Michael Wells, over at Stick Poet Super Hero, posed a good question to his readers: What poet/poetry book has meant the most to you this year? Michael’s choice was Robert Bly’s Morning Poems; he gives his reasons here.
I can’t choose a single book of poetry, but without a doubt, Donald Hall has been the poet whose words have made the biggest impact on my writing and thinking as well as on my everyday life in the past year.
Reading Hall’s Breakfast Served Any Time All Day: Essays on Poetry New and Selected was like taking a huge gulp of air after holding my breath for years. I loved (and still do) Hall’s insistence that too many poets publish or attempt to publish their work too soon, his stance that anything worth doing is worth doing not just well, but exceptionally well. “I see no reason to spend your life writing poems,” says Hall, “unless your goal is to write great poems.” The book is a collection of mostly previously published essays, but the content holds consistent over the years through which it was originally published, and is consistently confirming.
In March, overwhelmed with the melancholy restlessness into which spring often spins me, I wrote Hall and asked, “How does one go about having a life?” He’d been kind enough to reply to a few sporadic letters over the course of a year or two previously, a correspondence originating from my gratefulness to him for his book Life Work and out of admiration for Jane Kenyon’s poetry-- poetry I strongly felt was possible because of the life they made for themselves together on Hall’s ancestral farm in New Hampshire. His reply to my impulsive question has given me much to think on this year, along with Breakfast Served: “. . . to have a task, an ultimate and life-long and consuming task.” It was advice, he wrote, that sculptor Henry Moore gave him when he asked the same question of Moore some years ago. (Hall writes about Moore’s advice and their relationship in Life Work.)
I’ve pondered over Hall’s letter and Breakfast Served the remainder of the year, and while I’m not ready to write about those ponderings yet, I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to tie my brain in knots. I connect with Donald Hall’s writing, with his sharp wit and plainspoken approach to crafting poetry. He’s got my vote for 2004, hands down, Michael.