In a recent piece concerning my article on poetry and place, “Landscape and Lyricism,” I quoted a brief statement by Donald Hall on the importance of location for writers from his collection of essays and notes on poetry, Goatfoot Milktongue Twinbird (University of Michigan Press). Today, on the occasion of Hall’s 80th birthday (born September 20, 1928), perhaps the best way of paying tribute to Donald Hall would be to enjoy listening to him as he entertainingly reads his own poetry during a 2007 presentation at the University of Virginia.
With that in mind, I’d also like to return to that book of his commentary for the poet’s reflections on the lyricism of poetry as suggested by its language, particularly when spoken aloud. Donald Hall considers sound and sense essential when evaluating the effectiveness of a poem. In “Poems Aloud,” a section of Goatfoot Milktongue Twinbird that first appeared as liner notes for an album titled The Pleasures of Poetry, Hall presents opinions on how poetry ought to be experienced:
People used to argue about where a poem exists: on the page, or in the ear? The answer is neither: the poem exists in the whole of the body of the person absorbing it, and most particularly in the mouth that holds the intimate sounds touching each other, and in the leg that dances the rhythm. The ear and the eye, listening and reading, are devices for receiving signals that are dispersed throughout the body. The poem happens out-loud, even if you are the fortunate reader who can hear the syllables while he reads silently. The poem is its sounds, and its sounds—mouth pleasures, dance pleasures—are the code which allows the mind to slip back into old and poetic ways of thinking: ways of fantasy, ways of magic, transformation, metaphor, metamorphoses.
In the more than half century since his first collection of poems, Exiles and Marriages, appeared in 1955, Donald Hall has published fifteen books of poetry. He also has written more than twenty books of prose. Among the honors Hall has received are the Frost Medal, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2006, Donald Hall was selected to serve as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2006 to 2007.