The Poetry of Caregiving
During that year, Hall talked and talked and
talked about Kenyon to everyone he encountered.
Writing, too, was a salve for
"The impulses to talk and to write are similar," he tells me, "but writing is more helpful. I could revise my grief, go over it." The attempt to understand death, or at least come to terms with it, is, he suggests, one of the main ingredients in all writing.
Now, he says, "I come back to this house, in
which I have felt so much emptiness since her
death, and because I can't work, I find myself with
nothing to do." After 12 years of writing primarily
about Kenyon, Hall found himself, in
2007, for the first time in his life, unable to write. "For so many years I was writing poems about Jane. I've become more and more naked as a poet, particularly after Jane's death. Then I came to the end of that. Something has changed, and language doesn't come to me anymore."
He holds his hands out, palms up, and shakes
his head. "I've had more attacks
of grief this spring. She would have been 60 this year. When I turned 60, she had a big party for me." It's clear from hearing Hall talk, from seeing the emotions that flicker across his face, that the assumption that grief dissipates with time is only partially true. Certainly the simplistic notion of "closure," when one is talking about the death of a soul mate, is ridiculous.
Could it be that Hall's duties as U.S. poet laureate are what made writing impossible? Hall shakes his head no. "I've always been hypomanic," he says. "Time is never the issue." Indeed, since graduating from Harvard and then Oxford in the early 1950s, Hall has never
From the time he began writing poetry, at age 12, Hall has written about the family homestead. He calls it the "poetry house," because it was there, as a boy, that he listened avidly to his grandfather's stories and first came to believe in the evocative power of words.
stopped. He has written 15 books of poetry, 12 collections of essays, two children's books (including the 1979 Caldecott Medal-winner, Ox-Cart Man), several plays, and countless introductions, magazine articles, and
critical reviews. He has won many, many prizes for his work, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1988 and two Guggenheim Fellowships.
It was Kenyon who persuaded Hall to leave his tenured faculty position at the University of Michigan, move to Eagle Pond Farm, and support himself with freelancing.
"I was terrified about money," he recalls. "Jane had grown up in a family of freelancers; she was ready to chain herself in the root cellar if necessary," to convince him to make the move.
After they settled in New Hampshire, "we were in this house together all day long,