from American Poetry Review, May / June 2011
In June 2009, I interviewed the poet Donald Hall before a large live (and lively) audience at the West Chester Poetry Conference ("Exploring Form and Narrative"). The Contemporary Poetry Review transcribed the recording made that afternoon by the university's Poetry Center.
ERNEST HILBERT's PREFATORY REMARKS
I must admit that I'm a bit daunted to be seated here with Donald Hall, who has done everything a man of letters can do, and has done it well. He is perhaps best known as one of America's finest poets, but he is also a prolific author of books for children, essays, plays, short fiction, and memoirs. He has exerted incredible influence as an anthologist and editor, and experienced success as a public advocate for poetry. In his essay "Poetry and Ambition" Mr. Hall wrote: "To the desire to write poems that endure, we undertake such a goal certain of two things: that in all likelihood we will fail, and, if we succeed, we may never know it." These sensible words, charged with wisdom, are not only memorable but also useful for the working poet. We think to ourselves, surely a poet who has achieved as much as Hall has, has done so through the strong and steady exercise of personal ambition, but it seems clear to me that it is rather through the measured exercise of modesty and gratitude that he has achieved all that he has. This is a lesson that one would do well to absorb. I feel that the alternative, so drearily common to life in American poetry today, is summed up perfectly by Hall himself in the same essay: "Every now and then I meet someone certain of personal greatness. I want to pat this person on the shoulder and mutter comforting words. 'Things will get better. You won't always feel so depressed. Cheer up.''' We recognize that his success flows not only from his native talents, his devotion to his art, his grasp of the human condition, its universes of loss, love, pain, and beauty, but also from a healthy, and indispensable, sense of humor about it all. It is a distinct pleasure for me to welcome Mr. Donald Hall.
Read the Interview HERE.
DH: He [Henry Moore, sculptor] woke up every day wanting to be as good as Donatello or Michelangelo. Every night he went to bed knowing he hadn't done it that day. The next day he would wake up with the same ambition in his mind, with total absorbedness. Always beginning again. Always knowing he'd fail. Always beginning again. Amen.
EH That is the finest and most practical advice I have heard.