Monday, April 21, 2014

Monday Rerun: Unpacking the Boxes

Post by Jenny

We’ve still got plenty of April left to go, ample time to celebrate National Poetry Month by reading a few books about poets and their craft. I offer as a suggestion Unpacking the Boxes, a Memoir of a Life in Poetry, by Donald Hall.

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 life 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.

The most poignant chapters are the last two, chronicling the death of Hall’s second wife, poet Jane Kenyon, and his experiences with aging, which he calls “the planet of antiquity.” Sprinkled throughout the book are passages about the writing process—not just in regard to poetry, for the prolific Hall also wrote essays, reviews, articles, biographies, sports journalism, and children’s books. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “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.” 

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

Wow, right? Have you read and/or written any poetry this month?


Dean K Miller said...

I opted for the A-Z blog challenge instead of the April Poetry month challenge. Maybe I'll swap next year.

I've read a few poems on the blogs I've visited. Will definitely look up Mr. Hall's book. Wonderful work, indeed.

Sarah Sullivan said...

I'm embarrassed to say that I am not familiar with Mr. Hall. Thank you for bringing his work to my attention!

Shirley Drew said...


Nice post. The book sounds great! I'm no poet, so I might not have read it without your description. Thanks!

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