A to Z Blog Challenge: U
Post by Jenny
Today’s Last Monday Book is Unpacking the Boxes, a Memoir of a Life in Poetry, by Donald Hall. It seemed fitting, as April is also National Poetry Month. Donald Hall was born in Hamden, Connecticut on September 20, 1928. He was the fourteenth U.S. Poet Laureate (2006-2007) and received a National Medal of the Arts in 2010. The title of the book, which he completed at the age of eighty, refers to unpacking more than seventy boxes of belongings from his mother’s home, boxes from which his childhood—captured in toys, photographs, and early poems—“rose like a smoke of moths.”
The book begins, “At fourteen I decided to spend my life writing poetry, which is what I have done.” (How many of us wish we could say something like that?) The happy times and successes of Hall’s eighty years are woven through with sadness and loss, as when he was told that his father’s inoperable cancer was terminal on the same day he learned that Viking Press had accepted his first book of poems, Exiles and Marriages.
Sprinkled throughout the book are passages about the writing process—not just in regard to poetry, for Hall also wrote essays, reviews, articles, biographies, sports journalism, and children’s books. My favorite is this one: “Where I sit today, working at my desk, there are shelves behind me that are dense with abandoned or unfinished work… Behind my neck roosts a rookery of bad manuscript. To write as much as I have done, I have needed often to fail.”
The most poignant chapters are the last two, which succinctly and honestly chronicle the death of Hall’s second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, and his experiences with aging, which he calls “the planet of antiquity.”
Here is Hall’s poem White Apples:
when my father had been dead a week
with his voice in my ear
i sat up in bed
and held my breath
and stared at the pale closed door
white apples and the taste of stone
if he called again
i would put on my coat and galoshes
Have you read or written any poetry this month?