Man Who Lived Alone, p. 26.
  • Ploughshares, fall, 2001, Liam Rector, "About Donald Hall," p. 270.
  • Poetry, December, 2003, review of Breakfast Served Any Time All Day, p. 177; May, 2005, Vivian Gornick, "It's All In the Art," review of The Best Day the Worst Day, p. 161.
  • Publishers Weekly, June 13, 1977, review of Riddle Rat, p. 108; April 11, 1994, review of The Farm Summer 1942, p. 65; April 10, 1995, review of Lucy's Summer, p. 62; August 12, 1996, review of Old Home Day, p. 82; July 14, 1997, review of The Milkman's Boy, p. 83; February 25, 2002, review of The Painted Bed, p. 56; March 31, 2003, review of Willow Temple, p. 39; March 7, 2005, review of The Best Day the Worst Day, p. 57.
  • Quill and Quire, May, 1995, review of Lucy's Summer, p. 51.
  • School Library Journal, October, 1979, Kristi L. Thomas, review of Ox-Cart Man, p. 140; February, 1985, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of The Man Who Lived Alone, p. 64; January, 2000, Margaret Bush, review of The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children's Poems, p. 121.
  • Sewanee Review, winter, 2000, review of Without, p. 6.

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Audio & Podcasts

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  • Listen Donald Hall
    Acclaimed poet Donald Hall reads and talks about two of his poems, "White Apples," and "The Man in the Dead Machine."
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  • Listen The Mama and the Papa
    Hear Gwendolyn Brooks read "the mother" and Theodore Roethke read "My Papa's Waltz," with insights by ex-US Poet Laureate Donald Hall.
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Poet Categorization

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

LIFE SPAN 1928–

Donald Hall

Biography

Donald Hall is considered one of the major American poets of his generation. His poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature. Although Hall gained early success with his first collection, Exiles and Marriages (1955), his more recent poetry is generally regarded as the best of his career. Often compared favorably with such writers as James Dickey, Robert Bly, and James . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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