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Without: Poems

Hall, Donald

ISBN 10: 039588408X / ISBN 13: 9780395884089
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998
Condition: Fine Hardcover
From Boomerang Booksellers (Northampton, MA, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

Second Printing. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Poems by Donald Hall, reflecting on the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon who died in 1995. 81 pages. Inscribed by the author on the title page: "as the river flows".6/12/98. DJ has slight edge wear, some foxing along top edge of text block, interior pages are clean and bright. Bookseller Inventory # 001061

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Without: Poems

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts

Publication Date: 1998

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Signed: Inscribed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title

Synopsis:

You might expect the fact of dying--the dying of a beloved wife and fellow poet--to make for a bleak and lonely tale. But Donald Hall's poignant and courageous poetry, facing that dread fact, involves us all: the magnificent, humorous, and gifted woman, Jane Kenyon, who suffered and died; the doctors and nurses who tried but failed to save her; the neighbors, friends, and relatives who grieved for her; the husband who sat by her while she lived and afterward sat in their house alone with his pain, self-pity, and fury; and those of us who till now had nothing to do with it. As Donald Hall writes, "Remembered happiness is agony; so is remembered agony." Without will touch every feeling reader, for everyone has suffered loss and requires the fellowship of elegy. In the earth's oldest poem, when Gilgamesh howls of the death of Enkidu, a grieving reader of our own time may feel a kinship, across the abyss of four thousand years, with a Sumerian king. In Without Donald Hall speaks to us all of grief, as a poet lamenting the death of a poet, as a husband mourning the loss of a wife. Without is Hall's greatest and most honorable achievement -- his give and testimony, his lament and his celebration of loss and of love.

Review:

Eagle Pond Farm, familiar even to casual readers of poet Donald Hall (author of 13 volumes of poetry spanning over 40 years), constitutes his spiritual and geographic center. He moved there permanently in 1975 after marrying the young and talented poet Jane Kenyon. His long relationship to Eagle Pond Farm and the creative haven the two poets created gives Without a special poignancy. It is where, in 1995, Jane Kenyon died.

The facts are hard but simple. In 1994, Jane Kenyon--who at 46 was beginning to enjoy the growing recognition of her work--was diagnosed with leukemia. Kenyon and Hall opted for the harrowing bone marrow transplant, to be performed in Seattle. It was not successful, and 12 weeks later, she was dead. Hall began drafting Without during the procedure and subsequent treatment, an act almost impossible to imagine--or perhaps for a poet, the only act possible in the face of what for most would be unspeakable. The magnitude of such suffering might indeed explain the collection's flatness of tone, as if grief can be touched only across great distances.

However restrained the pieces, Hall's gaze is fearless. Shifts in voice (he writes both in first and third person) create a tension that pulls the reader forward, as if compelled to consume this moving, raw account in one sitting. The quality of reader attention is more akin to what one gives a story. Narrative elements include a terse account of the bone-marrow transplant and Kenyan's subsequent radiation treatments ("It was as if she capped the Chernobyl pile with her body"), and it's here that the poems become almost unbearable to read.

Without captures the tedium of dying, jolted by surges of rage and "witless" love. Numbly, it lists the flinty details of Kenyon's last days, spent choosing the poems for her last volume, Otherwise: New & Selected Poems. It describes the moment of her dying in a way that makes one wonder if the ultimate experience of intimacy is to watch the beloved die, to be the one to close her eyes. "Back home from the grave," Hall writes toward the end of this volume, "behind my desk I made / a gallery of Janes," but it can be said that every poem presents a facet of his wife while dying, accruing finally to a gallery of love and grief.

There are some distinguishing jolts to our familiar concepts about death as in, for example, the poem showing the couple, with their minister, praying and holding hands. And when they prayed, "grace was evident / but not the comfort of mercy or reprieve / The embodied figure / on the cross still twisted under the sun." By and large, however, it's a volume not remarkable for bold imagery or shocking connections; rather for the expression of raw grief that follows, unwelcome, all of our necessary losses. --Hollis Giammatteo

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