Reading Matters

Donald Hall: ‘Poems are erotic,’ from an interview on ‘Poetry, Aging and Loss’

“Poems stopped,” says Donald Hall at age 86, “because poems are erotic. The sound and density of poems require more testosterone. But without writing, my life would be empty. When I can write, it is a joy to be alive, and I can look forward to writing more. Now I need a nap after writing much, but that does not stop the necessity. I continue.”

Hall’s statement was prompted by an interview with psychiatrist John Martin-Joy of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., which runs in the currrent issue of TriQuarterly. The interview is called “Poetry, Aging, and Loss,” and Hall also discusses the depression that his late wife suffered – the poet Jane Kenyon.

In her poem, “Back,” Kenyon writes about a short reprieve from the depression. She says:

“I fall into my life again...

I can find my way back. I know

I will recognize the store

where I used to buy milk and gas.

I remember the house and barn,

the rake, the blue cups and plates.

The Russian novels I loved so much,

and the black nightgown

that he once thrust

into the toe of my Christmas stocking.”

“Many of us doctors are uncomfortable talking about sex,” says Martin-Joy, “so we never learn just how devastating depression can be for our patients’ love lives – and how joyful it is when sexual interest returns.”

Hall tells the psychiatrist that every year at Christmas, “I would put something sexy at the bottom of her stocking.”

After Kenyon was diagnosed with leukemia, she and Hall “talked about everything. We chose poems for her posthumous collection, and wrote her obituary – but I forgot to talk about the shape and manner of her gravestone – ‘ours.’ I regretted it but did the best I could.”

Hall’s works include “String Too Short to Be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm,” Fathers Playing Catch with Sons: Essays on Sport (Mostly Baseball)” “Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry,” “Essays After Eighty.” His many collections of poetry include “The Yellow Room,” “Kicking the Leaves,” “The One Day,” and “The Selected Poems.”

Jane Kenyon’s collections include: “Let Evening Come,” “A Hundred White Daffodils,” “Otherwise,” and “Collected Poems.”

To access the interview .