Tag: donald hall

Donald Hall, “The Child”

poetry

He lives among a dog,
a tricycle, and a friend.
Nobody owns him.

He walks by himself, beside
the black pool, in the cave
where icicles of rock

rain hard water,
and the walls are rough
with the light of stone.

He hears low talking
without words.
The hand of a wind touches him.

He walks until he is tired
or somebody calls him.
He leaves right away.

When he plays with his friend
he stops suddenly
to hear the black water.

~ ~ ~

From Old and New Poems. I really love how the simple language in this poem describes the fierce, innocent, ignorant independence of childhood. “Nobody owns him.” Simple. One might say obvious, maybe, but if it is so obvious why am I struck with such an intense moment of clarity when reading that line? Why does it resonate so deeply?

First and Last: Donald Hall

poetrywriting

I thought it would be a fun experiment to post the first and last poems in a particular poet’s “collected works” edition. I guess in my mind posting the first poem – and by first I mean oldest, and by oldest I mean when the poet was at his youngest – and last poem will show some shift in maturity and sensibility, maybe a shift from optimism to crankiness, maybe the opposite, maybe a shift in formality and prosody, or lack thereof – or maybe it’ll show nothing at all, and that will be fine too. Anyway, the first poet I chose is Donald Hall, because 1) I think Donald Hall is great, and 2) it was the book sitting closest to me. Also the title of the book nicely sums up the project here: Old and New Poems. The funny thing is this book hardly finds Donald at the end of his career – this is a midway-point greatest hits collection if anything. Since this book you could argue Hall has only become more popular – only a couple years ago he was made the poet laureate of the nation.

I find the first poem especially serendipitous as we just got finished with an epic baseball game at the park, and I can see a day like this being remembered from old man “to old man” in the future. It’s also funny that the “youngest” poem in the book is about an old man. The second poem is not actually the last poem – I know first post and I’m already breaking the rules – but the last poem is much to long to transcribe here (yep, almost every poem you find here has been typed by hand by me – hardly any of them exist online). The last poem is the morbidly titled “Praise for Death” and is a glorious thing, so do track the book down if you can. I should note that as these last poems were written in 1989 Hall had been diagnosed with colon cancer and so was looking death squarely in the face, which, cruel as it is to say, usually makes for great poetry. So this is the penultimate poem, and still a bit longish itself. You could probably argue that Hall’s most obvious change is from short form to long form poetry. Let’s see what else we find:

Old Home Week

Old man remembers to old man
How bat struck ball upon this plain,
Seventy years ago, before
The batter’s box washed out in rain.

This Poem

1
This poem is why
I lie down at night
to sleep; it is why
I defecate, read,
and eat sandwiches;
it is why I get
up in the morning;
it is why I breathe.

2
You think (and I know
because you told me)
that poems exist
to say things, as you
telephone and I
write letters – as if
this poem practiced
communication.

3
One time this poem
compared itself to
new machinery,
and another time
to a Holstein’s cud.
Eight times five times eight
counts three hundred and
twenty syllables.

4
When you require it,
this poem consoles –
the way a mountain
comforts by staying
as it was despite
earthquakes, Presidents,
divorces, and frosts.
Granite continues.

5
This poem informs
the hurt ear wary
of noises, and sings
to the weeping eye.
When the agony
abates itself, one
may appreciate
arbitrary art.

6
This poem is here.
Could it be someplace
else? Every question
is the wrong question.
The only answer
saunters down the page
in its broken lines
strutting and primping.

7
It styles itself not
for the small mirror
of its own regard –
nor even for yours;
to fix appearance;
to model numbers;
to name charity
“the greatest of these.”

8
All night this poem
knocks at the closed door
of sleep: “Let me in.”
Suppose all poems
contain this poem,
dreaming one knowledge
shaped by the measure
of the body’s word.

* * *

One thing I notice the older poet writing about more and more is, obviously, death. Hall at this point was older, yes, but not of an age to truly face death – however the world had presented him with this cancer, and thus he was forced to accept death prematurely, only to go on living and writing up until the present day. I can’t imagine the effect this has on a person, but the poetry, just two poems, tells us that the person goes from crisp, somewhat weightless, formal (iambic tetrameter) “poetry’s poetry” based on a simple theme to a more casual and rustic exploration of global, universal themes. Poem not as poem but as container of life. I’ll leave you with that, make of it what you will. My well’s run dry on this post so I’ll be back another time.

Donald Hall, “The Ninth Inning”

poetry

1. My dog and I drive five miles every
morning to get the newspaper. How
else do I find out, when the Sox trade
Smoky Joe Wood for Elizabeth Bishop?
He needs persistent demonstration
of love and approval. He cocks his
head making earnest pathetic sounds.
Although I praise his nobility
of soul, he is inconsolable

2. when I lift my hand from his ear to
shift: Even so, after the reading,
the stranger nods, simpers, and offers
to share his poems with me. Dean Gratt
confided, at the annual Death
and Retirement Gala: “Professor
McCormick has not changed: A Volvo
is just a Subaru with tenure.”
Catchers grow old catching, which is strange

3. because they squat so much. “The barn is
burning, O, the barn is burning on
the hill; the cattle low and blunder
in their stalls; the horses scream and hurl
their burning manes.” Jennifer remains
melancholic. Do you start to feel,
Kurt, as if you’re getting it? I mean
baseball, as in the generations
of old players hanging on, the young

4. coming up from Triple A the first
of September, sitting on the bench
or pinch-running, ready for winter’s
snow-plowing and cement-mixing, while
older fellows work out in their gyms
or cellars, like George “Shotgun’’ Shuba
who swung a bat against a tethered
ball one thousand times a day, line-drives
underneath his suburban ranchhouse.

5. By 2028, when K. C.
turned one-hundred, eighty-three percent
of American undergraduates
majored in creative writing, more
folks had MFA’s than VCR’s,
and poetry had passed acrylic
in the GNP. The NEA
offered fellowships for destroying
manuscripts and agreeing: “Never

6. to publish anything jagged on
the right side of the page, or ever
described as ‘prose poems.’” Guerillas
armed with Word Perfect holed in abstract
redoubts. Chief-of-Staff Vendler mustered
security forces (say: Death Squads)
while she issued comforting reports
nightly on lyric television.
Hideous shepherds sing to their flocks

7. under howling houses of the dog.
At the Temple Medical Center
in New Haven I wait. My mother
at eighty-six goes through the Upper
and Lower GI again. My mind
jangles, thinking of my sick son in
New York and his sick one-year-old girl.
This afternoon, if the X-rays go
all right, I drive back to New Hampshire.

8. In New Hampshire, late August, the leaves
turn slowly, like someone working to
order—protesting, outraged—and fall
as they must do. The pond water stays
warm but the campers have departed.
By the railroad goldenrod stiffens;
asters begin a late pennant drive
in front of the barn; pink hollyhocks
wilt and sag like teams out of the race.

9. No Red Sox tonight, but on Friday
a double-header with the Detroit
Tigers, my terrible old team, worse
than the Red Sox who beat the Yankees
last night while my mother and I watched
—the way we listened, fifty years back—
sprightly ghosts playing in heavy snow
on VHS 30 from Hartford,
and the pitcher stared at the batter.

– – –

This tremendous poem is but 1/12th of Hall’s huge series, “Baseball.” Each part is an “inning” (why 12 innings I don’t know), but in each inning there are nine stanzas, and in each stanza nine lines, and in each line nine syllables. Incredible, right? This is the only part I could find online, but it’s worth seeking out in book form.

Anyway, this one’s for the 2009 baseball season which is just around the corner.