Friday, August 3, 2018
Donald Hall, poet, essayist, husband of poet Jane Kenyon, and more, died this year at the age of 89. As someone who appreciates both poems and horses, I found one of Hall's middler-year poems, Names of Horses, an early touchstone. It reads just as well as a tribute to old age as it once did for me as a bittersweet ode to a form of civilization passed by.
The New York Times critic Dwight Garner writes a cranky review of Hall's last book, published posthumously, making sure we remember that Hall was both prolific and, well, cranky:
Hall lived long enough to leave behind two final books, memento mori titled “Essays After Eighty” (2014) and now “A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety.” They’re up there with the best things he did. He apparently managed to sidestep a rendezvous with dementia, and seemed to suffer only mildly at the end from what Christopher Hitchens, quoting a friend, termed CRAFT syndrome, printable here as Can’t Remember a Fizzling Thing. These books have flat-footed gravitas, a vestigial sort of swat that calls to mind Johnny Cash’s stark final records with the producer Rick Rubin.
Which isn’t to say they are not also full of guff. About a third of “A Carnival of Losses” is threadbare and meandering, memories of dead relatives and journeys abroad and anthologies past. But the other two-thirds are good enough to make clear that Hall did not live past his sell-by date as a writer. He brings news from that moment in life when the canoe is already halfway over the waterfall.
For more, read A Poet Laureate Sends News From the End of Life.