cover image Old and New Poems CL

Old and New Poems CL

Donald Hall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $24.95 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-89919-926-9

This diverse collection, which gathers work from 1947 to 1990 by poet and steadfast New Englander Hall (National Book Critics Circle-winning The One Day ), will serve as a superb introduction to newcomers and a sumptuous offering to familiars. Given the book's scope, it is not surprising that a few early poems show somewhat less craft than do recent efforts; Hall's large-bodied, later poetry fully and freshly dominates the volume. Our delight is in following an exceptional poet's growth and depth as he emerges with a richly playful but consummately serious voice. Hall's mirth shines in ``O Cheese,'' a paean to ``the dear dense cheeses, Cheddars and harsh / Lancashires; Gorgonzola with its magnanimous manner; / the clipped speech of Roquefort; and a head of Stilton / that speaks in a sensuous riddling tongue like Druids,'' and in ``The Impossible Marriage,'' his whimsical dream of a union between Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. More somber narrative poems center on Hall's own experiences and on memories of his grandfather's New Hampshire dairy farm, where things rural suggest parables of life and death: ``We are all of us sheep, and death is our shepherd, / and we die as the animals die,'' he observes in ``The Black-Faced Sheep''. Farm animals are nearly always sublime subjects, with Holstein cows unforgettably described as ``these wallowing / big-eyed calf-makers, bone-rafters for leather, / awkward arks, cud-chewing lethargic mooers'' in ``Great Day in the Cows' House.'' If its most memorable poem is the haunting valediction in ``Praise for Death,'' Hall's magnum opus nevertheless bears witness to a vigorous poetic imagination matched by its generous vision of life: ``You listening here, you reading these words as I write them, / I offer this cup to you: Though we drink / from this cup every day, we will never drink it dry'' (``The Day I Was Older''). (Aug.)