Friday, July 05, 2019

Poetry Friday: Summer and Donald Hall and Possibility

So here we are already, halfway through the summer. Soon the back-to-school anxiety dreams will start again, and it won't be long at all before I'll be back in my classroom. I was going to accomplish so much, and as always I'm falling short. But I have had time to:

...participate in various unexpected conversations
...flit from book to book in the most desultory reading of the year
...lie in a field and take pictures of bug orgies
...acquire and start learning to use some binoculars in my quest to become a birder
...drink large quantities of tea

One of the unforeseen rabbit trails I have followed is an investigation of Donald Hall poetry. The Atlantic shared the following quiet, meditative video on Facebook, called "Old Age is a Ceremony of Losses," about Donald Hall growing old (here's their commentary).
After I watched that, I went searching for his writing to read. I'd read some before, and some by his wife, Jane Kenyon, but this time I read everything that Poetry Foundation would show me. I recommend doing that.

I love how specific Hall's poems are, the way they bring me into moments I never lived, especially the moments of his wife's illness. And listen to this, from a poem called "The Days," published in 1962:

Suddenly he has the idea
that thousands and thousands of his days
lie stacked into the ground
like leaves, or like the pressure of green
which becomes coal in a million years.

Here's one that broke my heart in its recreation of close friendships and happiness and tragedy and loss. A backyard wedding, friends sharing their writing, old age. (And suicide, just to warn you in advance.) I love the clear-eyed way he presents these people, without judgment, with love.

by Donald Hall

"Always Be Closing," Liam told us -
abc of real estate, used cars
and poetry. Liam the dandy
loved Brooks Brothers shirts, double-breasted
suits, bespoke shoes, and linen jackets.
On the day Liam and Tree married
in our backyard, Liam and I wore
Chuck's burgundy boho-prep high-tops
that Liam bought on Fifth Avenue.

Here's the rest.

Yesterday would normally have been Spiritual Journey First Thursday, a monthly thing where a group of us respond to a spiritually-themed prompt on the first Thursday of each month. We're skipping July, but somewhere else I saw a recommendation to revisit the year's OLW (One Little Word) and evaluate how you're doing. Mine is a little hard to evaluate, because it's Possibility. I've been trying to let go of my expectations a bit and just enjoy what comes; and I think I've been doing...not too badly. Could be worse.

Happy summer days to you, especially my teacher friends. Here's to gathering strength for the upcoming year in the most unlikely places.

Here's today's roundup.


Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, I really enjoyed researching Donald Hall with your links. I knew I heard his name before and I was right. Matt Forrest Essenwine was honored as one of 35 New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall whose poems are collected in a new anthology. See: Thanks for leading me on to find out more about Donald Hall. I loved the video you shared also. I hope your visit to your family's home was a fun-filled one. Can you please tell me if you are on Twitter so I can share what you sent me in the poem swap? I am also planning to share your bountiful gift at Poetry Friday.

Cheriee Weichel said...

That poem, Closing, nearly broke my heart. I wanted to go and get a collection of Donald Hall poetry from the library, but I already have 7 different poetry books checked out.
I like this idea of reflecting on my OLW. This year I chose love. I think that having it has helped me get past my irritation at some obstreperous students and just love them for who they are. My year has been better for it. I hope it's made theirs' better too.

Michelle Kogan said...

Thanks for this quiet and full post Ruth. I enjoyed learning more about Donald Hall via the video you shared. His poem, "Closings" is sad and beautiful.

Linda B said...

Such serendipity we have, Ruth. Someone just donated a book by Donald Hall at the bookstore & I snapped it up. It's a prose piece with poems, "Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets". I've started it but it is dense, know I will learn much from his musings. That poem rather shows life, does it not, those we knew young change little, do what they said early one they would do. Then we might ask if we are the same! I'm glad you are enjoying your summer. I just finished a lovely YA book where a young girl's friend's advice was to stop (mostly) looking ahead and be in the "HERE". Thought you'd like to hear that. Thanks for all, enjoy that birding!

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I, too, love the specificity he brings to his work - because it is still completely accessible to anyone who reads it. Such an incredible talent. Thanks for sharing this! (And thank you, Carol, for the plug - it is, indeed, an honor!)

Linda Mitchell said...

Good Morning, dear Ruth. Oh, I know the feeling of not having accomplished as much in the summer as I "should," well. Isn't that just the craziest notion? I'm so glad that you are taking photos of bugs and drinking lots of tea and flitting from book to book. And that you are home for a bit. Thank you so much for Closings...the thoughtfulness in Hall's work is overwhelming. Some of us are born deep thinkers...somehow, as I write this I realize I'm thinking of Heidi's post. Donald Hall is someone whose poetry I would like to get to know better. Thanks for the recs and thank goodness for The Poetry Foundation.

Kay said...

Thank you for sharing this wealth of resources about Don Hall. I'll be busy for a while pursing them. I definitely want to read more of his work. I love your list of accomplishments for the summer--it was time well spent and rich with possibilities.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Well, now I know what I'll be reading today. Thanks for the introduction, Ruth!

Mary Lee said...

I don't have time just now for a deep dive into Donald Hall, but I'll save this link on my desktop. Thank you.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Bite your tongue, my friend--summer is nowhere near half-way over! and I can only write that because already on July 1 I had to make a similar list of things I had accomplished while "not getting anything done." (A lot of my time right now is spent with my mom, about to be 80 and trying to decide how much energy she has to put into living longer and how--"always be closing." It is essential work.)

I was struck by a Donald Hall poem just last night (at the dusk time of the intellect that does not allow me to remember what it was). Thanks for the guidance towards more. said...

I love your list of summer accomplishments! This is my first year working at a year-round school. It's fine, but feels a little strange after almost a whole lifetime of summers off. I always had those anxiety dreams in August. Maybe not this year!

And thanks for sharing about Donald Hall. I was very glad to meet him and look forward to reading more of his poetry.