April 3, 2017


Donald Hall, The Art of Poetry No. 43 (Interviewed by Peter A. Stitt ISSUE 120, FALL 1991, Paris Review)

In 1975, after the death of his grandmother, Hall gave up his tenured professorship at Michigan and moved with his wife Jane Kenyon to the old family farm in New Hampshire. Since then he has supported himself through freelance writing. Sixteen years later, he continues to feel that he never made a better decision. It was at Eagle Pond Farm that the first two sittings of this interview were conducted in the summers of 1983 and 1988. A third session was held on the stage of the YM-YWHA in New York. [...]

HALL I remember the first time I saw Robert Frost. It was opening night and Theodore Morrison, the director, was giving an introductory talk. I felt excited and exalted. Nobody was anywhere near me in age; the next youngest contributor was probably in her mid-twenties. As I was sitting there, I looked out the big French windows and saw Frost approaching. He was coming up a hill and as he walked toward the windows first his head appeared and then his shoulders as if he were rising out of the ground. Later, I talked with him a couple of times and I heard him read. He ran the poetry workshop in the afternoon on a couple of occasions, though not when my poems were read, thank God; he could be nasty. I sat with him one time on the porch as he talked with two women and me. He delivered his characteristic monologue--witty, sharp, acerb on the subject of his friends. He wasn't hideously unkind, the way he looks in Thomson's biography, but also he was not Mortimer Snerd; he was not the farmer miraculously gifted with rhyme, the way he seemed if you read about him in Time or Life. He was a sophisticated fellow, you might say.

We played softball. This was in 1945, and Frost was born in 1874, so he was seventy-one years old. He played a vigorous game of softball but he was also something of a spoiled brat. His team had to win and it was well known that the pitcher should serve Frost a fat pitch. I remember him hitting a double. He fought hard for his team to win and he was willing to change the rules. He had to win at everything. Including poetry.

INTERVIEWER What was the last occasion on which you saw him?

HALL The last time I saw him was in Vermont, within seven or eight months of his death. He visited Ann Arbor that spring and invited me to call on him in the summer. We talked about writing, about literature--though of course mostly he monologued. He was deaf, but even when he was younger he tended to make long speeches. Anyway, after we had been talking for hours, my daughter Philippa, who was three years old, asked him if he had a TV. He looked down at her and smiled and said, You've seen me on TV?

Also we talked about a man--another poet I knew--who was writing a book about Frost. Frost hadn't read his poetry and he asked me, Is he any good? I told him what I thought. Then, as we were driving away, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw the old man, eighty-eight, running after the car--literally running. I stopped and he came up to the window and asked me please, when I saw my friend again, not to mention that Frost had asked me if his poetry was any good, because he didn't want my friend to know that he had not read his poetry. Frost was a political animal in the literary world. So are many of the best poets I run into and it doesn't seem to hurt their poetry.

Posted by at April 3, 2017 6:11 AM