St. Olaf College | Office of the President

Essays After Eighty

By Donald Hall
Houghton Mifflin 2014

Highly recommended

This slim volume of 134 pages comprises essays written by the American poet Donald Hall, now in his late eighty years and no longer writing poetry.  Hall has been a fixture on the American poetry scene for many years (catch up on his career by watching Bill Moyers interview Hall and his wife Jane Kenyon, also a highly regarded poet).  For a sample of his poetry, from among many fine poems, I recommend “My Son My Executioner.”

The first essay in this collection, “Out the Window,” is the best. Hall moved in mid-life to his ancestral farmhouse in New Hampshire, giving up a tenured position at the University of Michigan to live on his own terms as a free-lance writer (“a Volvo is a Subaru with Tenure”). It combines reflections on growing old with a movingly described relationship with place. There are also sharply worded and insightful essays in this collection on good writing, on smoking, on fame, on rejection, and finally on finding peace.

One effect of this volume will be to encourage you to read more poetry.

Back to the Bookshelf