Book Review: The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall

The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall, by Donald Hall, Poet Laureate Of The United States, 2006 to 2007

This collection of poems is properly a “best of compilation” of poems from a celebrated contemporary poet and the husband of the late poet Jane Kenyon, to whom some of these poems are dedicated.  As someone who is no stranger to reading collections of poetry [1], I found this book to be an excellent one.  There is considerable interest in the fact that this poetry captures a long span of the career of the poet, where the poems begin with a clear rhyme and meter and move on to more experimental forms with free verse and then end in a more conventional format, showing a great deal of change over time, even if that change ended up being more cyclical in nature.  For those who want an introduction to the work of this noted poet, although he not one I have ever come across before, this book is certainly a good way to do that, and may even encourage the reader to check out some of the poet’s previous collections of poetry that gave him the stature to be a poet laureate of the United States.  He may be no William Stafford, but few people are.

In terms of the body of work here, this collection of poems is a bit less than 150 pages long in total.  The poet even helpfully explains his approach at the end of the book in his Postscriptum, the way he writes about his obsessions (like death, sex, nature, and the quirkiness of human interactions) and that like many poets he likes to write in the early morning hours.  The poems themselves are a wide gambit.  Some of them are highly quotable and a few of them are deeply reflective, running the gamut from a meta reflection on poetry as well as snow to poems showing the glory of lovemaking or the way that affairs are immensely destructive to one’s well-being as well as the quality of one’s relationships.  Some of the poems even reflect a view of a vengeful and just God executing his wrath on a disobedient world, which is quite a striking contrast.  Many of these poems, though, dwell on death and decay and the ravages of time and memory, which suits this melancholy and autumnal/wintry poet well.  You will not appreciate this book very well if you want sunny and cheery poems, but if you want darker and more reflective poems, this will definitely do the job.

A great deal of the appeal of this book is likely to be from readers of poetry who are fond of Jane Kenyon and want to see how her other half lives.  The poet reflects on how after her untimely and early death to leukemia at 47 that he wrote nothing about her death for a period of about five years and that she and him were the first readers of each other’s poetry in a deeply collaborative process.  Not being particularly familiar with the works of Jane Kenyon, I found them of interest in the way that they showed the author as a human being of deep feeling, but those readers who are interested in the relationship between writers will find much of interest here in that regard.  To be sure, the relationship between these two poets is not nearly as dramatic as that between the late Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who later became poet laureate of Great Britain for his troubles, but the book is certainly one that can be celebrated for the context it has in the relationship between poets and those around them, for this is a poet who certainly draws from his own life in crafting his poems to an admirable degree.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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5 Responses to Book Review: The Selected Poems Of Donald Hall

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