Donald Hall

United States Poet Laureate (2006-2007)
Distinguished Poet & Memoirist
National Medal of the Arts Recipient


"Hall paints scenes with the reverent earthiness of a Dutch master, getting all the textures right." —Alicia Ostriker


“Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines.” —Billy Collins

The fourteenth United States Poet Laureate from 2006-2007, Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1951, and in 1953 his bachelor’s in literature from Oxford University. For the past 30 years he has lived on Eagle Pond Farm in rural New Hampshire, in the house where his grandmother and mother were born. He has two children from his first marriage and five grandchildren. He was married for twenty-three years to the poet Jane Kenyon, who died in 1995. In 1998, he published Without (Houghton Mifflin), a collection of poems expressing his grief over Kenyon’s death: “The mosaic of a whole period, with all its inner moods and its physical accessories, is masterfully accomplished” (New York Review of Books).

Hall has published sixteen books of poetry, beginning with Exiles and Marriages in 1955. In 2006, he published White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946–2006 (Houghton Mifflin), a volume of his essential life’s work. His most recent book of poetry is The Back Chamber (2011, Houghton Mifflin). Among his books for children, Ox-Cart Man won the Caldecott Medal. His twenty books of prose include Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories (2003); The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (2005); and a collection of his essays about poetry, Breakfast Served Any Time All Day (2003). He has written extensively about life in New Hampshire in his memoirs Seasons at Eagle Pond (1987), Here at Eagle Pond (2000), Eagle Pond (2007), and Christmas at Eagle Pond (2012). His memoir Unpacking the Boxes: The Life of a Poet was published in 2008.

For his poetry, Donald Hall received the Marshall/Nation Award in 1987 for his The Happy Man; both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award in 1988 for The One Day; the Lily Prize for Poetry in 1994; two Guggenheim Fellowships; and a National Medal of Arts. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

About THE BACK CHAMBER (Poetry, 2011)
In The Back Chamber, Donald Hall illuminates the evocative, iconic objects of deep memory—"a cowbell," "a white stone perfectly round," "a three-legged milking stool"—that serve to foreground the rich meditations on time and mortality that run through his remarkable new collection. While Hall’s devoted readers will recognize many of his long-standing preoccupations—baseball, the family farm, love, sex, and friendship—what will strike them as new is the fierce, pitiless poignancy he reveals as his own life’s end comes into view. The Back Chamber is far from being death-haunted but rather is lively, irreverent, sexy, hilarious, ironic, and sly—full of the life-affirming energy that has made Donald Hall one of America’s most popular and enduring poets.

Donald Hall's remarkable life in poetry—a career capped by his appointment as US poet laureate in 2006—comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir. Hall's invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was "secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious," and ends with what he calls "the planet of antiquity," a time of life dramatically punctuated by his appointment as poet laureate of the United States. Hall writes eloquently of the poetry and books that moved and formed him as a child and young man, and of adolescent efforts at poetry writing—an endeavor he wryly describes as more hormonal than artistic. His painful formative days at Exeter, where he was sent like a naive lamb to a high WASP academic slaughter, are followed by a poetic self-liberation of sorts at Harvard. Here he rubs elbows with Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, and Edward Gorey, and begins lifelong friendships with Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, and George Plimpton. After Harvard, Hall is off to Oxford, where the high spirits and rampant poetry careerism of the postwar university scene are brilliantly captured. At eighty, Hall is as painstakingly honest about his failures and low points as a poet, writer, lover, and father as he is about his successes, making Unpacking the Boxes both revelatory and tremendously poignant.