Poet Donald Hall…

has died. UD thanks Van, a reader, for telling her. She will expand this post with some comments on Hall.


Donald Hall loped through poems, rather like the laconic farmer he was, loping through fields of New Hampshire hay. His strongest emotions appear in the volume Without, an extended effort to understand his condition of rage and loss after the leukemia and death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon (“pain vomit neuropathy morphine nightmare”), but this condition of being too overwhelmed for tempering commas and capitals does not produce his best poetry, UD thinks. His strength was in all that laconic loping through life, in an earthy egoistic uprightness that kept him going until 89. In his calm long stretchy verbal reach, he was the anti-Rilke.

He was most himself in poems like “Closings,” in which he brought his characteristic precise observation, empathy, and conversational simplicity to the violent suicide of a close friend and fellow poet, Liam Rector. In nine stanzas of short-lined free verse, he moves from Rector’s flamboyant physical appearance (“Liam the dandy/ loved Brooks Brothers shirts, double-breasted / suits, bespoke shoes, and linen jackets.”) to his membership in the community of too-soon-dead poets (“T.S. Eliot turned old and frail at sixty, pale, preparing for death. / Then poets of new generations / died — Frank O’Hara first, then Jim Wright / with throat cancer in a Bronx hospice, / Sylvia Plath beside the oven, / Thom Gunn of an overdose…”), to memories, now that Rector’s life has “closed,” of his very open intensity during most of his life (“erupting with gusto / as he improvised his outrageous, / cheerful, inventive obscenities.”).

As he moves toward the end of his in memoriam, Hall notes that when Hall became an important cultural voice in America, Rector sent him a list of projects he might undertake, including

“Urge poets to commit suicide.”
His whole life he spoke of suicide
lightly …

Lightly, and like a lot of people who get very debilitatingly sick, practically. It was a solution to intolerability.

Hall closes where he opened, with Rector’s flamboyance – a flamboyance he expressed to the very end, dandily dressed and dancing with his wife.

[O]n August fifteenth Liam pulled
the shotgun’s trigger. The night before,
wearing a tux over a yellow
silk shirt, he danced with Tree once again,
before bed and the morning’s murder.
He left Tree alone and desolate
but without anger. Tree knew Liam
did what he planned and needed to do.

It is a blunt and matter-of-fact conclusion to a poem that urges, in the case of suicides like this one, an acceptance of the integrity of the choice.


And by the way, all you have to do is read Rector’s wonderful “This Summer” to see why he and Hall were buddies. There’s the laconic morbid material:

I roar out of the Farber Clinic

(how splendid to have cancer in Boston
and fall heir to the astute care
available here)

in the silver sports car I sport
during this debacle…

Sport/debacle: great stuff. You see Rector jauntily/dreadfully keeping his head above water through the worst… He smokes tons of marijuana through chemo and radiation, and praises it highly – lightens the pain, clarifies things. The praise brings on several stanzas of unabashed delight at the memory of his hippie summers of love past – the joints, the music – and somehow the awareness that he delightedly lived that free life makes death okay.

This summer
I have conversed with death every minute

and found out I have the talent
to submit, to leave, even to flee…


In a wonderful phrase, he describes his existence as

a late century life afloat on a sea of loans.

And then he ends the poem brilliantly, hilariously, with his sixteen year old daughter’s prim dismissal of the drug that has meant as much to him in his youthful exultation as in his aging agony:

[I] hear over the telephone my sixteen-year-old
daughter in Virginia saying she now thinks

she will never ever smoke marijuana
because it is, after all,
just another “gateway drug.”

This is laugh out loud stuff if you ask old UD; and since Rector has, earlier in the poem, written about the gates of heaven —

I think I may die without god,
my single comic integrity

that I have remained
an atheist in the foxhole,
though I am ready

to roar through the gates
if there are gates.

— we get the terrific payoff of those two kinds of gates – one doubted, profound, mysterious, beckoning; the other flat as a pancake.

Mother Goose Rhyme

Martin Shkreli, Pharma Bro’ –
How does your karma grow?
With Retrophin and Daraprim
And seven long years in a row.

Awash in wind…

UD shares the best wind poem she knows. It’s by Ted Hughes.



This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.



There is a sacred, secret line in loving
which attraction and even passion cannot cross,—
even if lips draw near in awful silence
and love tears at the heart.

Friendship is weak and useless here,
and years of happiness, exalted and full of fire,
because the soul is free and does not know
the slow luxuries of sensual life.

Those who try to come near it are insane
and those who reach it are shaken by grief,
So now you know exactly why
my heart beats no faster under your hand.


[From Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova, translated from the Russian by Jane Kenyon with Vera Sandomirsky Dunham (1985)]


One does feel this –
That everything from paper hearts to fervid verse
Only faintly approaches the insane grief-shaken
Love the free soul can conceive.

We are therefore kindest to ourselves
When we close our mind-forg’d manacles
Around our too-fast-beating hearts.


Beautiful writing about a beautiful game.

Did you not see Cam Newton
Splattered all over the Superdome turf
And Dante Fowler Jr. slam Tyrod Taylor’s head
So hard into the EverBank Field grass that he sent him
Straight into concussion protocol?

You can still crush quarterbacks.

Did you not see Travis Kelce
Absorb a skull shot so vicious
It left him wobbling like a dazed boxer?

You can still hammer receivers.

It’s football. A lot of us fell in love with it
In part for the violence, and the violence remains.


Not much has changed through the years
Besides the size of the beast. It’s big guys
Banging into each other for three hours,
Giving and receiving sub-concussive hits nobody talks about.

Watch the Steelers and Jaguars smash heads
Sunday at Heinz Field. You’ll see a game
As violent as any they played in
1960s, ’70s, ’80s or ’90s.

Whatever’s been lost in gratuitous savagery
— a Dick Butkus clothesline tackle — is more than
Compensated for by greater size, strength and speed.

The 60 mph collisions from 1970 are 90 mph now.
And it’s not Volkswagens anymore. It’s 18-wheelers.
Ben Roethlisberger is bigger than Dwight White was
When he played for the Steel Curtain.

Near-Anagrams Hymn on …

… the word of the day.

Dzhisös, the hohliest ov mortal men
On this, our fallen earth of eoliths,
To thee we offer selihoth, amen:
Qui thollies peccata mundi, inwith.

New Year: From Delmore Schwartz, “In the Green Morning, Now, Once More”

The merry, the musical,
The jolly, the magical,
The feast, the feast of feasts, the festival
Suddenly ended
As the sky descended
But there was only the feeling,
In all the dark falling,
Of fragrance and of freshness, of birth and beginning.

UDesque Seasons Greetings

A gray dawn breaks
Over the deaf-mute space ocean
And UD shuts the window of morning readings
To tap out electric greetings:

The better part of wisdom is to share
Keep your mind in hell and do not despair.
In interludes among fests of nativity,
Do not forget the voice of our declivity:

“Why do people fear dying alone and unloved?
What difference does it make?”
“You know in the end, none of it matters,
What happens to you in your life. Not suffering.
Not happiness or unhappiness. Not illness. Not prison. Nothing.

Among some porcelain, among some talk of you and me
Do not forget: The blood jet is poetry.

A UDesque Christmas Prayer

Caretaker! take care, for we run in straits.
Daily, by night, we walk naked to storm,
some threat of wholesale loss, to ruinous fear.
Gift us with long cloaks & adrenalin.

Who haunt the avenues of Angkor Wat
recalling all that prayer, that glory dispersed,
haunt me at the corner of Fifth & Hennepin.
Shield & fresh fountain! Manifester! Even mine.

John Berryman

A Poem.

Alien Visitation

A second crew with whom to mourn
Th’ uncaptained flight of being

Back-up pilots from the planetary bush
Their super-accelerator a higher-order joke

On our common want of a destination
An estimated time of the arrival of meaning


Flying at 88,000! Boiling the calm Pacific!


Then, taking a seat in our cabin to share
Camusian notes on the silence of the universe

“Your children wander aimlessly poisoned by cocaine, / Choosing to indulge their lusts, when God has said abstain.”

Senate candidate Roy Moore’s poem warns us that the end is nigh because of our indulged lusts and aimlessly wandering children.

He knows whereof he speaks.



‘The American opioid-overdose epidemic must be addressed in the same stroke as the [global] narcotic famine.’

Hard to imagine
Narcotic famine

The stark hills the plain
Wide face of pain’s

End-of-life. Our morphine-feed.
Their tumbleweed.

Or the black unmitigated tea
Of uninfused misery.

Against our continuous bolus
The subcutaneous solace

That tranquils labored breath,
Sedates us up to death …

Their bitter unassistive pill.
Unpalliated kill.

Richard Wilbur, a Great American Poet, has Died.

At 96. Here’s one of his best poems. It’s nice and seasonal.

In the Elegy Season

Haze, char, and the weather of All Souls’:
A giant absence mopes upon the trees:
Leaves cast in casual potpourris
Whisper their scents from pits and cellar-holes.

Or brewed in gulleys, steeped in wells, they spend
In chilly steam their last aromas, yield
From shallow hells a revenance of field
And orchard air. And now the envious mind

Which could not hold the summer in my head
While bounded by that blazing circumstance
Parades these barrens in a golden trance,
Remembering the wealthy season dead,

And by an autumn inspiration makes
A summer all its own. Green boughs arise
Through all the boundless backward of the eyes,
And the soul bathes in warm conceptual lakes.

Less proud than this, my body leans an ear
Past cold and colder weather after wings’
Soft commotion, the sudden race of springs,
The goddess’ tread heard on the dayward stair,

Longs for the brush of the freighted air, for smells
Of grass and cordial lilac, for the sight
Of green leaves building into the light
And azure water hoisting out of wells.


UD‘s Wilbur posts. (Scroll down.)

The Ball Turret Gunner, today.

From my mother’s sleep I fell into State U.
And I drank in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Miles from home, loosed from my parents’ love,
I woke to black vodka and the nightmare brothers.
When I died I was .495 booze.

The Death of John Ashbery is a Bump in the Day, A Flooding of the Council.

America’s greatest postmodern poet has died. And just like he was saying, one is – on hearing of his death – bumped from one’s dog-perch.


Whether the harborline or the east shoreline
consummated it was nobody’s biz until you got there,
eyelids ashimmer, content with one more dispensation
from blue above. And just like we were saying,
the people began to show some interest
in the mud-choked harbor. It could be summer again
for all anyone in our class knew.
Yeah, that’s right. Bumped from our dog-perch,
we’d had to roil with the last of them.

It’s taken a while since I’ve been here,
but I’m resolved. What, didn’t I print,
little piles of notes, slopes almost Sicilian?
Here is my friend:
Socks for comfort (now boys) will see later. Did they come?
The inner grocery had to take three sets of clips away.
Speaking to him of intricate family affairs.
I’m not what you think. Stay preconscious.
It’s just the “flooding of the council.” No need to feel afraid.


Whatayawhataya. Hold on and we’ll try to make some sense of it. All the while remembering first this from Ashbery:

What [my poems] are is about the privacy of all of us, and the difficulty of our own thinking. And in that way, they are, I think, accessible if anyone cares to access them.

IOW: The soul of man is a far country (Heraclitus).

And second, this from John Koethe:

The tone [of an Ashbery poem is] likely to be nostalgic and its motions those of reverie. Its predominant feelings are passive ones, like resignation and loss; its language is resonant and suggestive; the use of narrative past tense invests it with a mythological quality; and its overall effect is one of tenderness. It dissociates itself, especially in its transitions and patterns of inference, from everyday ideas of rationality and control; its awareness of language is informed by a sense of its limitations…

So here we go.



[The poem will narrate a break in a day – something bumping into the normal flow of event. But as in the phrase bumping up, there is something clarifying about this disturbance, this – to use a word we’ll find in the poem – sudden roiling.]

Whether the harborline or the east shoreline
consummated it was nobody’s biz until you got there,

[Coastal holiday setting, it seems, harbors and shores; and if you look at the next stanza and note the word resolved, you’ll see that a conflict between, or confluence of, stability and instability appears in the poem. The speaker awaits a friend who will join him at the shore/harbor, and nothing will clarify itself until he gets there. Consummation has a sexual connotation as well, and I’m going to suggest that this poem may be about Ashbery remembering himself as a closeted young man among straight friends. Finally, on the assumption that many of Ashbery’s autobiographical poems are about writing poetry, there’s maybe a suggestion here that nothing in the world “consummates” or “resolves” into existence until the poet puts it into words. Until then, it’s all roiling and flooding and bumps.]

eyelids ashimmer, content with one more dispensation
from blue above.

[His friend is not a writer; he is merely content that nature has gifted him with another beautiful blue day, sunlight in which his eyelids shimmer. Actually, our writer isn’t a writer yet either; both of them continue to live in that blessed condition of unselfconscious youth in which you take the world, eagerly, just as it comes to you. You are one with it.].

And just like we were saying,
the people began to show some interest
in the mud-choked harbor.

[Hm. Maybe there’s a threat of flooding there – maybe it’s not a “harbor” at all, but, looked at more carefully, a mud-soaked about-to-be-flood.].

It could be summer again
for all anyone in our class knew.
Yeah, that’s right.

[Language drawn from the poet’s youth here, when he was still in “class,” and when he and his friends said to one another would-be cool phrases like Yeah, that’s right.].

Bumped from our dog-perch,
we’d had to roil with the last of them.

[Locals, these boys were above it all, watching the summer visitors with cool disregard; the oncoming flood has however knocked them from their dog-days perch, and they’ve got to join the rest of humanity as it tries to stay afloat in life. Which is to say, we have a Wordsworthian poem on our hands, lamenting the loss of childhood and the onset of adulthood.]

It’s taken a while since I’ve been here,
but I’m resolved.

[The poet has returned to his early home, and he is now a “resolved” adult – he has resolved into something – a personality, a poet, a citizen…].

What, didn’t I print,
little piles of notes, slopes almost Sicilian?

[Here is his reference to his career as a poet, his “fall” into writing and out of a world of soundless joyous unity with nature, his infinite strenuous burning efforts – Sicilian, with volcanic elements – to know the world as opposed merely to be in the world.]

Here is my friend:
Socks for comfort (now boys) will see later. Did they come?

[Ja, very obscure lines. Part of this I think is simply the “privacy” of Ashbery’s particular life – Ashbery was famously painted with argyle socks – but I think the larger idea super-compressed here is again the Wordsworthian one of youth regarded from the perspective of age. We’re boys now, with whatever – sports socks – but we will eventually be old men wearing comfort socks. As for Did they come? I’m thinking about sex – I’m thinking about how the word socks is not far from sex and sucks, and that the poet is recalling not comfort sex but athletic sex and asking a specific question about their youthful sexual experimentation. In this regard, and keeping the idea of whether something was “consummated” or not in mind, that “day bump” could also be read as someone’s erection.]

The inner grocery had to take three sets of clips away.

[Socks, clips, youth – I’m thinking bicycles here, with the poet’s mind full of the memory of objects which he takes off the brain-shelves and puts in his poems – his inner stocked grocery. Memory clips. Perhaps he’s talking about the poet taking “clips” of his past out of his mind and using them poetically; perhaps he’s alluding to the death of friends from home.]

[And now the way-enigmatic final lines of the poem:]

Speaking to him of intricate family affairs.
I’m not what you think. Stay preconscious.
It’s just the “flooding of the council.” No need to feel afraid.


Okay, so people are starting to take an interest in the mud-choked harbor — the boys’ eyes are beginning to “shimmer” with a sense of the congested psychic mess that the mature human mind happens to be. Or the boys are beginning to sense the power of their “pent-up aching rivers” – their libidos. They don’t quite feel threatened with all of that yet; but they sense the possibility of the oncoming flood of mortal pain and complication that awaits them.

In this particular remembered conversation between the poet and his friend, the poet recalls both deep candor and confidences between them (intricate family affairs) and his own actual disturbing, “roiling” secrets. I’m not what you think, he now says to his friend. I’m gay. Maybe you, my friend, begin to sense that disturbing fact, but from this vantage point I prefer that you stay preconscious, so that we can draw out this blissful pre-flood life as long as possible. What you’re seeing – what you’re disturbed by – is a sudden “flooding” of your precocious grown-up rational faculties – the “council” that sits in your head – as it begins to identity certain difficult truths. But stay young! Hold off fear and confusion as long as you possibly can.

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