cover image The Selected Poems of Donald Hall

The Selected Poems of Donald Hall

Donald Hall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-0-544-55560-0

Hall, onetime U.S. Poet Laureate, has been publishing careful, plainspoken poems since the 1950s, but his real powers showed up later. In the 1970s he settled with poet Jane Kenyon in a New Hampshire farmhouse to chronicle rural New England and its history, its “little mountain valleys and brooks.” After Kenyon’s death in 1995, Hall’s lines shot forth with the bleak energy of grief, sometimes scarily sad, sometimes deceptively pedestrian (“Ordinary days were best,/ when we worked over poems/ in our separate rooms”). The laments, the complaints, the bittersweet recollections of tough times, and the sweeter depictions of roses and maple syrup, quiet mountains, and “Connecticut suburbs/ where I grew up” all return here in this fine introduction to a poet who has tried hard to be America’s Horace: a learned exponent of humble, retired life. Hall’s best work combines these goals with a very dry humor, an almost too-mild regret; much of it stretches out over pages at an unrhymed, close-cut, dignified length. Hall has announced that he no longer writes poetry (though he still writes essays), so this more severe cull (compared to 2006’s White Apples and the Taste of Stone) parades the poems he most wants to preserve: the culling itself may attract attention, but so will Hall’s own understated gifts. (Dec.)