Friday, February 10, 2012

Poet Donald Hall on Fresh Air

Godine is proud to publish titles by 83-year-old former poet laureate Donald Hall, including String Too Short to Be Saved and the children's books Lucy's Summer, Lucy's Christmas, and The Man Who Lived Alone. NPR's Fresh Air just interviewed Hall ("A Poet's View 'Out the Window'"). Here are highlights:

On the most unanticipated part of growing older

"I don't mean to sound superior, but when I was a young man, like 60, I looked at 83-year-olds as if they came from another galaxy. And now I find myself being seen that way. . . . In general, sometimes I don't exist. People don't see me. I know I would have been like that [when I was younger], but it is weird to be in that position."

On fulfillment

"As long as I can do my work and continue to enjoy myself working on words, as in this essay ["Out the Window"], I feel fulfilled. My body causes me trouble when I cross the room, but when I am sitting down writing, I am in my heaven — my old heaven. I began writing when I was 12, I don't think very well. But I've been doing it my whole life. It's been the center of my life, with loves and children, but writing is something I have that not everyone has that I adore."

On living in his grandparents' house

"It's an enormous comfort, which is only interrupted by sad thoughts. I don't mean I'm cheerful every minute about what happens to the house after I die. I live with more bookcases and with crazy pictures on the walls in the same rooms where I spent this delectable childhood, and it is wonderful. I really always wanted to live here. I didn't think I could ever afford to live here. I came to visit my grandmother as she got to be very old, but it seemed out of reach with what I do for a living. Then I married [the late poet] Jane Kenyon and we came here to visit; and she was born and grew up in Michigan, and fell in love with the house, the landscape, what she could see of the social mores of the country. She wanted to live here."

On getting comfort from the idea of his books outliving him

"I can't say it does. I have hope, but I do not have anything like conviction or knowledge that they will. I have been alive too long among too many writers . . . who have died, and they are not thinking of afterwards. Having some success in your life doesn't mean that your work will endure. In an almanac, look at the list of winners of the Pulitzer Prize over the last 60-70 years and see how many names you remember. It's chilling. I can hope, I can daydream, but certainly think that the chances of me being read 50 years from now or 100 years from now are probably not good. That cannot be your only end. You can not write to be immortal because you will never know. It's impossible. Just write as well as you can and don't speculate about whether you will be Chaucer or Shakespeare."

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