Friday, August 3, 2018

It's Friday: Words About a Poet in His 9th Decade

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.

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