Page 4-Sunday, November 13, 1977-The Michigan Daily
The Michigan Daily-Sunday, Novei
inds the good life
Photo by STEVE KAGAN
Hall in Ann Arbor.. .
UTHER KENNESTON gazed
across the muddy road toward
Eagle Pond late one summer
afternoon in 1938, recalling how
his father had trudged over just'
such a sloppy path to train with the local
militia during the Civil War. Nine-year-old
Luther had been afraid that his father Ben-
jamin would leave New Hampshire for
Virginia some evening, never to return.
Nine-year-old Donald Hall, up for a few
months from Connecticut to visit relatives
and hay the fields, sat motionless beside his
great-uncle Luther, squinting to see his
vision of tired farmer-soldiers slapping at big
summer flies as the men headed home from
Five such Eagle Pond summers would
pass before the young man would turn these
inspirations into poetry 6 a.m. coffee and
long dawn experiments with verse.
Luther, the country minister, died in 1941.
Donald graduated from Eagle Pond sum-
mers to Exeter College, Harvard, Oxford,
and eventually, the University of Michigan,
where he spent 17 years as resident bard and-
With 25 years of academia behind him,
Donald Hall has gone back to the land of his
youth to practice his cherished:-craft, for
good. And after all those years of studying
and teaching English, Hall and his wife,
Jane Kenyon, couldn't be happier, writing
poetry near Danbury, New Hampshire.
When the professor and his wife came out
to Danbury in 1975 to the rented house of his
ancestors, it wasn't to found a home, but to
get away from the rigors of Angell Hall on a
year's leave. He accepted a second year of-
fered by an English Department eager to
retain its most renowned Fellow, though
before the first year was up, Hall had
decided to break away from the University,
give up tenure, and take up full-time poetry
Hall spent a semester commuting to
nearby Dartmouth to teach a course but, he
says, "I realized I would rather stay at
home, not talk to anyone, and rewrite a
single poem seven times than give one lec-
While "there's no inherent contradiction
between the act of teaching which opposes
poetry," Hall explains, he decided to devote
himself to the work that has won him two
Guggenheim Awards and space in
periodicals like The New Yorker, theNew
York Times Book Review, The Atlantic, and
the Saturday Review.
New Hampshire is an endless list of town-
ships and-communities, assembled as
though the constituents decided to make up
for what they lack in size with confusion.
Hall's property officially, lies within the
limits of Wilmot, the telephone exchange is
in Andover, the church down the road to
which Donald and Jane belong sits in South
Danbury, and the mail is delivered only if
addressed to Danbury.
Donald Hall comes out onto the porch of
his two-story white farmhouse at the bottom
of Ragged Mountain, a wide smile playing
across his face. He is a poetic Santa
Claus-wearing the tired, intense eyes of a
poet, softened by an unrestrained beard
which frames his round face.
Hall smiles often, both in mirth and irony,
and he has reason to smile. "For the first
time in my life," he says, settling his heavy
frame into a stuffedi ivingroom chair, "I am
no longer thinking about the future. For for-
ty years I sustained myself by daydreaming
about the future; it's a wonderful thing to
realize all of a sudden that you can live in
As if outlining it for the first time, the poet
reflects that all through his college
years'-first as an undergraduate at Exeter
College in New Hampshire, then as a Fellow
at Harvard and Oxford, and finally as a
professor at Michigan-his sights were_
fixed on his next project or vacation, his life
dragged along by the future.
Now delighting in his present,
photographs of his ancestors stare in stead-
fast irony across the living room at each
other. Hall's great-grandfather, John Wells,
who bought the house at the turn of the cen-
tury hangs in a place of honor above his
progeny, his neat white beard in sharp con-
trast with Hall's of deep brown.
Evading the pressures of the future, Hall
has embraced the comfort of the past in his
The house Hall bought last year sits on the
By Brian Blanchard
edge of Ragged Mountain, a steep hill thick
with trees whose orange and red colors have
faded slightly in a month of rain. The road
neatly divides the property; on one side is
the house, an old unpainted barn, and a
fallen-in maple sugar shack that, says Hall,
produced thousands of gallons of syrup
during the early years of the century. On the
other side of the highway is a slow slope
down to Eagle Pond-more a lake-where
Hall fishes and swims during the summer.
Looking to the east is Mount Kearsarge,
shrouded in clouds on rainy days. The-poet
and his wife seem to take great pride in the
landscape around the house, pointing to this
or that landmark, always returning to Kear-
sarge, "Great blue mountain! Ghost," as he
describes it in one poem.
Hall has various relatives scattered
around the area, giving him even more
reason to feel an attraction to the land. They
drop by occasionally; one second-cousin
brings the piles of wood they store in a clut-
tered addition to the house, for cold winter
There have been a few additions to the
house since it was built in 1803, but the door
frames still tilt with a handcrafted, un-
parallel appeal. When they bought the
house, Donald and Jane installed an old
wood-burning stove in the kitchen so that the
house is entirely heated by wood.
Everywhere there are relics from the
past. "It's not that they were collectors, you
understand," grinned Hall, knee-deep in old
baby cribs and boxes of every description,
"they just never threw anything away."
On one wall hangs a Temperance Cer-
tificate signed by his grandmother who died
two years ago without, as far as her gran-
dson knows, ever having broken the pledge:
This is to certify that Kate Kennes-
ton has signed the Corner Stone
of'Temperance of the New Ham-
shire State Temperance Union,
promising to abstain for Life, the
Lord helping. 21 September 1885
Hall proclaims he is "not beholding to
anyone." But listening to him describe his
regimen and list his Drojects. one might
revising for the fiftieth time. Each
kept in a bulging folder, a diar
progress from a scribbled though
tinkerings of the final drafts. "
usually means cut," he says, explai
tendency is to include too much det
Of his own work, Hall observes,
balance is towards sound. I mighit
wrong word rather than the ri
because I like the sound of it."
Hall has never really finished ap
so he says. "You give up on a poe
you publish it." Hall alters his po
ween editions "trying to get themr
usually takes about three years f
time he takes up the idea for a poe
time he "gives up" for his readers.
But the final word on what the rea
see rests only in part with Hall. Fo
ce, the "Ox Cart Man" was publis
recent New Yorker, but what appea
only a fraction of the poem Hall subn
the magazine. After the ox cart man
to his home".., by fire's light in No
cold ..." there should be several ad
stanzas describing the rebuilding of
he uses to haul produce to Por
market; the stanzas aren't there. 'T
Yorker also rejected a line in anothe
"Bees wake roused by the cry o
because, they insisted, lilac never ci
"When you publish a poem in a bo
very abstract thing," Hall concludes
As if trying to counter the abstra
his work, Hall turns to the TV w]
Yankees are winning the third gan
World Series. He is a long-time base
and on one occasion, a player.
In the spring of 1973, Hall wrote
with New York Times reporter
Wooten, ACLU Director Charles1
and a few other non-athletes, abo
Geroge Plimpton-inspired (Hall
Plimpton, having edited poetry fo
pton's Paris Review) adventure at
tsburgh Pirates' training camp. "1
is fathers and sons. Football is b
beating each other up in the .ba
violent and superficial;" Hall wrot
By six most mornings, Hall ha
coffee over the Concord Monito
through the Boston Globe, and is
his small study, deep into the firstp
"Writing is very hard work, but
it," he says without hesitation. "I
the best way to get things done is to
many different things at once. If Ig
on something I put it down an
something else. Or I just put it down
up and haul wood."
While all this activity is*-going
stairs, Hall's wife, Jane (who pr
maiden name, Kenyon) is upstairs
on some poetry of her own, somec
will appear in a book next summ
also is the co-editor of a poetry m;
The third stage in a poem's deve
after he has written it and read it t
at a poetry reading, is to show it t
mer student, Jane. "We were shy a
show each other our work," but
changing some, he-says.
. Hall may begin the day with a p
s gulped at Harvard, Hall scoffs, "some of my frien-
r, leafed ds thought I was trying to be Hemingway."
sitting in F HIS RELATIVES left apple
project of -~
pocopeelers and rocking chairs behind
t I adore for posterity, Hall's legacy will
find that be books: Anthologies and com-
fwork o plete works; new releases and
wsrk on editions; History, Art, Linguistics, English;
get stuck classics, future classics, and fads. Between
id go to a growing private library and the stacks of
n and get unsolicited books sent by publishers, Donald
and Jane could probably satisfy the needs of
on down- Wilmot, Andover, and both Danburys with
efers her an Eagle Pond Public Library.
working But it wasn't to found a library that Hall left
of which his South University house. "It's always
er. Jane been my wish to write full-time," he recalls.
Iagazine, "I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn't
know if I could afford it."
lopment, -Hall is quick to point out that he didn't
o a group dislike the University. "I liked the
o his for- classroom in Ann Arbor. And what I really
ttht first liked was a sense of doing it (teaching)hwell.
-thti "Michigan was very good to me," he ad-
ds. The reason Hall turned down offers from
oem he's Dartmouth, Harvard and various other
schools in the first place was "not so much
that Michigan was poetical or stimulating.
It just left me free to write poetry."
To Hall, writing is a "stuggle" that
teaches him more than he could learn in an
academic situation. "In the classroom you
could get away with murder," he says,
Spoem is closing his eyes to slits, thinking back to a
y -of its few of his days in front of students. He goes
Revision on to explain that it's easy to give certain
Reviion kinds of formulaic lectures without much
ning, the effort on the professor's part or value for his
ail in the stdns
"the im- As he looks back at the University, Hall
tuse the says "I have a lot of friends who are
ght one teachers and writers who want to leave, but
who are just too afraid." In this respect, he
says, tenure "is one of the worst things in
pom when the world. It sets artificial goals and holds
etry et teachers back."
right." It He .also speaks of changing attitudes
r. t among students over his years as a
rom the professor. Before the late '60s, D.H.
m to the Lawrence was a "box-office">attrac-
tion-students were enchanted by his style
ders will and message. But over the war years that
r instan- changed, "they just giggled at Lawrence,"
hed in a remembers Hall.
red was More generally, "we insist on livin'g
ieto without a sense of history" today, Hall says.
nvember Since students tend to "lack historical in-
dditional telligence," they are missing a great deal of
the cart what Hall considers an education.
tsmouth Between games and poetry sessions, Hall
the New is editing for the Harvard Magazine, writing
r poem: a book of literary anecdotes, and putting
f lilac," together his own introduction to literature,
ries. among other projects.
ok, it's a The poet is probably best known around
s. the country for his composition book, Writ-
ctions of ing Well. The text has been through several
here the editions and without it, Hall explains, it
e of the would have been impossible to buy a large
ball fan, farmhouse in New Hampshire with 300 yards
of lake frontage.
a book "My poetry (earnings are) just pennies
James from heaven," he sighs, searching his sag-
Morgan, ging bookshelves for a particular poetry
ut their book.
knows Sitting back in the living room under John
r Plim- Wells, Hall answers a question about his
the Pit- lifestyle. "I love it. But don't say 'life style',"
Baseball he scowls in mock seriousness, "there's that
brothers little magazine Briarwood puts out called
ckyard, . 'Lifestyle,' you know."
e.at the Donald Hall is right. Eagle Pond Farm
could hardly be further from Briarwood
..And back hom
Brian Blanchard, a
sked to see just or
v staff writer,