Donald Hall, author of the short story "From Willow Temple," in the October, 1996, issue of The Atlantic Monthly, is staggeringly prolific: he has produced twelve books of verse, four plays, twenty-two books of prose (including children's books, collected essays and short stories, literary criticism, textbooks, and more), and has been published regularly in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker. Praise for Hall's work piles up almost as fast as the work itself—he is New Hampshire's Poet Laureate, and has won, among other awards, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Caldecott Medal, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the Lenore Marshall Award, the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the American Council for the Arts. Hall was married to the poet Jane Kenyon until her death, from leukemia, in 1995. His latest collection of poems, The Old Life, was published in June, 1996.
Hall recently spoke with The Atlantic Monthly's Allan Reeder.
In Life Work (1993) you write, "We prove ourselves worthy by the numbers of work." You certainly have "numbers of work" to prove your worth. How do you feel now when you consider the work you've done?
I feel mixed about it. When I wrote that phrase I was being somewhat ironical, but I really do enjoy quantity production. I've needed it—none of my books has made a lot of money itself. Many years I would publish four books—an anthology, a book of criticism, a new book of poems, a book of essays. Of course, I feel happier about some than about others, but I can't say there are any I feel deeply, profoundly unhappy about. Poetry has always come first, simply because I love poetry more than anything else. It's what I want to be best at, and I hope I am. Some days I feel good about my work, and sometimes I feel I've never written anything worthwhile. That's par for the course.