Conversations with Poet Donald Hall, New Hampshire's Adopted Native Son

Jun 25, 2018

Donald Hall passed away at Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot this weekend. Though not from the Granite State originally, the one-time U.S. Poet Laureate is widely accepted as a New Hampshire institution. Hall was  prolific in writing both verse and prose, and over the years, NHPR spoke to him about his work again and again.

Here's a selection of our favorite conversations with Hall from the NHPR Archives:

In 1989, Donald Hall headlined "An Evening of Poetry," a co-production between NHPR (then known as WEVO) and the NH Writer's Project with a blockbuster line-up of New Hampshire poets: Maxine Kumin, who had recently served as the poetry consultant for the Library of Congress, a position that would eventually be re-branded as U.S. poet Laureate; his wife and future N.H. Poet Laureate, Jane Kenyon; and Charles Simic, another future U.S. Poet Laureate. Byron Champlin introduced the event which was recorded on the the day of the passing of another U.S. Poet Laurete, Robert Penn Warren.

Hall then read a number of poems including "The Prophecy" from his book The One Day, a National Book Critics Circle award winner.

A few years later, Kenyon was diagnosed and with leukemia and died with within months. Her death inspired many of Hall's works thereafter, several of which he spoke of with various NHPR hosts over the years.

Hall appeared on NHPR's The Front Porch no fewer than four times. In an interview with host John Walters in 2002, he discussed The Painted Bed, a collection of new poems about Kenyon, as well as poems about new life and new relationships.

In 2005, Hall returned to The Front Porch to discuss The Best Day The Worst Day, a memoir that Hall wrote about his 23-year marriage to Kenyon. He acknowledged that his poems since her death focused more on her illness and his own rage about her death, he said, "in human life, the miserable parts stand out more than the happiest, blissful, most joyful parts. This is an unfortunate concomitant of being human."

And while the memoir addresses the wild ups and downs of the cancer treatments, he does attempt to remember her life as well, including their first meeting and courtship. 

The Front Porch again welcomed the poet to the program in 2006 to chat about his book White Apples and the Taste of Stone, a selection of poems that span a much broader spectrum of subjects, including the death of his father and Hall's Wilmot farm, which he purchased from his grandparents.

Hall chatted with host Shay Zeller about how his poetry has changed over his 60-year career.

On 14 June, 2006, Hall woke up to find his face on the cover of the New York Times with the news that the Library of Congress had selected him as U.S. Poet Laureate. He swung through our studios again to speak for a few minutes with NHPR's Front Porch host Zeller about the surprise honor and his charge as Poet Laureate.

Donald Hall signing autographs at the Hall-Kenyon Prize award night and reading in 2017 at the Capitol Center for the Arts.
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

In the fall of 2006, NHPR's The Exchange broadcast a special series called "Granite State Stories" exploring our state through the lens of five books by New Hampshire authors. One of  these was Donald Hall, and the tome that focused that day's discussion was his book of essays Here at Eagle Pond, which captures the essence of the state and its residents, probing the forces that make us what we are from the weather to politics and our fierce independence. 

In 2016, NHPR launched the podcast 10 Minute Writer's Workshop to quiz writers about the process of putting pen to paper. It seemed only natural to check in with one of the state's favorite writers about his strategies around writing.

Hall sat down with host Virginia Prescott at his famous farm in Wilmot for that conversation.

The Hall-Kenyon Prize for American Poetry. Awarded in 2017 to Frank Bidart.

Last fall, Hall attended NHPR's ceremony bestowing the Hall-Kenyon Prize in American Poetry to Frank Bidart, who later was also awarded with the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. 

NOTE: The Hall - Kenyon Prize in American Poetry fund is held at New Hampshire Public Radio. On the event of his passing, Hall suggested that in lieu of flowers, donations in his memory be made to the Hall - Kenyon Prize. Should you wish to make a gift, your donation will support this annual award honoring both established and emerging poets. Click here to donate. 

The Hall – Kenyon Prize in American Poetry honors the contributions of the late Donald Hall, former Poet Laureate of the United States, and the late Jane Kenyon, former Poet Laureate of New Hampshire. The married poets lived and write together for nearly 20 years at Eagle Pond Farm – Hall’s ancestral home in Wilmot, New Hampshire.