Donald Hall, the 14th U.S. Poet Laureate and author of 15 poetry anthologies, visited the campus the evening of Wednesday, March 25th as an early way to usher in the National Poetry Month of April.
Hall spoke at Lyte Auditorium to a crowd consisting of around 100 listeners ranging vastly in age from students to mature adults. Accompanying the poet was the Lancaster Literary Guild.
Introduced briefly by Barbara Strasko, Lancaster County’s own, chosen poet laureate as of January 2008, Hall, 80, seemed at ease sitting behind a small desk on stage as he began to read some of his newer poetry. His first poem of the night was a work titled “Pieces.”
Laughter from the audience ensued as the good-humored poet explained he had just finished his latest revisions to “Pieces” as he was being introduced.
After Hall read a few more new poems, he opened a book and read a few of his older works he had selected prior to the reading.
Before each poem he gave a brief description of why he had written it to begin with.
With each poem he read, Hall held the audience captivated with his rumbling, intense voice.
Poems he read included “The Ship Pounding,” a poem about his late wife, and, “Weeds and Peonies,” a poem about the garden his wife created.
He ended the session with two new poems: “Alterations,” and, “Goose Feathe
Most of Hall’s poetry was written about the loss of his wife, fellow poet, Jane Kenyon.
His poems generally linger on loss, death, and disease, but among the darkness and the present anguish exists a sense of hope and a love and appreciation for life and all that once was.
The question and answer session, which came after about an hour of reading poems, is where Hall revealed to the audience small glimpses of who he is as a writer.
“Many of my poems these days touch upon old age,” Hall said when asked about his writing process. “They usually begin with an image, something you can hold onto and visit.
It is normal for me to have written anywhere from 70 to 80 drafts of a single poem. I am also probably the only writer in the country who doesn’t use a computer.”
When one member of the audience asked how growing old has changed his perspective on poetry being written now, Hall honestly replied, “As you get older, you get further out of touch with the young.
I feel quite detached with what is happening concerning poetry at the moment.
I no longer feel the influence of another poet.”
Hall smiled as he was granted a standing ovation, and he promised to answer more questions one-on-one as he signed and sold his works.
Aside from his fifteen books of poetry, Donald Hall has also written several collections of essays, plays and children’s books, most notably Ox-Cart Man, which received the Caldecott Medal.
Hall has also written two memoirs, his latest being, “Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry,” which was published in 2008.
Donald Hall was born in Hamden, Connecticut and was an only child.
He earned his bachelors degree from Harvard in 1951 and his master in literature from Oxford in 1953.
His writing began in his early life and he continues to write even today at age 81.