"As this book shows, Hall...has not lost his touch. Laconic, witty, and lyrical, Hall is a master stylist, yet he remains refreshingly humble and matter-of-fact ...By exploring the joys and vicissitudes of a long life, this work offers revealing insights into the human condition—and the grit and openness it requires." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Wry, tangy prose...Many readers may find themselves hoping they’ll be this cogent and canny when they’re “after 80.” --Booklist
"Deliciously readable...Donald Hall, if abandoned by the muse of poetry, has wrought his prose to a keen autumnal edge."--Wall Street Journal
"alternately lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny...seductive frankness and bracing precision."--New York Times Science Times
"alluring, inspirational hominess....Essays After Eighty is a treasure...balancing frankness about losses with humor and gratitude."--Washington Post
"In this collection of 14 essays, the literary lion chews over his life-in-letters with a deft wit...[Hall] is caustic, funny, wise without being didactic, and even sexy."--Chicago Tribune
"instinct with humor and mischievousness...A fine book of remembering all sorts of things past, Essays After Eighty is to be treasured."--Boston Globe
"Donald Hall is a master of language, observation and surprise...poignant and blunt...Hall is reliably colorful and eloquent across the board."--Portland Press Herald
"The prose of Essays After Eighty is a poet’s prose. Hall is working with sentence and paragraph, not line and stanza, but every word counts. Concrete images propel his sentences, and he is a master of momentum and suspense. The reader sees or tastes a moment and yearns to know what happens next."--Concord Monitor
At 86 years old, the poet Donald Hall can no longer write poetry. Not enough testosterone, he says. But the former U.S. Poet Laureate and recipient of the National Medal of Arts still has prose in him: He has just published a collection titled Essays After 80.
The book spans Hall's entire career, his family life, his addiction to smoking and his thoughts on his own beard.
From his rural New Hampshire farmhouse, Hall tells NPR's Arun Rath why he's still at it. "I love to work," he says, "and work in my life has meant only one thing and that's a pen on the paper."
On realizing he couldn't write poetry anymore
I guess it was about three years ago, and I realized I didn't have it anymore. It's just getting old. I think you need higher testosterone levels to write poetry than I have at the moment. But fortunately I can still write prose. ...
It was gradual, and I had the sense of poetry fading on me, or me fading on poetry, for several years. And then I would think "No, this is good." And then six months later it wasn't so good. And so I saw it coming.
I didn't really see these essays coming, and I'm very glad they came.
Donald Hall is a former U.S. poet laureate and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2010. Linda Kunhardt/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hide caption
Donald Hall is a former U.S. poet laureate and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2010.Linda Kunhardt/Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
On writing prose now
Prose is not so dependent on sound. The line of poetry, with the breaking of the line — to me sound is the kind of doorway into poetry. And my sense of sound, or my ability to control it, lapsed or grew less. I still use it in prose, but the unit is the paragraph.
I had 60 years of writing poetry, I shouldn't complain now.
On how his age has changed the way young fans think about him
I began a reading with a new poem, which eventually turned out to be no good, but I had hoped it was. It was thinking about what my grandfather would think now to see me. And when I read the poem, I had just entered on the stage, sort of creeping and bent over and so on, and after that poem there was a pause and then there was a standing ovation! I couldn't believe it. What a wonderful poem I must have written.
But no. They felt as if they had seen, I think I wrote, a cadaver gifted with speech. They were applauding me at least partly because they knew they'd never see me again.
On aging and thinking about death
I really feel better about aging at the age of 86 than I did at 70. I cannot drive, I can't walk except by pushing a Rollator, but I feel a great deal of energy and excitement. Obviously death is ahead of me. I don't look forward to dying one little bit, but I simply don't worry about it because it's going to happen to me as it does to anybody. ...
At some point in this book I said that I expect my immortality to cease about seven minutes after my funeral. I have seen so many poets who were famous, who won all sorts of prizes, disappear with their deaths.
I write as good as I can, and don't try to turn that into some hope for a future that I could never know. I've had some people tell me that they knew they were great and that they would live in literature forever, and my response is to pat them on the back and say, "Maybe you'll feel better tomorrow."