Whenever I met someone, I talked about Jane. If I went to a diner for lunch, or sat at a bar, and a stranger said, “Please pass the salt,” I passed it and said, “My wife used to salt everything, even ham. She died of leukemia, fifteen months after she got it. She was only forty-seven. She was in good shape, climbed Mount Washington the summer before, then suddenly…” Everybody had to know, and everybody had to know everything.
— from Unpacking the Boxes, Donald Hall, 2008
Writers who write about their own lives give you a glimpse into a privacy you wouldn’t know about. Most people don’t have the words to explain their inner (and outer) lives. I am interested in Donald Hall because I like some of his poetry, I really like his wife’s poetry, and the kids and I have enjoyed a couple of his children’s books. In this memoir, I found much of the early part of his life to be a large party, meeting people, sharing a funny anecdote to break the ice. I’m not a party person; I didn’t particularly enjoy that part of the memoir. When he gets to Jane Kenyon, his wife, I was delighted. He talks mostly of his reaction to her death, and Donald becomes very honest and open about himself. I love that. The last chapter is called “The Planet of Antiquity” and is about his old age. He makes it fascinating. From what I’ve read, I don’t think I’d like to be a personal friend of Donald Hall, but reading this memoir lets you in on parts of his psyche his personal friends probably can’t see. Then again, maybe he talks as much as he writes.
He has written a book all about Jane. It’s called The Best Day the Worst Day. I might have to read that sometime.