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Donald Hall Takes Helm as New US Poet Laureate

Earlier this month, excerpted below, Hall recalls now-vanished New England scenes from his childhood at his grandparents' home, where he sits now.

"… Each fall in New Hampshire, on the farm
where my mother grew up, a girl in the country
my grandfather and grandmother
finished the autumn work, taking the last vegetables in
from the cold fields, canning, storing roots and apples
in the cellar under the kitchen. Then my grandfather
raked leaves against the house
as the final chore of autumn…"

Hall writes poignantly of other losses too. He has written many poems about his wife, Jane Kenyon, also a poet, who died in 1995, at the age 47. "It's as if all the original poems of loss were a preparation for this great loss," he says.

Here is an excerpt from the poem

"we lived in a small island stone nation
without color under gray clouds and wind
distant the unlimited ocean acute
lymphoblastic leukemia without seagulls
or palm trees without vegetation
or animal life only barnacles and lead
colored moss that darkened when months did …"

As a poet, Hall knows well how the cycles of human and natural life intertwine. He says this connection may be especially clear in New England, where the seasons are so distinct. "And we fill ourselves with this constant change. The leaves come and the leaves go. They do it annually, they go through their productions and we follow them as we follow our own lives progressing from spring to summer to autumn to winter," he says, adding with a twinkle, "I am pretty wintry by this time myself!"

Hall's poetry contains a vein of optimism. Human life, he says, is a "perennial plant," always renewed in its season.

In one of Hall's most famous poems (which was adapted into a children's book that won the coveted Caldecott Medal in 1996), a farmer walks his ox and cart, heavy with produce, to market. He sells his wares, then his ox and cart, and returns home. Here is an excerpt:

"… and at home by fire's light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year's ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again."

Donald Hall, the new Poet Laureate of the United States has published 15 books of poetry. His most recent collection of verse, is and was published earlier this year by Houghton Mifflin.