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The Back Chamber Hardcover – September 13, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (September 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547645856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547645858
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #632,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"For the reader boiling in triple-digit SoCal heat at the end of the summer, Donald Hall's "The Back Chamber: Poems" arrives like a sudden cloudburst and shower of cooling rain. . .A former U.S. poet laureate, Hall has always had this elemental power — to vividly evoke his particular New England climate and geography so that it can't be mistaken for any other — but what is more unexpected in this new collection of poems, his 16th, is passion."--LA Times

"If the poems in it are relatively somber, they’re equally witty, consummately well-crafted." --Booklist, STARRED review

"Featuring moving, amusing, musical poems about love, aging, and baseball, this work will have broad appeal and is recommended for all collections."—Library Journal

"The former U.S. poet laureate reaches his 20th book in unmistakably honest form..." --Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Donald Hall, who served as poet laureate of the United States from 2006 to 2007, is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president.


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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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When we die, they will all be boxed or bagged up and tossed in the garbage.
H. F. Corbin
Apparently, this worries Hall, now 83, who more than once in this collection refers to himself as having lost poetry, love, and sex.
Steven Schwartz
You can read them in one sitting, but it's kind of like eating a whole box of chocolates in one sitting.
K. B. Fenner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Glynn Young VINE VOICE on August 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
From the time I was 8 until I was 14, I spent a week each summer at my grandmother's house in Shreveport. I would sleep in the second bedroom, which was always called "the back room" even though it and my grandmother's bedroom formed the back of the house. It was the room with a ceiling door in the closet that led to the attic; it was the room where my grandmother stored a lot of things, including my grandfather's cane; it was the room and the bed where my grandfather died. That I slept in that bed and in that room never bothered me; instead, I felt closer to him, this man who died when I was nine months old but had shaped so many in the family, including my father.

I was continually reminded of this "back room" while reading former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall's "The Back Chamber: Poems," a collection filled with memory, desire, imaginings and longings, the collection Hall needed to write as he enters his ninth decade. The title poem captures the essence of the collection:

Here is the houses' genius: pram and bedstead,
Heart-shaped valentine candy
Boxes, oil lamps, a captain's chair,
And Ben Keneston's underwear,
A century ago
Folded away in case it came in handy,
By prudent family dead.

Here chests keep layers of relics: a beaded purse.
A graduation dress
That Ben's wife Lucy made in homespun,
Reports from school in nineteen-one,
A century ago,
And painted China heads, now bodiless,
From dolls of three dead daughters.

Here, in a few short lines, is memory, family history, relics from that history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Steven Schwartz VINE VOICE on September 30, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the late Sixties, I discovered post-World War II poetry, thanks in large part to Donald Hall, who had brought the best of the best contemporary writers to read and talk and who had nurtured a remarkable community of poets on The University of Michigan campus. I had read Hall's early formalist stuff, which I liked a lot. However, I found his switch to Deep Imagism lacking. To me, it took him a couple of books to master the new approach. After that, he scored just about every time.

Poets usually write about what matters to them or, more importantly, about what they think they can express. For example, a published poet I know gets extremely moved by the music of Vaughan Williams but has no words for it. Consequently, he doesn't write about it. Hall has almost always written about what matters to him, although he also writes playful poems, jeux d'esprit, and the occasional pastiche, not quite parody. He has a virtuosity about him, not only formally (his invention of the "baseball" form, for example - 9 syllables, 9 lines, 9 stanzas), but in the ability to construct tidy, complex "action" images. However, I've noticed that such images have become fewer and fewer in the later collections.

Apparently, this worries Hall, now 83, who more than once in this collection refers to himself as having lost poetry, love, and sex. I don't know about the last two, but he's clearly wrong about the first. This is a very strong set indeed. Again, the virtuosic images have become fewer, and Hall's writing has become more direct, less figurative. This may well worry him because of the continuing dominion of the tenets of Deep Image. However, we would do well to remember that not all great poetry works this way.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rett01 VINE VOICE on August 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As you might expect from a poet now in his ninth decade, Donald Hall is writing more about endings than beginnings, melancholy more than joy. "If stories are happy, they haven't ended."

Still there is much for even Hall to celebrate and ultimately "The Back Chamber" elevates and for its economy of language, often amazes. In four short stanzas "What We Did," (two lines from the poem below) etches a complete portrait of life together for Hall and his second wife Jane Kenyon.

If we met in the kitchen, pouring another cup of coffee,
we never broke silence. We patted bluejeaned bottoms.

His poems and narratives are funny, poignant, precise and extremely evocative. Often they're sexy and always accessible. He can also be a curmudgeon. A favorite in this slender collection is "Poetry and Ambition," where Hall writes about his life as a poet,

An octogenarian sits in the blond maple chair writing, crossing out,
picking up a thesaurus, trying to find a metaphor -
and makes a doddery language with no poetry in it.
If no one will ever read him again, what the f ***?

"Ric's Progress," a long narrative poem is for me the best of the lot. Its 21 sections follow Ric and his relationships with women from his youth to late middle age when "skin slackens and wrinkles" and where Ric is "bald and puffy," experiencing finally the "nakedness of people no longer young and smooth-skinned."

Many of the poems cover familiar territory. Hall's life and the trappings of his existence on his New Hampshire farmstead, life with poet Jane Kenyon, who died at 47 of cancer, his own infirmities and illness and his new relationship with a woman named Linda. There's the dog Gus and the plow horse Riley.
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