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Without: Poems Hardcover – April 7, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 81 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (April 7, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039588408X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395884089
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Eagle Pond Farm, familiar even to casual readers of poet Donald Hall (author of 13 volumes of poetry spanning over 40 years), constitutes his spiritual and geographic center. He moved there permanently in 1975 after marrying the young and talented poet Jane Kenyon. His long relationship to Eagle Pond Farm and the creative haven the two poets created gives Without a special poignancy. It is where, in 1995, Jane Kenyon died.

The facts are hard but simple. In 1994, Jane Kenyon--who at 46 was beginning to enjoy the growing recognition of her work--was diagnosed with leukemia. Kenyon and Hall opted for the harrowing bone marrow transplant, to be performed in Seattle. It was not successful, and 12 weeks later, she was dead. Hall began drafting Without during the procedure and subsequent treatment, an act almost impossible to imagine--or perhaps for a poet, the only act possible in the face of what for most would be unspeakable. The magnitude of such suffering might indeed explain the collection's flatness of tone, as if grief can be touched only across great distances.

However restrained the pieces, Hall's gaze is fearless. Shifts in voice (he writes both in first and third person) create a tension that pulls the reader forward, as if compelled to consume this moving, raw account in one sitting. The quality of reader attention is more akin to what one gives a story. Narrative elements include a terse account of the bone-marrow transplant and Kenyan's subsequent radiation treatments ("It was as if she capped the Chernobyl pile with her body"), and it's here that the poems become almost unbearable to read.

Without captures the tedium of dying, jolted by surges of rage and "witless" love. Numbly, it lists the flinty details of Kenyon's last days, spent choosing the poems for her last volume, Otherwise: New & Selected Poems. It describes the moment of her dying in a way that makes one wonder if the ultimate experience of intimacy is to watch the beloved die, to be the one to close her eyes. "Back home from the grave," Hall writes toward the end of this volume, "behind my desk I made / a gallery of Janes," but it can be said that every poem presents a facet of his wife while dying, accruing finally to a gallery of love and grief.

There are some distinguishing jolts to our familiar concepts about death as in, for example, the poem showing the couple, with their minister, praying and holding hands. And when they prayed, "grace was evident / but not the comfort of mercy or reprieve / The embodied figure / on the cross still twisted under the sun." By and large, however, it's a volume not remarkable for bold imagery or shocking connections; rather for the expression of raw grief that follows, unwelcome, all of our necessary losses. --Hollis Giammatteo

From Booklist

Three years ago, as cancer destroyed his wife, Jane Kenyon, Hall helped her assemble her last book, Otherwise (1996), which stands with Langston Hughes' great Selected Poems (1959) as a classic of poetic self-presentation. Now he adds to her masterpiece a hard pendant of his own, a collection concerned with her last days, her dying, and his grief. These poems are less brilliant by far than the virtually saltating verse in The Museum of Clear Ideas (1993) and The Old Life (1996). They are near-cruelly blunt about Kenyon's physical deterioration and Hall's own indecorous, raging sadness; for instance, when he recalls an abashing incident while alone for the first time at Christmas--" sick with longing, / I press my penis / into zinc and butcherblock." Many who have lost a mate will recognize this amalgam of lust and despair. They will also feel again that weird weightlessness of the heart when, in the same poem, Hall reports, in a non sequitur, "Yesterday I caught sight of you / in the Kearsarge Mini-Mart." Ray Olson

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Customer Reviews

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WITHOUT is a beautiful tribute to a wife as well as a treatise on grief that cloaks us with its humanity.
H. F. Corbin
Still, Without is by far one of the most moving books I’ve ever read, so if you only had time to read one collection of poems by Hall, I would say this should be it.
This short volume contains much of Hall's best poetry, all the result of the illness and death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon.
R. Albin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By girldiver on October 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
I heard Donald Hall read passages of Whitman's Leaves of Grass at the 2005 National Book Festival on the Mall in DC. I knew nothing of him, his work, or his love of Jane Kenyon. I did know his voice rang true to the soul I possess. I can still here his voice over the sound of helicopter blades that plagued the readings in each tent. Compelled to read his work I finally gave into the need to buy one of his works and so I bought three.

"Without" is a journey of loss. Each poem is a step during the journey of Jane Kenyon's illness, passing, and Donald Hall's experience of loss. His pain, confusion, and helplessness are mirrored in every line and in every word with in the pages of "Without".

By the time I got to page nine I was crying, not for Jane Kenyon but for Donald Hall. The book doesn't show case only loss but devotion. The memories he shares of Jane are clouded with the simple things that brought him contentment and careless pleasure. How often do you see the simple things in your life and overlook the pleasure that exists in the act of observation? Donald Hall looks back on the pleasure of contentment watching his wife taste the sauce that will be served with dinner and the act of bringing in groceries. He tells us of the ravishing beauty she grew into in her 40's. Donald Hall reminds us of hope with in the pages of "Without".

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Nanci on December 1, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I discovered Jane Kenyon when her poem "Otherwise" and her beautiful presence aired on Bill Moyers' "The Language of Life". It was the year I found I could no longer tolerate my depression and set about creating a new life that I learned of her depression. I learned that she had been born one year earlier, and in her poetry I found us kindred spirits. Then I found she was dying of leukemia, and indeed died that next year after the research center across the street had once again made promises it could not keep. My best friend's husband had heard the same promises and suffered the same fate. Last week Seattle's beloved school superintendent had those same promises fail him. When I heard Donald Hall had written poems on her death, I had a mixed reaction. I did not want her death minimized or exploited. Yet, I wanted her remembered, her courage and victory over herself. So it was some months later when I picked up "Without" and began reading of the journey Donald and Jane made together, a journey not unfamiliar to those who have taken the path before them. I felt their pain, their love, and their courage. It was difficult reading, I felt as though I knew her personally, and I grieved her more than others. But he wrote with grace, love and truth. Jane is there in the poems, and in all the works she leaves beind. If only we had had her for a little longer.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Gianmarco Manzione on January 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Without constitutes my first experience with Donald Hall's poetry, need I say it was not my last? This collection reads like a novel, it is really a fluid sequence of accounts of his wife's death, either in devastatingly ironic and witty snapshots or extended odes and elegies such as the harrowing "Letter With No Address," written to his dead wife, nearly all of which will grab you by the throat and suck you into the spaces in between the words. Hall knew that if he was going to try and rip a vein of life from his soul and convey its contents to his readers, he could only do so by immersing them within the poems themselves. Few poets ever develop the kind of authenticity of voice required to achieve such a feat. It is surely a standard to which any poet aspires.
Donald Hall approached this project perfectly. This is not a collection that stammers with captivating imagery or the kind of unfathomable metaphorical connections that are found in the work of our best American poets such as Hart Crane or Walt Whitman. Hall knew that in devoting a collection of poems to such a personal and painful experience, one that obviously left its fang marks on his heart, he risked committing some of the cardinal sins of poetry, such as mawkishness and self-pity.
Hall avoids those pitfalls at every conceivable instance. His ability to blend sentimentality with dry irony and compelling wit, compounded by his successful effort to keep himself out of the poems despite his inevitable relation to them, make this the finest collection of his career, and indeed the work of a man who just may be ranked among our very top American poets somewhere down the line. Without stands among the most riveting documents of love, desire and loss to be found throughout the history of American Poetry.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on February 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
In his book of poems "Without", Donald Hall weaves a lexicographic tribute to his late wife, and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, and in turn, leaves the world a legacy of grief and honor.
I first heard of this book by listening to NPR's "This American Life" on a featured story about the couple. Donald himself read some of these poems, and I knew within a minute, I had to have this work.
As poets so meekly and admirably do, Donald Hall captures the moments of his wife's last days through her battle with leukemia. The poems are simple, attainable, and direct. He minces no words as he describes Jane's downfall. He poetry is both pure and chilling; you feel her loss, you feel her impact, you feel.
If you are considering purchasing this book, I may recommend you purchasing Jane Kenyon's final book of poetry called "Otherwise". In a sense, they are companion pieces to each other, and in reading both you hear her voice, along with his, to make it theirs.
I highly recommend this book if you have ever lost someone, or want to understand the not understandable impact of losing someone.
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