cover image The Old Life

The Old Life

Donald Hall / Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $19.95 (1

This collection has little of the sharply observed, tender lyricism that characterizes much of Hall's earlier work, yet the four sequences here reflect preoccupations that he has made his own: family, nature, rural life, baseball. Hall's oeuvre may someday stand as a poetic record of one man's life in this last half-century, but the extent to which Hall is a memoirist more than a poet is quite evident here. ""The Night of the Day,"" the 10-page opening poem, is a precious recounting of two heifers wandering on a road; ""The Thirteenth Inning"" unsuccessfully attempts to relieve thoughts of death with memories of baseball games. In the 96-page title poem, Hall employs an agile three-stress line to minor effect, conveying anecdotes of a life remembered with a tenderness that the reader is not persuaded to honor. The final poem, ""Without,"" which the publisher intrusively insists is about the death of Hall's wife, Jane Kenyon, is indeed a despairing tract, but one that seems more fruitfully framed as Hall's embittered response to e.e. cummings's jauntily styled ""Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town"" than as a simple elegy: ""no spring no summer no autumn no winter/ no rain no peony thunder no woodthrush/ the book is a thousand pages without commas."" Unfortunately, only in this atypical piece are emotion and memory subjected to poetic transformation. (June)