June 14, 2006


Outspoken New Englander Is New Poet Laureate (DINITIA SMITH, 6/14/06, NY Times)

The head of the Library of Congress is to name Donald Hall, a writer whose deceptively simple language builds on images of the New England landscape, as the nation's 14th poet laureate today. [...]

Mr. Hall, 77, lives in a white clapboard farmhouse in Wilmot, N.H., that has been in his family for generations. [...]

The library deliberately avoids attaching specific duties to the post so that the poet can do his or her own writing. But in recent years holders of the title have used the platform to enlarge the presence of poetry in the culture. Mr. Hall said that he would like to follow in the tradition of Mr. Kooser and other laureates who have tried to expand poetry's reach. "I'd like to encourage NPR to pay more attention to poetry," he said, referring to public radio, "and the cable networks, with the possibility of HBO doing something."

As poet laureate, Mr. Kooser has had a syndicated weekly newspaper column sponsored jointly by the Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress that is offered free to newspapers around the country. The column includes a poem chosen by him, along with a commentary.

"If Ted Kooser doesn't continue with his column, I might pick it up," Mr. Hall said. But, "I would like to include more poetry of the 17th century."

Mr. Hall is an extremely productive writer who has published about 18 books of poetry, 20 books of prose and 12 children's books. He has won many awards, including a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1989 for "The One Day," a collection.

In recent years much of his poetry has been preoccupied with the death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, in 1995. In "Without," he wrote about the period of her illness:

we lived in a small island stone nation
without color under gray clouds and wind
distant the unlimited ocean acute
lymphoblastic leukemia without seagulls
or palm trees without vegetation
or animal life only barnacles and lead
colored moss that darkened when months did.

The critic William Pritchard said that Mr. Hall "doesn't fit neatly into a category" as a poet. The poems about Ms. Kenyon are raw and direct, he said, adding that "Without," for instance, "has none of the formal organizing means poets make use of, yet, line by line, has a rhythmic force to it that saves it from flaccidity and formlessness."

Nonetheless, Mr. Pritchard noted, one of Mr. Hall's best-known poems, "Baseball," is structured like the nine-inning game and written in a highly formal style, carefully comprising nine sections of nine verses each, with each verse having nine lines. Mr. Hall says in the poem:

Well, there are nine players on a baseball team, so to speak, and
there are nine innings, with trivial
exceptions like extra-inning games
and games shortened by rain or darkness,
by riot, hurricane, earthquake...

Robert Pinsky, who was poet laureate from 1997 to 2000, said he welcomed Mr. Hall's appointment, especially in light of his previous outspokenness about politics and the arts. "There is something nicely symbolic, and maybe surprising," Mr. Pinsky said, "that they have selected someone who has taken a stand for freedom."

His poetry's nothing to write home about, but he's written two baseball classics:

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 14, 2006 9:30 AM

In "Fathers Playing Catch with Sons" he has an essay on sportswriting. I won't get this quote exactly right (I read the book about 20 years ago), but he said something like "Roger Angel writes as though he practices writing, Peter Gammons as though he doesn't, and Tom Boswell as though he doesn't need to."

Still true...

Posted by: Foos at June 14, 2006 10:26 AM

From that same NYT article:

Mr. Hall, a poet in the distinctive American tradition of Robert Frost, has also been a harsh critic of the religious right's influence on government arts policy. And as a member of the advisory council of the National Endowment for the Arts during the administration of George H. W. Bush, he referred to those he thought were interfering with arts grants as "bullies and art bashers."

Posted by: pchuck at June 14, 2006 4:54 PM