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Donald Hall: an advocate for the understanding of poetry

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Today, when Hall travels as poet laureate, people often tell him they've been touched by his poetry, especially his book "Without," which recounts Kenyon's illness and passing and his struggle with the loss.

"I felt great relief in writing [that book]; it was all I could do at the time. I worked on those poems for two hours every morning for a year. I'd sit down at the desk with a heavy heart, a heart heavy with grief, and my heart would lighten as I wrote. And I knew if I could do it right, the poems would help others as well."

His desire to help others understand poetry is what motivates Hall, at 78, to speak to various groups around the country and give dozens of interviews to journalists. (Laureates aren't required to do either.)

Hall will also give three joint readings with Andrew Motion, Britain's poet laureate; the first will take place in Chicago on May 7, the second in Washington, D.C., three days later, and the last in London on June 6.

That idea delights Hall's fans, who love to hear him read and to have the opportunity to ask him about his life and work. One question Hall hears over and again from both journalists and readers is: How did you start writing?

The answer might offer reassurance to parents who worry that their children's interests are not sufficiently refined. "When I was 12, I had a fondness for horror movies like the Wolfman. The boy next door said I should read Poe," Hall recalls. "I had never heard of him, but my parents had a collection of his and I thought 'this is the best stuff I've ever read,' and I set out to write poems of pure morbidity."

Hall's morbid phase quickly passed, however, and he moved on to the work of Keats and Shelley. When he was 14, he found modern poetry.

"We were living in Connecticut at the time, and Wallace Stevens was doing some of his best work up in Hartford," he says. "I also learned about Pound, and after school I would work on poems and revise them."

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