cover image A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety

A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety

Donald Hall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-1-328-82634-3

Former U.S. poet laureate (2006–2007), Hall reflects on aging and death in this candid and often humorous memoir. Hall meanders over mundane losses in his life—the demise of mill towns, the root cellar in his New Hampshire home—as well as the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, 20 years ago, and the poets he has known. In a meditative opening, Hall says about aging, “you are old when the waiter doesn’t mention that you are holding the menu upside down,” and notes that “in your eighties you take two naps a day. Nearing ninety you don’t count the number of naps.” He reminisces about various poets he’s known: James Dickey was “the best liar I ever knew”; Allen Tate “always looked grumpy”; James Wright was always passionate about literature. Hall no longer writes poetry or essays, but prefers to write about his life and experiences and “tell short anecdotes.... why should the nonagenarian hold anything back?” In the longest section, “Necropoetics,” Hall bares his grief during his wife’s prolonged death from cancer, recognizing how much her voice still lives in his own, “spiraling together images and diphthongs of the dead who were once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the unforgivable absence of flesh.” Hall’s ruminative and detailed reflections on life make this a fantastic follow-up to his Essays After Eighty. (July)