New Poet Laureate Hails from New Hampshire

Poet Donald Hall outside his farmhouse.

Poet Donald Hall writes of farmlife in New Hampshire and often of his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. Nancy Cameron/Library of Congress hide caption

itoggle caption Nancy Cameron/Library of Congress

Audio: Library of Congress

The new poet laureate of the United States will be introduced Wednesday. The poems of Donald Hall, a New Hampshire native, have been compared to those of Robert Frost. He will succeed Nebraskan Ted Kooser.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The new poet laureate of the United States will be formally introduced today. Donald Hall lives in the countryside of New Hampshire, and it's been said that he writes in the tradition of Robert Frost.

Mr. DONALD HALL (2005-2006 Poet Laureate of the United States): (Reading) "We sit on the porch, gloved hand in hand, to watch the cold, white snowflake universe shake down multiple, tiny geometries against blackness' zero. We keep silence, for sound would shatter the laden, luminous night that softens into sameness the fencepost, car and mailbox..."

INSKEEP: Donald Hall was born in Connecticut, and started writing poems at age 14. His formative moment came when he was cut from the baseball team and realized he'd never impress girls that way, so he turned to the written page.

Mr. HALL: I was serious about it. I don't mean I was good, but I decided at that point that I wanted to be a poet for my whole life, and I've gone and done it.

INSKEEP: Hall has written 15 books of poetry and won numerous awards.

Mr. HALL: I never think of poems in terms of themes. Something gets me going, which may have ultimately to do with a theme, but I'm not even aware of it. The words come and I work on the words. I try to make a beautiful shape. The end of poetry is beauty and, therefore, pleasure.

INSKEEP: His poetry brings him pleasure, even though Donald Hall pulls much inspiration from pain. In recent years, he's often written about his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. She died of cancer in 1995. Hall read poetry about her on NPR's FRESH AIR.

Mr. HALL: (Reading) "Nursing her, I felt alive in the animal moment, scenting the predator. Her death was the worst thing that could happen, and caring for her was best. After she died, I screamed, upsetting the depressed dog. Now, I no longer address the wall covered with many photographs, nor call her you in a poem. She recedes into the granite museum of Jane Kenyon 1947-1995."

INSKEEP: The librarian of Congress nominated Donald Hall to be the next poet laureate, and he heard the news at home in New Hampshire by fax. And we'll finish this moment with a reading from Donald Hall.

Mr. HALL: For me, it is the, you know, the private past becoming the public present. And I read it aloud to you, happily to read the poem, but also very aware that it represents or embodies something that is a long way from where I am now - affirmation.

(Reading) "To grow old is to lose everything. Aging - everybody knows it. Even when we're young, we glimpse it sometimes and nod our heads when a grandfather dies. Then, we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage that began without harm scatters into debris on the shore. And a friend from school drops cold on a rocky strand. If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful. New women come and go - all go."

INSKEEP: It's a poem about what you lose in life, yet Donald Hall ends it with the words, it is fitting and delicious to lose everything.

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