Article updated March 10, 2019 by Dave Conlin Read
Except for Love; New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall, will be published on June 23rd, the first anniversary of his death at 89. Included is my poem Afterparty, which I shared with the former Poet Laureate during a six year acquaintance that began in 2012. (More about the book)
Hall was a guest on the 2008 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at Tanglewood, with Garrison Keillor, which I reviewed on BerkshireLinks.com, and which I mentioned when I arrived at Eagle Pond Farm in June 2012 for the first of three dinner visits. The musical guest on that show was Inga Swearingen, and so when we exchanged greetings, I remarked on his performance then, referring to her, I said, “Garrison certainly has good taste in musical guests!”
“Garrison – it’s always Mr. Keillor with me!”
I think I was being upbraided as much for being thirty minutes late as for evincing any familiarity with Keillor; nonetheless, the #MeToo’d broadcaster and champion of poetry was a recurring thread in my correspondence with Hall. In the letter dated 8 December 2017 wherein Hall writes “I like Afterparty,” after writing that Keillor has just finished a book of limericks, he says that they have not talked “…about whatever happened.” Hall “doubt(s) that it was much. He’s not Louis C.K.!”
An unintended consequence of lucking into an acquaintance with someone who keeps better company than you do is the elevation of the gossip! When we got to the restaurant that day in 2012, my second attempt at catalyzing conversation was more successful – and wound up an item of conversation six years later. I asked him about a scene in The Dead, the James Joyce story, which Hall was excited to hold forth on for twenty minutes, nearly coming to tears.
Paul Muldoon and Billy Collins in conversation
At the October 2018 Sharon Springs Poetry Festival, during a conversation between Paul Muldoon and Billy Collins, the Joyce story was mentioned and afterward, while putting away the folding chairs, Jean Korelitz recommended that I see The Dead, 1904 her adaption, with husband Paul Muldoon, of the Joyce story soon to open in New York for a third Yuletide run.
Earlier that day, I was one of ten poets participating in a workshop run by Muldoon. If another such opportunity arises, I’d like to be an auditor rather than participant, to focus on recording Muldoon’s observations, admonitions, and anecdotes from a half-century in the poetry business – a career begun around the time that Seamus Heaney was his tutor at Queen’s University, Belfast.
It was Heaney who told the young Muldoon, “If you decide to go into the poetry business, you’ve nobody to blame but yourself.” Something else he said during the program led me to look up a Heaney poem when I got home. I found it, but not until an algorithmic snafu at Google presented me with a new poem:
The machine delivered
Seamus Heaney’s poem “May,”
where I found fontanel – a treat,
as if I’d been foraging morels,
But I’d asked for “Iron Spike,”
wherein Heaney visits Eagle Pond,
home of Don Hall and Jane Kenyon,
poets he had a soft spot for.
(More soon … )