Monday, April 25, 2011

Unpacking the Boxes

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
i woke
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?


Bob Scotney said...

I have been passed 'The World's Wife' a collection of poetry by the British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The book was one of those given away on World Book Night 2011.
I can see why it would be given away - after the first three poems I had read enough.
However 'Remember' by Christina Rossetti was my 'R' post in the Challenge.

John Paul McKinney said...

"Unpacking the Boxes" is a great image. Just the title makes me want to read it. Thanks for the review.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm not normally a poetry reader, but this is more my thing than most of it. My problem is most poetry is just too much work to follow (maybe I'm dim)--but this simple, pull at the emotions stuff is very good.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

I suspect the only poetry I've come across as of late has been from the A-Z Challenge. But there is a plethora of poetry out there and I'm sure I'll encounter more soon.

Excellent choice in the poem you presented us with for U.

nutschell said...

I never knew April was National Poetry Month. Thanks for posting this!\
Great meeting you through the A-Z!


Michelle Mach said...

I haven't read poetry this month, but your post makes me wish I had! Love the poem you posted.

Jenny said...

Bob, I visited your post. That's a lovely poem and a moving tribute to your friend.

Thank you, John :-)

Hart, I usually prefer simple poetry, too. Though I do like Walt Whitman, and he's pretty darn wordy!

Jeffrey and Michelle, I'm glad you liked the poem, too.

Nutschell, you still have a few days for an end-of-April poetry binge!

Loki Morgan said...

I should make more time to read poetry!

Edna said...

Thanks for the review. I am looking forward to getting this book. Since most of us heard patty cake or twinkle twinkle, little star pretty early on in our lives, you might say that we've all really cut our teeth on poetry.
Unpacking the Boxes sounds lovely.

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