“The hard-won achievement of a lifetime.” — Wall Street Journal
“When I was twelve I wrote my first poem, and by fourteen I decided that’s what I’d do my whole life. I don’t regret it.” — from the afterword by Donald Hall
Donald Hall was an American master, one of the nation’s most beloved and accomplished poets. Here, in his eighties, having taken stock of the body of his work—rigorous, gorgeous verse that is the result of seventy years of “ambition and pleasure”—he strips it down.
The Selected Poems of Donald Hall reflects the poet’s handpicked, concise selection, showcasing work rich with humor and Eros and “a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines” (Billy Collins).
From the enduring “My Son My Executioner” to “Names of Horses” to “Without,” Donald Hall’s best poems deliver “a banquet in the mouth” (Charles Simic) and an “aching elegance” (Baltimore Sun). For the first-time reader or an old friend, these are, above all others, the poems to read, reread, and remember.
Hall, onetime U.S. Poet Laureate, has been publishing careful, plainspoken poems since the 1950s, but his real powers showed up later. In the 1970s he settled with poet Jane Kenyon in a New Hampshire farmhouse to chronicle rural New England and its history, its "little mountain valleys and brooks." After Kenyon's death in 1995, Hall's lines shot forth with the bleak energy of grief, sometimes scarily sad, sometimes deceptively pedestrian ("Ordinary days were best,/ when we worked over poems/ in our separate rooms"). The laments, the complaints, the bittersweet recollections of tough times, and the sweeter depictions of roses and maple syrup, quiet mountains, and "Connecticut suburbs/ where I grew up" all return here in this fine introduction to a poet who has tried hard to be America's Horace: a learned exponent of humble, retired life. Hall's best work combines these goals with a very dry humor, an almost too-mild regret; much of it stretches out over pages at an unrhymed, close-cut, dignified length. Hall has announced that he no longer writes poetry (though he still writes essays), so this more severe cull (compared to 2006's White Apples and the Taste of Stone) parades the poems he most wants to preserve: the culling itself may attract attention, but so will Hall's own understated gifts.