Former US poet laureate Donald Hall has published scores of poems, a dozen children’s books, two dozen works of prose, and a few plays. He remains a major American poet, even if he has turned his attention away from the form: In 2008, after six decades of poems, he began work on what he considers his final collection, published in 2011 as “The Back Chamber.” Since then, he has focused on writing essays. He is at work on a collection to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Hall lives and writes at Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, a place he has made familiar through numerous books.
LIFE WITH JANE: I’m almost 85, and things are different now than they’ve been for most of my writing life. It used to be that [my wife] Jane [Kenyon, who died in 1995] and I would work together. I would get up at about 5 o’clock, get the paper, bring Jane coffee, and then at 5:30 or 6, I would start work in my study. I would work on poems for an hour or two until I felt too high, and then I would break it up for 10 minutes, hauling wood or something, and then I would work on more projects and spread things around. There would be magazine articles, children’s books, textbooks, short stories, and other different forms on the floor, and often I wouldn’t know which kind I was picking up — I’d just pick it up and see where I had finished the day before. I would work until I got stuck, and I would put it down and pick up something else. I might be able to take a 20-minute nap and get to work again. That way, I was able to work about 10 hours a day . . . It was important to me to work every day. I managed to work on Christmas day, just to be able to say I worked 365 days a year.
AND NOW: Now I live on one floor, and I work in a big stuffed chair. I work only an hour or two a day. Energy diminishes — obviously — as you get older, pretty continuously. But I’ve been very excited about the prose that I’m writing.
ASSEMBLY LINE: I write longhand, I make changes longhand, and I have an assistant who types it up. She lives 70 yards away. Every afternoon, I have a case I leave out on the porch, and she brings it back the next morning.
COMING HOME: I live in the house my great-grandfather moved to in 1865 . . . I spent all my summers here as a kid haying with my grandfather, and it was my favorite place in the world. I moved in permanently in 1975 — Jane wanted to live here, and finally I was able to. My first prose book was about my summers on the farm as a kid, and I’ve been writing about it ever since.
FURNISHINGS: There are two woodstoves, although I have central heat. There’s one in the living room [where I work]. Right next to it there’s an ancient rocking chair, and the rockers are so flat you can’t rock it. There’s other furniture in the house that’s painted farmhouse green, that cheap green paint that was everywhere. There’s also a big sofa that I bought in Michigan, and a Harvard chair.
VIEW FROM HERE: I can look out at my barn, and at the birds in the winter. Today, the leaves are pale green, and the daffodils in the garden are blooming right outside my window. Plus, there are books all around me . . . I don’t read as much as I used to, but I always have a book or two going.