Friday, June 23, 2006

Life Work by Donald Hall

"I have never worked a day in my life." Donald Hall in Life Work

"I almost always like when poets write prose." me right now

After Donald Hall was recently named the U. S. Poet Laureate, readers began checking out his books, especially Life Work, which is part essay, part memoir. I had to place a hold and wait a week to get the book. Luckily for me, I did get it in time to start yesterday and then bring with me today on my trip. I finished it on the flight to New Orleans.

Life Work is not the book that Hall intended it to be. He began it in 1992 as a journal of his thoughts about the work of writing poetry in the world of other work. In early entries in the book, he compares his work to that of his grandfathers and father, brings Studs Terkel's book Working into the discussion, and tells about the work methods of the sculptor Henry Moore. It is not a dry account. His descriptions of farmers and poets so devoted to their work that they rise early to get started struck home with me. The people he profiles love what they do and never regret their effort.

Then tragedy strikes. Hall is diagnosed with liver cancer and undergoes surgery. He writes that his prognosis is poor and that his life will probably be short. He tells about arranging for posthumous publication of some of his writings. His sorrows include that he will be unable to care for his 87 year old mother, will miss getting to know his grandchildren, and will leave his wife (the poet Jane Kenyon) a widow. He will also abandon several writing projects. It is a moving account.

The ironic part is that 14 years later he is named U.S. Poet Laureate. Look for Life Work in your library.

Hall, Donald. Life Work. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993. ISBN 0807070548

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