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The Back Chamber Hardcover – September 13, 2011
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
More than with perhaps other poetry collections and poets, it helps to know some background about Donald Hall before reading "The Back Chamber. Read morePublished on April 6, 2012 by choiceweb0pen0
Donald Hall is a national treasure, no less so then Robert Frost, his fellow New England-er[I know Frost was from San Francisco] After the death of his late lamented wife, Hall has... Read morePublished on November 17, 2011 by A. Hogan
This is the first full collection I have read by Donald Hall, who is now into his 80's, and as his poetry reveals, he stares mortality straight in the face. Read morePublished on October 26, 2011 by B. Niedt
Donald Hall can make a non-reader of poetry into an enthusiast. His poems vary from haiku-like thoughts to a more-condensed short-story. Read morePublished on October 5, 2011 by K. B. Fenner
The Back Chamber - Donald Hall
I responded to this slim volume of poems as I have to most of Donald Hall's writing. Read more
I have never met Donald Hall, but I certainly feel like I know him. He is a very autobiographical poet and as I have been reading him for 40 years I have followed his path through... Read morePublished on September 30, 2011 by Mark Town
I don't know a whole lot about Donald Hall; he was the U.S. Poet Laureate for a while, and won some awards, but that doesn't tell much about his poetry. Read morePublished on September 5, 2011 by JackOfMostTrades
If you wonder what Donald Hall's been up to since the death of his wife the poet Jane Kenyon, it would appear that there's been a lot of sex and more than a little disappointment. Read morePublished on September 4, 2011 by Yours Truly