Thursday, November 13, 2008

Readings: Of Donald Hall, Poet


I’m currently reading with pleasure Unpacking the Boxes, the memoire of Donald Hall, the 14th American Poet Laureate. I met Donald Hall when I was an undergraduate English major at the University of Michigan and he was on the faculty. In the past year I stumbled across the knowledge that Hall’s wife, Jane Kenyon, also a successful poet, was my classmate both at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and at the University. Yet I did not know her. This is, to me, a mystery. Tragically, Jane Kenyon died very young, in 1995. I will perhaps write more on this at a later time.

The excerpt below is taken from the first chapter of Unpacking the Boxes, which is entitled “Domains”:

In general the arts – theater and music and painting and sculpture and poetry – carry with them an aura of sexual freedom and license, some arts and artists more than others: jazz and rock musicians, dancers, actresses. Typically, readers have felt something erotic in poetry, something adventurous, wayward, sensuous, and forbidden. Late romanticism created the poète maudit: outlaw, madman, bohemian, overthrower of social convention – ...But even before artist decadents drank absinthe in dark cafés, poetry was sensual by its nature – in its internal structure, in its bodiliness, especially in its carnality of sound. Poetry is more erotic than fiction, which is why female poets were so rare until the mid-twentieth century. Jane Austen and George Eliot were permitted to write great novels, but the only great nineteenth-century woman poet was the eccentric eremite Emily Dickinson. In the first half of the twentieth-century, Marianne Moore was equally exceptional. The vast increase in the number of good women poets has coincided with sexual liberation.

There is much packed into that little paragraph which strikes a sympathetic chord in me.
Update: Here is a link to Donald Hall's page on the Poets. org site