Essays After Eighty

Donald Hall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (144p) ISBN 978-0-544-28704-4
Near the start of this rich essay collection, former U.S. poet laureate Hall—also a biographer, children’s book writer, and literary critic—writes that “poetry abandoned” him after he turned 85, but his prose writing endures and sustains him. And as this book shows, Hall—who sometimes puts his essays through more than 80 drafts—has not lost his touch. Laconic, witty, and lyrical, Hall is a master stylist, yet he remains refreshingly humble and matter-of-fact about fame (his and others): “Everyone knows medals are made of rubber.” Hall’s topics are often autobiographical: the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon; his passion for garlic; a car trip through post-WWII Yugoslavia on impassable roads; the limitations of advanced age (“old age is a ceremony of losses”); poetry’s rise in popularity; how “devastated” he felt after being appointed poet laureate; and always, his attachment to his ancestral home in New Hampshire, Eagle Pond Farm, and the ever-changing landscape around it. Using these subjects as a springboard to contemplate loss, recovery, work, discovery, and death, among other themes, he observes that “contradiction is the cellular structure of life,” without which no essay, poem or story can succeed. By exploring the joys and vicissitudes of a long life, this work offers revealing insights into the human condition—and the grit and openness it requires. Agent: Wendy Strothman, Strothman Agency. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/2014
Release date: 12/02/2014
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