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Work That Builds a Sense of Home

A CONVERSATION WITH POET DONALD HALL

(Page 3 of 3)



Yes, but in reading the poems, isn't a reader pressed to look at his own home in a different way, maybe with a more attentive eye?

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Yes, that's what I would hope. And I can try to make models of fitting into where you are, and leave it there for people in the future to take a look: This is how it was possible to live.

In all your books since "Kicking the Leaves," the landscape is treated as a presence that speaks of the tension between "home" and "time." The large cycles of time enrich the moments of our lives even as they're carrying the experiences away from us. The poem "Great Day in the Cows' House" is a perfect example where the sense of celebration and loss are inextricably coupled.

In that poem, I talk about the experience of canceling out time. That turns up in poem after poem. Part of that notion I took from the mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart who had the phrase, "God cancels the successiveness of men." Now the "Great Day," which is my own symbol of this ... cancels the successiveness of creatures, because I wanted to include not just men and women, but also Holsteins as well, and trees - so that the trees of the tie up are both ancient timbers and saplings that are still d amp. And I feel that, at moments, I can feel the coexistence, the copresence of everything, and I desire this sensation.

So in the same way you preserve the artifacts of past generations in this house, in your writing you try to conserve the links with history in order that we may envision a new life. There's a line in one of your essays that speaks of "the past hovering in dusty present like motes, a future implicit in shadowy ranks of used things, usable again." A cycle of endless regeneration and renewal. And through all your books, there is one force that continually binds us to this cycle - work! Work is the redemptive power - whether it's the days of haying with your grandfather or the early mornings at your writing desk. And in the poem, "Ox Cart Man," the whole of the man's existence is seen as the seasonal cycle of labor.

Work, work, work! ... And the exhaustion of everything he does. And you know, when I first published that poem or read it aloud, I was just astonished to hear many people say, "Ohhh, how sad! He does all the work and then he's gotta do it over again." Well, I never had that idea. It is not a misreading of the poem, of course.... It's a response to the poem. But I never thought of it.

It's a measure of where the readers stand in relation to their own work, the cycles of their lives.

I thought of that sort of total dispersement of everything. Everything that you have done goes out, gets changed into something else. Then you come back and start all over again, and that always exhilarated me. I can say that every day is like that year, that cycle of years, from the getting up in the morning all excited to get to work, till you're going to bed at night sleepy, in order to get up again, get going.

So you aren't one of those writers who will complain about the pain and the anxiety of writing. In the early mornings, when you wake to another day's work, the feeling for you is...?

It's bliss. I don't apologize. It's bliss. I get frustrated at my inabilities, like anybody .... I get stuck and don't know what to do next. But let me not exaggerate that. That is simply part of the context. It's part of the work.

And that pleasure comes across in the reading of the poems as well, along with a challenge: to look around at your own day and your own labor and see whether you are fed by the experience.

Indeed. I can't tell people to go and have grandparents like mine, go and have a farmhouse to move into like me.... But I can say: Find what you love, and do it. I'm happy to say that.