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The Painted Bed: Poems Hardcover – April 11, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Hall has for decades been an eminent poet and critic; his previous book, Without (1999), was a raw collection of elegies for his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, that brought attention to their lives and work. More controlled, more varied and more powerful, this taut follow-up volume reexamines Hall's grief while exploring the life he has made since. The book's first poem, "Kill the Day," stands among the best Hall has ever written. It examines mourning in 16 long-lined stanzas, alternating catalogue with aphorism, understatement with keened lament: "How many times will he die in his own lifetime?" Two groups of terse, short-lined free verse proffer stories and moments from Kenyon's last days and from Hall's first days without her: "You think that their dying is the worst thing that could happen. Then they stay dead." Subsequent brief stanzaic lyrics take both epigraph and method from Thomas Hardy's poems on the loss of his wife: some will please both Hardy's fans and Hall's. But even those fans may skip "Daylilies on the Hill," a lengthy and overly detailed verse history of the by now familiar New Hampshire house that Hall and Kenyon shared. The book's last poems range from raunchy to wise as they explore sex in later age "Sometimes our red fitted sheets maneuvered to embrace us like pythons." The final poem, ironically called "Affirmation," contains a more typical and typically stark prediction: "If a new love carries us past middle age, our wife will die at her strongest and most beautiful." (Apr.)Forecast: The press blitz that accompanied Without won't materialize here, but it won't matter to Hall's (and Kenyon's) many readers. Look for broader reviews centered on the poetry of illness and grief that could include this book, Alan Shapiro's Song & Dance (Forecasts, Dec. 17, 2001), Linda Pastan's The Last Uncle (Forecasts, Jan. 21) and Donald Revell's Arcady (reviewed below).
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Even as he has suffered from his wife Jane Kenyon's death and the declining powers of age, Hall has continued growing as a poet, and his steady readers may consider this his finest collection. The long, long-lined opening poem, "Kill the Day," considers his grief over Jane from a few years later than the raw, bleeding poems of Without (1998), and reports a bleak existence but limns it with compelling beauty. Bleakness and beauty characterize the reminiscent lyrics that follow, too, joined by a breathtaking bluntness, as in this "Distressed Haiku": "You think that their / dying is the worst / thing that could happen. // Then they stay dead." A second long-lined, long poem, "Daylilies on the Hill 1975-1989," however, celebrates his grandparents' old house, which he restored to be his home, and some humbly momentous events in its history. The love that breaks through in "Daylilies" skittishly informs the bawdy poems that lead to the final "Affirmation" that "it is fitting / and delicious to lose everything." Amen. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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If the price of a hardcover book proves prohibitive, one might fly to the nearest bookstore, pluck "The Painted Bed" from the shelves, and sit on a chair or a patch of carpet and receive these words as one might receive the language of a liturgy. The stations of Hall's grief are composed of stately phrases and living words. Few books of poetry can be described with justice as necessary to acquire and to absorb; Hall's collection of elegies is such a book -- vital in the sense of necessary, and in the sense of helping one to live.
Mr. Hall's imagery is beautiful. Listen to the opening lines of "Kill The Day."
"When she died it was as if her car accelerated
off the pier's end and zoomed upward over death water
for a year without gaining or losing altitude. . . "
In the poem "Ardor" lust is described as "grief that has turned over in bed to look the other way." Finally in the concluding poem in the book "Affirmation" Hall describes the indifference of the young to growing old with this wonderful image: "we row for years on the midsummer pond, ignorant and content."
These poems bring, if not comfort, at least the knowldge that we are not alone in our own losses. As in all good art, the particular becomes the universal.
Cut to the Chase:
This is a relatively short collection by a poetry master. Though I don’t often read poetry, when I do pick up a collection, it almost always has Donald Hall’s name on it. This is not my favorite by him, but it’s very, very well-written. Detailing the years directly after his wife, Jane, passed away, this is his second collection dealing with the emotional desolation of losing his mate. I prefer Without, and feel like this is almost its ugly stepsister… but still, if I hadn’t been comparing it to Without, I’m sure I would have rated it (even more) highly.
Some examples from the book:
To grow old is to lose everything
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young, we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.”
“KILL THE DAY
When she died, at first the outline of absence defined
a presence that disappeared. He wept for the body
he could no longer reach to touch in bed on waking.
When the coffee cup broke, when her yello bathrode
departed the bathroom door, when the address book
in her hand altered itself into scratchings-out,
he dreaded the an adventure of self-hatred accomplished
by the finger or toe of an old man alone without
an onion to eat betwee slices of store-bought bread.
“THE AFTER LIFE
When Alice Lind finished
praying over Jane’s coffin.
three hundred neighbors
and poets stood in spring
sunshine. Then Robert
started to sing “Amazin
Grace.” out of the silence
that followed he heard
his own voice saying,
“We have to go, dear.”
Comparison to Other Books:
I think that Hall is a great poet, and I think a great place to start would be White Apples and the Taste of Stone as it gives you a wide range of his work, spanning 60 years (it also has a CD which is wonderful – I attended a reading with Hall once and there’s really nothing quite like hearing poems read by the author himself). I think Without is by far one of the most moving books I’ve read and details Hall’s emotions and life after his younger wife passes away… as I said in the review, this kind of feels like the lesser in a continuing series, but still… good.
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