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Donald Hall’s remarkable life in poetry — a career capped by his appointment as U.S. poet laureate in 2006 — comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir. Hall’s invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was “secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious,” and ends with Donald Hall’s remarkable life in poetry — a career capped by his appointment as U.S. poet laureate in 2006 — comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir. Hall’s invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was “secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious,” and ends with what he calls “the planet of antiquity,” a time of life dramatically punctuated by his appointment as poet laureate of the United States. Hall writes eloquently of the poetry and books that moved and formed him as a child and young man, and of adolescent efforts at poetry writing — an endeavor he wryly describes as more hormonal than artistic. His painful formative days at Exeter, where he was sent like a naive lamb to a high WASP academic slaughter, are followed by a poetic self-liberation of sorts at Harvard. Here he rubs elbows with Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and Edward Gorey, and begins lifelong friendships with Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, and George Plimpton. After Harvard, Hall is off to Oxford, where the high spirits and rampant poetry careerism of the postwar university scene are brilliantly captured. At eighty, Hall is as painstakingly honest about his failures and low points as a poet, writer, lover, and father as he is about his successes, making Unpacking the Boxes — his first book since being named poet laureate — both revelatory and tremendously poignant.


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Donald Hall’s remarkable life in poetry — a career capped by his appointment as U.S. poet laureate in 2006 — comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir. Hall’s invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was “secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious,” and ends with Donald Hall’s remarkable life in poetry — a career capped by his appointment as U.S. poet laureate in 2006 — comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir. Hall’s invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was “secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious,” and ends with what he calls “the planet of antiquity,” a time of life dramatically punctuated by his appointment as poet laureate of the United States. Hall writes eloquently of the poetry and books that moved and formed him as a child and young man, and of adolescent efforts at poetry writing — an endeavor he wryly describes as more hormonal than artistic. His painful formative days at Exeter, where he was sent like a naive lamb to a high WASP academic slaughter, are followed by a poetic self-liberation of sorts at Harvard. Here he rubs elbows with Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, and Edward Gorey, and begins lifelong friendships with Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, and George Plimpton. After Harvard, Hall is off to Oxford, where the high spirits and rampant poetry careerism of the postwar university scene are brilliantly captured. At eighty, Hall is as painstakingly honest about his failures and low points as a poet, writer, lover, and father as he is about his successes, making Unpacking the Boxes — his first book since being named poet laureate — both revelatory and tremendously poignant.

30 review for Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    The more I read Donald Hall, the less I like him. A name dropping, narcissistic, self promoting man, who never gives anyone but himself any credit. Aptly chosen as a bedtime book, because it certainly put me to sleep. 110 pages in, I've had enough.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sam Schulman

    A good beginning - an interesting if somewhat incurious (about his parents, grandparents, etc.) account of his childhood in familiar Hamden and Whitneyville, CT, prosperous in the Depression - and a better account of wartime years at Andover and postwar years at Harvard, and then a completely gripping narrative of social/literary success at Oxford in the Korean war years - one begins to notice some things that are wrong. First of all, Hall seems unable to appreciate his immense good fortune in s A good beginning - an interesting if somewhat incurious (about his parents, grandparents, etc.) account of his childhood in familiar Hamden and Whitneyville, CT, prosperous in the Depression - and a better account of wartime years at Andover and postwar years at Harvard, and then a completely gripping narrative of social/literary success at Oxford in the Korean war years - one begins to notice some things that are wrong. First of all, Hall seems unable to appreciate his immense good fortune in so many ways - although he pays tribute to a "thousand lucky breaks." His parents adored him - and although they were unhappy themselves, they cossetted him and at one point save his life (by securing an exemption for him from the New Haven draft board). He describes his literary succcess, but again, one begins to notice that he is unable to say anything about what entitled him to deserve it (which I assume he did). A poet, he says nothing about what his poems say or try to say, or what drives or drove them. He speaks of formal influence, but never of what he used his formal experience to express. And yet there are moments - he speaks well of the phenemonology of teaching, - although notably he only taught for half of his pre-retirement life. He crosses paths with dozens of men and a few women that you'd love to know more of - but he fails to convey the individuality of very many with any vividness. He confesses that it is hard to convey the wittiness of men who were witty, such as Frank O'Hara - which he tries to do, admittedly feebly. Is this really true? I don't think so. And then, sadly, the book descends into a paean to his late wife "Jane Kenyon," who deserves her quotation marks not only because he always refers to her by both names, but because for all his grief, so lovingly and meticulously described, she is never alive for us for an instant. She remains as blank for us as his poems. The second half of the book is devoted to his tsuris - Jane Kenyon dies - and he becomes a bore on the subject of Jane Kenyon's death - and he becomes depressed, and ill, and old, yet sexy - and one feels sorry not for him, but for the many women he has bedded by telling them about Jane Kenyon's death, his grief, his depression, his illness and his antiquity. I did not know there were so many lonely women in the world willing to endure this seduction. Surely Hall must be a better poet and a more charming man than the man he represents here - and a more self-knowing one. But one cannot make his acquaintance by reading this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rick

    Hall’s prose is always a good companion, whether he is recounting seasons on Eagle Pond, musing on work and life, or holding a reflective glass to his suffering through illness and tragedy, or merely recalling his childhood as the first part of his professional journey to his twilight years of diminished powers but heightened perceptiveness and understanding. Unpacking the Boxes is a philosophical look back, a frank one, remarkably free of self-pity or self-congratulation. He has lived his chose Hall’s prose is always a good companion, whether he is recounting seasons on Eagle Pond, musing on work and life, or holding a reflective glass to his suffering through illness and tragedy, or merely recalling his childhood as the first part of his professional journey to his twilight years of diminished powers but heightened perceptiveness and understanding. Unpacking the Boxes is a philosophical look back, a frank one, remarkably free of self-pity or self-congratulation. He has lived his chosen life, can without apology find the charm and the presumption in his callow years of yearning for love and poetic accomplishment, and the dignity and embarrassment that comes with the imbalances of old age—loss, absences, old friends, falls both physical and emotional, hospital visits, anniversaries, honors, journeys, lust, and work. He doesn’t blink, not even back tears. He writes clear, unadorned prose, poignant, powerful, and direct.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Milton Brasher-Cunningham

    In less than two hundred pages, Donald Hall, poet and Red Sox fan, tells the story of his life. Early on, he writes, "The first word I was taught to read, after weeks of memorizing the alaphabet, was 'that.' Did my life begin with 'that'? One's life begins on so many occasions, constructing itself out of accident derived from coincidence compounded by character." (16) The book is not an exhaustive account of his life, nor a sentimental one, but it is full of rich imagery and detail. Hall's life is In less than two hundred pages, Donald Hall, poet and Red Sox fan, tells the story of his life. Early on, he writes, "The first word I was taught to read, after weeks of memorizing the alaphabet, was 'that.' Did my life begin with 'that'? One's life begins on so many occasions, constructing itself out of accident derived from coincidence compounded by character." (16) The book is not an exhaustive account of his life, nor a sentimental one, but it is full of rich imagery and detail. Hall's life is interesting to read about because he has found it interesting to live and he has paid attention all along the way.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    This book is so beautifully written and skillfully crafted, I read passages over and over again and took copious notes. Donald Hall's poetry has been a gift to me since I began to read his poetry in the early 1970's; he changed how I thought of poetry. To read how he came to be the writer he is...his love of reading and writing, his introduction to authors, his childhood, school and teaching experiences put an intimate face on his poetry for me. “One’s life begins on so many occasions, construct This book is so beautifully written and skillfully crafted, I read passages over and over again and took copious notes. Donald Hall's poetry has been a gift to me since I began to read his poetry in the early 1970's; he changed how I thought of poetry. To read how he came to be the writer he is...his love of reading and writing, his introduction to authors, his childhood, school and teaching experiences put an intimate face on his poetry for me. “One’s life begins on so many occasions, constructing itself out of accident derived from coincidence compounded by character.” He writes of his Connecticut childhood in which dark times overshadowed his comfortable means, his privileged education at Exeter, the “feeble intelligence” at Harvard, his loneliness at Oxford where “rudeness was a mating call. If you responded to rudeness with rudeness, you might begin a friendship,” his views on the England of his youth, “the collapsing empire of power and art,” and teaching at Michigan. His peers and colleagues read like a table of contents in an anthology: Frank O’Hara, Robert Bly, Kenneth Koch, Robert Lowell,and T.S.Eliot just to name a few. His love of his children, his wife, Jane Kenyon, and wonderful friends and the stories about them were personal revelations that resonated with me. His reflections about how poetry changed over his long life were thought-provoking as are most of his insights on reading and language. Reading his poetry aloud to audiences made him more mindful of the sound in writing, but he warned, “Performance can paper over bad writing, or substitute for the best language.”…”We never hear a line break and seldom a new metaphor.” Acknowledging he moved poetry to a larger audience, he thought he did so at a cost. “To write as much as I have done, I have needed often to fail.” “Young poets sometimes fear, as they begin a life in art, that personal history may become mere material, as if one lived one’s life in order to write about it.” “Eventually, the writing is not only for the writer’s sake. A poem is nothing if it is not beautiful, a work of art that pleases the senses…Poems may comfort the afflicted – by their beauty of sound, by humor, by intelligence or wisdom, by the pleasures of resolution, by exact rendering of emotion, and by the embrace of common feeling.” "Reading literature had destroyed my reading of junk," he wrote of his own experiences. Reading this memoir did this for me as well. The death of his poet wife, Jane Kenyon, from leukemia at the age of 47 in 1995, was devastating, his grief captured in perhaps some of his best poetry…”I believe in the miracle of art but what prodigy will keep you safe beside me.” And in the final pages, he writes, ”I left grief’s house and middle age for the thin air of antiquity’s planet…For many years impulse became mobility without the intervention of thought but now one lives the thoughtful life on antiquity’s planet.” May I be so graceful in my thinking when I am 80 years old.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Quanda

    First I have to say that I really enjoyed this man's since of humor, he was quite funny. Bluntly funny. LOL!!! But I loved this book becuase it offered, innocence, newness, sweetness, and a subtle and shocking sadness. It's about his beginning of life, his traveling journey to becoming who he is today. But I must say that involves you, as if you were there and his personal side kick in his story. However I must say that his life encounters were amazing and eye opening and it's also fun. He's met First I have to say that I really enjoyed this man's since of humor, he was quite funny. Bluntly funny. LOL!!! But I loved this book becuase it offered, innocence, newness, sweetness, and a subtle and shocking sadness. It's about his beginning of life, his traveling journey to becoming who he is today. But I must say that involves you, as if you were there and his personal side kick in his story. However I must say that his life encounters were amazing and eye opening and it's also fun. He's met and lounged with a lot of the great poets you know of today. If you haven't read this book you should if you're in love with poetry and the poetry life of his days. Quanda R. Graves (Until...)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Clifford

    Over the years I have read an occasional Donald Hall poem, but I can’t say I’m familiar with his work. But he appeared on a recent cover of Poets & Writers, so I thought it was time I corrected that. While looking for his work in the poetry section of a used bookstore, I came across this book, one of his memoirs. That seemed like a good place to start, so I bought it. See my full review here: Review of Unpacking the Boxes by Donald Hall Over the years I have read an occasional Donald Hall poem, but I can’t say I’m familiar with his work. But he appeared on a recent cover of Poets & Writers, so I thought it was time I corrected that. While looking for his work in the poetry section of a used bookstore, I came across this book, one of his memoirs. That seemed like a good place to start, so I bought it. See my full review here: Review of Unpacking the Boxes by Donald Hall

  8. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I’ve been reading and re-reading a lot of Donald Hall lately after his death this past summer. I usually prefer his prose to his poetry. The first third of this book, about his childhood, was good—engrossing and honest, full of interesting detail about a certain kind of family life in the middle of the 20th century. The middle third about his years at college and Oxford, were simply boring. Lots of name-dropping and little of substance or interior life. He describes the young Donald Hall as ambi I’ve been reading and re-reading a lot of Donald Hall lately after his death this past summer. I usually prefer his prose to his poetry. The first third of this book, about his childhood, was good—engrossing and honest, full of interesting detail about a certain kind of family life in the middle of the 20th century. The middle third about his years at college and Oxford, were simply boring. Lots of name-dropping and little of substance or interior life. He describes the young Donald Hall as ambitious, egotistical, and self-absorbed, and that certainly comes across in the second part of this memoir. The book becomes engaging again in the last part where he takes the reader into his grief during Jane Kenyon’s illness and death and his slow slog out of the worst of his grief. It was worth sticking with the book to get to this part.

  9. 5 out of 5

    AJ Nolan

    This is a meandering look into the life and mind of Donald Hall. While I love Jane Kenyon more than him, Hall's poetry is likewise powerful and so impeccably crafted. The singleminded dedication he gave to poetry is a lesson in commitment and vocation. In some places I definitely got the feeling that this memoir was written more to pay the bills than because it needed to be written, but despite that it is still generally lovely and a good insight into his life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Art Morse

    Love this book. Extremely personal and eye opening for me. Only thought of him as a poet. Amazing gentleman, but totally human. Guess the one thing to learn from this book is to live according to his quote, “to live in the moment — as you have been told to all your life.” I’ve already order two of his books.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Trisha

    ¬Donald Hall, U.S. Poet laureate in 2006 and husband of poet Jane Kenyon is a favorite poet of mine, which is why I picked up this book – a memoir of sorts about his lifelong passion for poetry (which began, amazingly enough when he was a child and decided he wanted to be a poet when he grew up.) Unfortunately this book left me feeling oddly disappointed – as if I’d been indulging an elderly man by listening to him recount past sorrows and glories. At times I felt a bit embarrassed for him becau ¬Donald Hall, U.S. Poet laureate in 2006 and husband of poet Jane Kenyon is a favorite poet of mine, which is why I picked up this book – a memoir of sorts about his lifelong passion for poetry (which began, amazingly enough when he was a child and decided he wanted to be a poet when he grew up.) Unfortunately this book left me feeling oddly disappointed – as if I’d been indulging an elderly man by listening to him recount past sorrows and glories. At times I felt a bit embarrassed for him because knowing his reputation as a writer of eloquent prose and beautifully crafted poetry I expected a lot more from this book. Instead it felt like he was trying to impress the reader by mentioning all the remarkable and luminary writers he had known throughout his life, as well as his success in achieving what he dreamed of doing as a boy – which was not simply to write poetry but to be a great poet. Hall writes from the perspective of a man who is in his eighties. In places he does a great job of vividly and poignantly describing what it is like to live on what he calls the planet of antiquity. Unfortunately, by the time the book ambles along to its end it feels like Hall has lost his focus and has begun to ramble on and on about himself in much the same way many elderly people do when their worlds begin to shrink and the only thing they can find to talk about has to do either with their many infirmities and health problems or their past accomplishments from earlier stages of life. As much as I admire Donald Hall I will continue to love his poetry, but this is not a book I can recommend.

  12. 4 out of 5

    mstan

    So, this is the second memoir of Donald Hall's I've read, and I still haven't read his poetry. It's not like I actively sought this book out though - it was laid out on the $4.99 table at the Harvard Bookstore when I visited Cambridge last week, and I remember String Too Short to Be Saved with much fondness... and this was only $4.99... In many ways, this memoir was too personal for me - perhaps an odd thing to say, but what I mean is that Hall assumes a basic knowledge of important literary figu So, this is the second memoir of Donald Hall's I've read, and I still haven't read his poetry. It's not like I actively sought this book out though - it was laid out on the $4.99 table at the Harvard Bookstore when I visited Cambridge last week, and I remember String Too Short to Be Saved with much fondness... and this was only $4.99... In many ways, this memoir was too personal for me - perhaps an odd thing to say, but what I mean is that Hall assumes a basic knowledge of important literary figures in America in his reader, and drops names all over the book so casually I found myself a little lost at some parts. The other thing that confused me is the somewhat disconnected nature of his thoughts within each chapter. There are quite a few digressions even within this short memoir (especially near the beginning), which made me feel a little as though I were reading a long poem (whose meaning I have to work harder to grasp from what seems to be a series of disparate images) rather than a piece of prose. The life Hall leads as a poet is a fascinating one, though I wonder how poets who are rather more self-made (not participating in literary societies at Harvard/Oxford or belonging to an academic community at Ann Arbor, but more Wallace Stevens-like, perhaps) grow without a community of like-minded people sustaining their creativity.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    The very first sentence of this book explains for me precisely why Donald Hall, despite life's typical sorrows and disappointments, has had, to quote Reynolds Price, "a long and happy life". Much like figure skater Johnny Weir, who today gave an elegant statement on the grace of having loving parents, Hall's mother and father, from the very outset, believed in him and wished for him the opportunity to do in life exactly what he wanted....and her knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a The very first sentence of this book explains for me precisely why Donald Hall, despite life's typical sorrows and disappointments, has had, to quote Reynolds Price, "a long and happy life". Much like figure skater Johnny Weir, who today gave an elegant statement on the grace of having loving parents, Hall's mother and father, from the very outset, believed in him and wished for him the opportunity to do in life exactly what he wanted....and her knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a poet. This memoir, gratefully, is Hall through and through: contemplative, deeply rooted in family life and quotidian realities, seeing metaphor and poetry in the mundane, extolling the virtues of hard, honest work. What's somewhat different here is that he lets us know more about his fame and his importance in the world of modern poetry. Modestly, but openly, we are allowed a glimpse of Hall as luminary, a welcome view to those who admire him as I do. "Unpacking the Boxes" is a simple but delicious metaphor, used perfectly, to reflect upon his life and those of his parents and grandparents. As Hall actually unpacks the emphemera of his parents home, memories cascade outward, and one cannot help be deeply moved.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kiri Stewart

    As with any life, some parts of Donald Hall's life in poetry are not quite as interesting or engaging as others, but I have loved this man and his poetry and envied his writing life for more than a decade now. To learn more about his early life and history with all of his powerful and poetic word choices and rhythms in prose was rewarding and satisfying to say the least. I once wrote a very short essay/journal about reading "Letter at Christmas" and weeping openly in a bookstore, and my professo As with any life, some parts of Donald Hall's life in poetry are not quite as interesting or engaging as others, but I have loved this man and his poetry and envied his writing life for more than a decade now. To learn more about his early life and history with all of his powerful and poetic word choices and rhythms in prose was rewarding and satisfying to say the least. I once wrote a very short essay/journal about reading "Letter at Christmas" and weeping openly in a bookstore, and my professor at the time, who had biographied Jane Kenyon, passed it on to Donald Hall, for which I received a brief, 2 sentence reply from Hall that has been a high point of my life since. Knowing that Unpacking the Boxes is Hall's look back on a long and certainly waning life, I think the best compliment I can give for this book and for Donald Hall is that, despite having never known him, I will truly grieve him when he is gone.

  15. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is a wonderful memoir by a man who sees everhing and everybody in his life in the best light. A poet and writer and teacher, beginning in 2006 he served a term as the Poet Laureate of the United States. By far the most interesting sections of Unpacking the Boxes are those in which he writes about his education at Exeter, Harvard, and Oxford. Those chapters earn the highest marks. He spends little time on his marriage and family. Hall's 2d wife was the poet Jane Kenyon. He apparently covered This is a wonderful memoir by a man who sees everhing and everybody in his life in the best light. A poet and writer and teacher, beginning in 2006 he served a term as the Poet Laureate of the United States. By far the most interesting sections of Unpacking the Boxes are those in which he writes about his education at Exeter, Harvard, and Oxford. Those chapters earn the highest marks. He spends little time on his marriage and family. Hall's 2d wife was the poet Jane Kenyon. He apparently covered his life with her at their home, Eagle Pond, New Hampshire, in an earlier work. I would have been happy to read it here. And happy if he'd spent less time in the final chapter on th3e frailties and absurdities of his old age.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Fresonke Harper

    What I found most enjoyable in this memoir by Donald Hall is his focus on his life as a poet and what that meant to him. I found it fascinating how he approached the study and explanation of poetry, along with how he viewed poetry readings. For poets, I think that part is especially helpful. Mixed in with this memoir, is how his wife's death and to some extent how his earlier divorce affected him emotionally. I could feel his loss and pain and some of the love he shared with his wife. His connec What I found most enjoyable in this memoir by Donald Hall is his focus on his life as a poet and what that meant to him. I found it fascinating how he approached the study and explanation of poetry, along with how he viewed poetry readings. For poets, I think that part is especially helpful. Mixed in with this memoir, is how his wife's death and to some extent how his earlier divorce affected him emotionally. I could feel his loss and pain and some of the love he shared with his wife. His connection to his grandparent's home connects the tale, providing shelter and grounding for his life and this piece. I think reader's also gain a sense of the widespread differences that occur across the United States and also the interconnectedness with culture abroad.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Delia Turner

    Rambling and with odd repetitions and lacunae, this book encapsulates the image of a white male poet of a certain era until the very end, when it becomes a vivid and slightly unhinged image of first, a man grieving horribly for his beloved wife and second, the indignities of becoming an old man. The last chapter, "The Planet of Antiquity," is worth the whole book, especially his account of being pulled over and arrested (and handcuffed) for, basically, driving while old.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Traci

    I was disappointed by this book. It seems to me that Hall is still more proud of his glory days at Harvard and Oxford than he is of anything else he's ever done. The most interesting portion of this book was the last chapter, in which he describes what it's really like to grow old. The language is beautiful, but the story is just not that compelling.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rose-Marie

    I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago , I loved it for it's honesty. Having lived on a farm in Danbury , New Hampshire from where he wrote this book brought extra meaning for me. I am not looking forward though to getting old.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Belle

    The elegant and touching love story of Poet Donald Hall and his wife, Jane Kenyon, in her last days. I'm preparing to read Essays after Eighty by Donald Hall. I wanted a little bit of his back story.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    When it came time to choose a book of nonfiction, the choice seemed obvious: as Donald Hall—one of my favorite poets—had died just weeks before, it was time to take this off of the shelves, where it lives with his memoir of his marriage to Jane Kenyon, The Best Day, the Worst Day and books of their poetry. Surprised by the succinctness of this book—its subtitled is “A Memoir of a Life in Poetry”, so that explains its brevity; it focuses on that aspect of Hall’s life—I was equally surprised (and d When it came time to choose a book of nonfiction, the choice seemed obvious: as Donald Hall—one of my favorite poets—had died just weeks before, it was time to take this off of the shelves, where it lives with his memoir of his marriage to Jane Kenyon, The Best Day, the Worst Day and books of their poetry. Surprised by the succinctness of this book—its subtitled is “A Memoir of a Life in Poetry”, so that explains its brevity; it focuses on that aspect of Hall’s life—I was equally surprised (and disappointed; life happens) by how long it took me to read it. But the timing was perfect; I needed a slim volume to slip into my purse for odd moments, and this book filled that requirement. As beautifully written as any fan of Hall’s would expect, Unpacking the Boxes is remarkable; his life is one that I, for one, envy in many respects. I particularly enjoyed reading about his time at Oxford (the chapter is “The Party School”, which made me laugh; just one more surprise) on a fellowship, which includes these memorable lines after describing travels through Europe, visiting Bloomsbury and the museums in London, and attending the theater—cheaply: “I visited great bookstores, notably Foyle’s and the secondhand bookstores in its Charing Cross neighborhood. Drunk on low prices—a dollar for a new book of poems—I bought too many books. It was a friendly, shabby London, postwar, post-empire, post-power, an England that endured rationing till. The country was polite, brave, and monochrome, the nineteenth century gone to ruin.” Throughout—and Hall describes his years at Exeter and Harvard and in academia, dealing with old age, and everything in between—I could hear his voice, having been fortunate enough to have heard him once on A Prairie Home Companion not so many years ago, although it may have been a re-broadcast; I don’t recall. What I do remember—vividly—is how his voice kept breaking as he read one of his poems about Kenyon’s death, and how I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through. Heart-rending. When I got to the chapter that deals with her death—and he doesn’t dwell on it here, having covered it in the other book—I got a little weepy; unfortunately, I was in a public place at the time. (Recommendation: Read “Grief’s House” in the privacy of home.) And, of course, the last chapter—“The Planet of Antiquity”—is one through which I smiled while my eyes misted. His description of ageing was not easy to read; the book was published when he was “only” in his late 70s and he died at 89, but it brought me up short because I thought that he was reasonably healthy in his later years (he is of good New England stock, after all). But don’t let that put you off, if the topic interests you at all. Donald Hall is good company, and this memoir is a reminder that not too many people like him are, sadly, left in today’s world.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicola Pierce

    I knew nothing about this man - only read the blurb of the book somewhere and wanted it immediately as I love reading about writers' lives and loves. I read it in two sittings and was fascinated by the amount of graft and single bloody-mindedness that went into the making of a poet. I was particularly looking forward to reading about his marriage and life with poet Jane Kenyon so I was a little disappointed about being directed to an earlier book, 'Best Day, The Worst Day' but - hey ho! - I will I knew nothing about this man - only read the blurb of the book somewhere and wanted it immediately as I love reading about writers' lives and loves. I read it in two sittings and was fascinated by the amount of graft and single bloody-mindedness that went into the making of a poet. I was particularly looking forward to reading about his marriage and life with poet Jane Kenyon so I was a little disappointed about being directed to an earlier book, 'Best Day, The Worst Day' but - hey ho! - I will get it. It was also a striking insight into old age and the mean deterioration of the body but even so, the poet must confess to contentment with his house, his family, friends and lover. Lordy, but how I yearned to see lots of photos of this New Hampshire house. As it was, the cover of this book had me salivating with want.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    The death of Donald Hall - even though he was 90 - hit me hard. He was a "neighbor" in New Hampshire, the next state over from us. I had read much of his poetry. I reveled in his love for his wife, the poet Kathleen Kenyon, and I thought his first memoir "String Too Short To Save" not only had one of the best titles I had ever heard, but was also one of the better memoirs I have read. This book reveals his last years since the death of his wife (in almost-too-panful detail) and is a fond farewel The death of Donald Hall - even though he was 90 - hit me hard. He was a "neighbor" in New Hampshire, the next state over from us. I had read much of his poetry. I reveled in his love for his wife, the poet Kathleen Kenyon, and I thought his first memoir "String Too Short To Save" not only had one of the best titles I had ever heard, but was also one of the better memoirs I have read. This book reveals his last years since the death of his wife (in almost-too-panful detail) and is a fond farewell to this giant of a poet.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Pal

    I'm disappointed. I guess I wanted more from the former poet laureate, more meat about his working his craft, rather than just pages and pages filled with the names of literary acquaintances; names of streets on which he lived; Harvard and Oxford society groups; and the receiving of grants, fellowships and awards. Beyond telling me - repeatedly - that he works on poetry from 6AM until 8AM each morning, then takes a midday nap, Hall told me little about the details of his workings. Again...disappo I'm disappointed. I guess I wanted more from the former poet laureate, more meat about his working his craft, rather than just pages and pages filled with the names of literary acquaintances; names of streets on which he lived; Harvard and Oxford society groups; and the receiving of grants, fellowships and awards. Beyond telling me - repeatedly - that he works on poetry from 6AM until 8AM each morning, then takes a midday nap, Hall told me little about the details of his workings. Again...disappointed, as I am particularly fond of Hall's poetry.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    When I began reading this short autobiography, I thought I'd really enjoy it. I'd attended a couple of readings of the late poet and was interested in reading about his life. I liked his description of his childhood in Connecticut, but once he arrived at Harvard, his tone changed. I soon tired of his bragging about the many awards he received and his membership in elitist clubs. We don't learn much about his two wives. He moans the loss of his second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, yet he doesn't show m When I began reading this short autobiography, I thought I'd really enjoy it. I'd attended a couple of readings of the late poet and was interested in reading about his life. I liked his description of his childhood in Connecticut, but once he arrived at Harvard, his tone changed. I soon tired of his bragging about the many awards he received and his membership in elitist clubs. We don't learn much about his two wives. He moans the loss of his second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, yet he doesn't show much of their interactions over the years.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    Overall, I enjoyed Mr. Hall’s tales of Exeter, Harvard, and Oxford but you can imagine the privilege that allowed his ascent and colored his writing. At one point he asks the poet Adrienne Rich if he had been chauvinistic in the 1950s. She demurs and told him he taught her how to bathe a baby. I am betting there is more to that story and there were many moments like that throughout his polished recollections. Still, I am looking forward to more of his essays.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    You know how sometimes someone's writing is so good you say "I'd be happy to read their grocery list"? Near the end of the book some of the essays felt that way. But Mr. Hall's writing is excellent and clear. He makes me more interested in poetry. His life was so very different from mine and reading about his years in college (actually childhood through his divorce) are a delight to read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Patti

    I have no idea how I stumbled across this memoir, but I'm glad I did. Hall's life, spanning the depression, several wars, and finally ending in 2018, is one wild adventure. It was a bitter-sweet read, given his extensive travels and educational opportunities. He made his way in the world writing and teaching poetry. Imagine!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Crotty

    I love his writing and the story was lovely and so real and raw at times. Some of the poetry studies were a bit difficult for me but I'm a newbie in the learning stages of poetry. Donald Hall is a wonderful poet and a passionate writer.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jackie

    As I discovered many years ago in Yankee Magazine, I like the way Donald Hall writes. I enjoy that his words flow & that he makes me think. As I discovered many years ago in Yankee Magazine, I like the way Donald Hall writes. I enjoy that his words flow & that he makes me think.

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