Donald Hall

Former poet laureate of the United States, Donald Hall, dies at 89

Former Poet Laureate of the United States, Donald Hall, has died at the age of 89. He died at his home in New Hampshire. His death was confirmed by his literary executor, Wendy Strothman.

Author of over 50 books of poetry, essays, criticism, plays, children’s stories, short stories, biographies, Donald Hall began writing at age 12. And at age 16 he attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference where he met with poet Robert Frost. His full commitment to poetry then took an earnest gear. He also found inspiration in Edgar Allan Poe, on whose account he said, “I read Poe and my life changed”.

Donald’s devotion to poetry was to the degree that he said: “I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems”. His goal was to write poetry and great poetry alone.  “I decided that I would be a poet for the rest of my life and started by working at poems for an hour or two every day after school. I never stopped.”

He went on to Harvard University for his bachelor’s degree where he served on the editorial board of The Harvard Advocate in the company of Robert Bly, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Kenneth Koch, and many others. He further went to Oxford University where he became the editor of Oxford Poetry, and later won the university’s Newdigate Prize for best poem at undergraduate level. He would become the first poetry editor of The Paris Review and interview famous writers like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot.

His debut collection, Exiles and Marriages (1955) earned him wider recognition, a Lamont Poetry Prize, and a teaching job at University of Michigan where he met his wife, poet Jane Kenyon. They were married for 23 years until her death in 1995. Donald wrote heartbreaking and beautiful poems to the memory his wife and their marriage.

Among his books are: The Alligator Bride (1969), Kicking the Leaves (1978), The Happy Man (1986), Without (1998), The Painted Bed (2002), White Apples and the Taste of Stone (2006), The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (2015).

He taught in several universities and gave thousands of poetry readings. He’s been described to “have given 5,000 readings in his life”.

What a life completely immersed in the beauty and service of poetry. He would say, “Without writing, my life would be empty. When I can write, it is a joy to be alive, and I can look forward to writing more. Now I need a nap after writing much, but that does not stop the necessity. I continue.”

No wonder he said: “One wants people 200 years from now to love your poetry. The great pleasure of being a writer is in the act of writing, and surely there is some pleasure in being published and being praised. I don’t mean to be complacent about what I have some of. But the greater pleasure is in the act. When you lose yourself in your work, and you feel at one with it, it is like love.”

Donald Hall was the winner of the 1991 Robert Frost Medal, the 1994 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and two Guggenheim fellowships, among numerous distinctions, fellowships, awards, and honors. He was poet laureate of the United States for one year (2006-2007).