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November 01, 1969 - Image 2

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The Michigan Daily, 1969-11-01

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Page Two

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Saturday, November 1, 1969

Page Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY Saturday, November 1, 1969

Don aid Hall:

e man and his work

By LARRY RUSS
His work
I sometimes think that liv-
ing in the same community with
a man makes it harder for peo-
pe to get the feel of the man's
importance in the larger world.
I get the feeling that this is
so with Donald Hall. Donald
Hall is, I would say, one of the
two most active and important
men in the American poetry
scene (along with Robert Bly).
At present Donald Hall has
finished a t~xtbook on poetry
that is far better than any
which now exist, a tremendously
warm, humorous, insightful, and
intelligent book, to be called
The Pleasures of Poetry. It
begins, "Reading a poem is a
pleasure, like in a k i n g love"
The book, which is the only
human textbook I have ever
seen, is really manna in the
wilderness of textbook sterility.
And he is coordinating an inter-
arts venture between the best
poets and painters of our time,
which will include people 11ik e
Robert Rauschenberg and Sal-
vador Dali The man is amaz-
i ng.
I often get a great kick out of
making certain kinds of lists,
and one of my favorite lists is
of Donald Hall's activities: he
is an editor of The Paris Re-
view, chief poetry consultant to
Harper & Row, foremost an-
thologist this Contemporary
American Poets and his Poetry
in English are th best of their
respective kinds, a winner of
t he Lamont Prize (the most im-
portant for a first book of
poetry), and a j u d e for the
National Book Award h has
written a children's book, a
book of short stories one of
which won a Hest Short Story of
the Year award, a book on the
sculptor, Henry Moore (which is
out of print, and was praised
highly by Sir Herbert Read),
the marvelous, internationally-
known poetry, and a good deal
more. And my typewriter is
out of breath after that sprint)
His poetry
In talking about Yeats, Don-
aid Hall has said that Yeats'
great accomplishment can be
discouraging to a poet, but that
his spiritual example, the fact
that he got better and better
right until his death, is an en-
couraging one. It should be en-
couraging to Donald Hall be-
cause while so manry of his fel-
low poets fail to progress or
fall to the wayside (ik Lowell
in his last few books, especially
the lousy Notebooks, Creeley
with Pieces, etc.), le keeps get-
ting better.
Hall's new book, The Alligator
Bride - Poems New and Se-
lected, is tremendous. It con-
tains poems from his first two
books (largely rewritten), most
of the poems from A Roof of
Tiger Lilies, and a section of
new poems, The Alligator Bride.
My complaints are few: there
are a couple of Poems f r o m
Dark Houses that b o r e me
iSestina and Je Suis Une Table),
and there are a couple from
Tiger Lilies omited here (The
Moon and The Sea that I
would've much rather seen than
The Idea of Flying.
Seen together the collection
shows that Hall has a greater
.stylistic range than anyone else
in America; there is masterfulj
writing in meter and rhyme, in
syllables, in free verse, and there
are marvelous humorous poems,
intellectual poems, dialogue
poems, elegies, and great sur-
realism. He can do it all.
If he has left behind the in-

tellectualized pieces, the rhyme
and mater, it is not from in-
ability but lack of interest,
from the need to leave t h e
straight-j acket s of' rationalism
and convention, to explore the
mystery without protection.
The new poems are the best
by far, the great tenderness, the
unequalled sound, the vision in
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these poems even better. One of
the things that astonishes me
about the book is that there are
so many poems that are so dis-
tinctly different and so singly
memorable. The Blue Wing is
a great poem of birth, death, re-
birth, and more: The Alligator
Bride, a very ordered poem in an
insane way, is an absolute mas-
terpiece, written in a kind of
tragi-comic surrealism. Pic-
tures of Philippa is so delight-
ful and touching; The Corner is
frightening; and Anne Sexton
has said that Gold is one of the
greatest love poems ih the Eng-
lish language. It goes on like
that.
And throughout all the differ-
ent poems \ve hear that fan-

tastic sound, the best ear in
American poetry. Hall's sound
not only touches the skin,
pleases the ear, -and tenses the
muscles. It moves down into the
centers of the bones, vibrating
the skeleton, the ancient man
inside us. Bly says of his sound,
"the music is coming from deep,
inward and archaic parts of
the consciousness ...
The poems are amazing be-
cause they are so spare, and yet
so sensual (and spiritual):;
they remind me of Henry
Moore's great sculpture (about
which Hall has written), of an-
cient sculpture, like lovely bones.
They often have a surface sim-
plicity, a deep sensuality, and
sipirituality that reminds me of

Brancusi's sculpture. Brancusi
said: "Simplicity is not an end
in art, but we arrive at it as
we approach the real essence of
things." It is the confrontation
with the mystery, with the un-
seen forces that move our lives.
Donald Hall is leaving behind
the rational structures that we
impose on our lives, with which
we protect ourselves from life.
He wants the bare vision. He
is an explorer, a lover, of the
mystery. By "lover" I don't
mean just that he is attracted
to the mysteries, but that he is
in the most intimate relation-
ship to them. And as he puts
it, "My poems are attempts to
let my inside talk directly to
your insides."
I suspect that many people
like their faces kissed and slap-
ped more overtly by poems in a
way that these poems may not.
The Alligator Bride tends to
move quietly, disturbingly and
tenderly, into the body where
the poems continue to live and
move. The new poems especially
are genuinely haunting. It will
be a considerable injustice if
The Alligator Bride isn't given
the National Book Award for
1969.

The man_
Behind the flurry and beauty
of the work is a man loved by
many people from all different
planes of society, by students,
teachers, doctors and lawyers,
readers of his prose and poetry.
He may have done more to turn
people on to poetry than any-
one else in the country. He can
do that because his love for it
is so real and great, Hearing
him read at his best, and there
is no one better, is to see an
act of love;, he caresses and
bites the words, getting lost in
the being of the poems. I'll nev-
er forget the other-worldly sil-
ence that followed a reading he
once did of Roethke's The Rose
in class.
He is one of the great teach-
ers, and students love him.
There has been, at times, dur-
ing his office hours, as many
as ten people lined up in the
hall, waiting to see him. He is
warm and kind and honest, but
never condes'cending or nasty.
There is a great tenderness to
him, and great generosity in
giving time and effort to his
students.
He has been for me, and count-
less others I'm sure, an import-

ant spiritual example as a man
and as an artist. He is not
afraid of life or love. He al-
ways quotes Rodin's advice to
young sculptors, "If a sculpture
isn't coming right,, don't just
scratch at it. Drop it on the
floor and then see what it looks
like." As Bob Dylan says, he
"don't look back."
When I was fifteen, working
hard at poetry, reading, a n d
writing adolescent crap, I wrote
a letter to Donald Hall. He was,
as always, very kind, and wrote
me a letter giving advice, en-
couragement without f a ls e
praise. In it he said,
"Poetry is a lonely art, praise
God. We make it in sm al l
rooms out of the darkness in
ourselves. No one but our-
selves makes the poems we
write. And teachers or elders
in their talks or letters do
little. Their poems and their
spiritual example can be ano-
ther thing."
Yes, they certainly can. Praise
God for Donald Hall.
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