In his poem “The Alligator Bride,” Donald Hall opens succinctly with “The clock of my days winds down.”
On June 16, Hall, a former University English prof., was appointed the Library of Congress’s 14th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. If Hall’s clock is winding down, it surely hasn’t stunted his creative output or his reputation.
According to the Library of Congress, the Poet Laureate “serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans” and is obliged to present poetry as an accessible genre for the public.
To fulfill this responsibility, some named to the position develop new programs, such as former laureate Billy Collins’s “Poetry 180,” which analyzes a single poem each day to be used in high school classrooms.
Gwendolyn Brooks, who was laureate in 1985, visited numerous elementary school students in the effort to promote poetry to America’s youth.
Born in Connecticut in 1928, most of Hall’s life has been studded with literary figures.
Hall attended Harvard University as an undergraduate, where he came in contact with such future legends as Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery.
Hall was a professor at the University from 1957 to 1975, where he met his wife of 23 years, Jane Kenyon.
He is the author of 15 books of poetry, 14 books of prose and numerous children’s books.
These accomplishments have solidified Hall’s position as a heavyweight in American literature.
The University’s Department of Screen Arts and Cultures honored Hall with the creation of the Donald Hall Screenwriting Collection, consisting of more than 2,000 DVDs and a significant screenplay library.
Hall was also the founding editor of the University Press’s “Poets on Poetry,” an ongoing collection of articles, commentary and interviews that facilitate a dialogue on poetry.
Of course, Hall’s life hasn’t been without hardships.
In 1989, Hall was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 61. Despite surgery, the cancer spread to his liver.
In the face of very low chances of survival, Hall lived to see the cancer go into remission. But in 1994, his wife Kenyon developed leukemia. She passed away 15 months later.
But through personal struggle and tragedy, Hall has resolutely kept to his writing.
“Without,” published in 1998, brings these events to an emotive breaking point.
“Her Long Illness” presents Hall’s last days with Kenyon in an abrupt, honest approach, robbing the reader of breath and senses.
Hall’s early poetry is marked by a sophistication that moves fluidly from academic satire to honest commentary.
Comfortable using traditional forms of verse as well as a more open approach, Hall’s poetry remains accessible on many levels.
His long-lasting dedication to the world of poetry only builds the anticipation of his upcoming tenure. Hall will succeed two-term laureate Ted Kooser.