rev. of Old and New Poems by Donald Hall

Issue #53
Winter 1990-91

Among the many pleasures of
Old and New Poems is the process of soul-making revealed within its pages. Donald Hall's gifts for seemingly effortless, exact language and formal grace were present from the start, as were his intimations of mortality, both for individuals and for New England's rural life, practiced by generations, supplanted by suburbia. "Elegy for Wesley Wells," "My Son, My Executioner," and "Christmas Eve in Whitneyville" are all here, together with less familiar delights, like the child-murder ballad "By the Exeter River." But most impressive is the progressive loosening of decorum for passion, as when Hall puts aside mastery of forms for the irregular, irrational chime of imagery in poems from
The Alligator Bride. Not just a change in artistic strategy, Hall's subordination of conscious to preconscious methods in these surrealist poems is an act of courage for a poet so grounded in intellect.

The pivotal volume
Kicking the Leaves is the eventual result, and in poems like "Maple Syrup," "Ox Cart Man," and "Name of Horses," powerful, deep images meld happily with the authority of design. Among the newest poems, previously uncollected, are some of Hall's best, and the book ends appropriately, cannily; in beauty, pity and terror with "Praise for Death."
Old and New Poems is an impressive collection of the poet's accomplishments, and moving witness to a soul's journey.