Posted by: wordrunner | July 1, 2018

July 2018

Dear Literary Folk,

Farewell to Donald Hall

hall2This month, we pay tribute to former U.S. Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, who died on Saturday, June 23, at the age of 89.

Hall was a New England poet, born September 20, 1928, and grew up in Hamden, Connecticut. From the mid 1970’s, he lived with his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, in their rural farmhouse at Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, until her death from leukemia in 1995. Ironically, Hall had not expected to survive his own cancer diagnosis in 1989, but beat the odds to live another 29 years. In his poetry, Hall expressed both his profound gratitude for these years and his grief at losing Kenyon.

Of Hall’s work, Billy Collins writes, “Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines.”

Hall mentored and encouraged many writers, including some from Sonoma County and the Bay Area, among them Al Young, Carolyn Miller, and Lynne Knight, who wrote this response to Hall’s death, published in Rattle’s Poets Respond on June 26:


white apples and the taste of stone
—Donald Hall, “White Apples”

The old master is dead,
his gravestone already marked
with lines from a poem
by his wife, whose peonies
blossomed and toppled outside
while he lay in hospice.
Soon his granddaughter will live
in the ancestral house looking out
at blue Mount Kearsarge.
The curved ribs of old horses
buried in the field will again yield
their crop of goldenrod.
Dark clouds over Eagle Pond
turn white as the taste of stone,
white as white apples.

biolynneknightKnight’s response also includes this personal memory:

“I spent much of Sunday mourning the death of Donald Hall, who taught me much of what I know about poetry when I was his student at the University of Michigan. Much later, we had a correspondence over twenty years that sometimes included the exchange of poems. I’ve been re-reading some of his letters, and I came upon this: ‘I want the poem to be as hard as a piece of sculpture, and as immovable, and as resolute, and as whole. I want every word in it to be absolutely inevitable … but another part of the requirement, by and large, is that it should not seem so.’ Then he quoted Yeats: ‘A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought …’ His letter begins: ‘I love talking about this stuff.’ Donald Hall gave so much to the world of letters that I wanted to mark his death with a small poem that evokes his life and work, borrowing his image in the last two lines (“white apples and the taste of stone”). I don’t know if this poem does evoke him, but among many, many other things, he taught me to be persistent.”

I have selected one of my favorite of Hall’s poems, “The Names of Horses,” featured at the end of this post.

To read more about Hall’s life and work, I recommend checking out this NPR link:

I also recommend the New York Times article, which you can find at this link:


The Cove’s Call for Submissions: “The Art of Resistance”

We’re living in dark times, politically, but as a literary community, we’re also inspired and challenged to raise our voices to address the widening attacks on our civil liberties and our humanity.

Following up on last month’s introduction to Bart Schneider’s new online journal, The Cove, I’m including this reminder of the call for submission for The Cove’s second issue, “The Art of Resistance.”

Bart invites you to submit poems, short shorts, and brief essays that respond to the political and cultural climate of our time. Work need not reference particular individuals. Preference will be given to writing that wrestles with the problems of topical engagement. Please send work by July 15 to editor Bart Schneider at


Here are some events I’d like to highlight for July. For a complete list of all the literary events of the month ahead, check the Calendar Page.

bill-vBill Vartnaw and Julie Rogers at Revertown Poets

On Monday, July 2nd, 6:15 p.m. Rivertown Poets will be holding a reading and open mic at the Aqus Cafe, 189 H Street in Petaluma. Featured poets will be Petaluma poet (and Sonoma County Poet Laureate Emeritus) Bill Vartnaw and East Bay poet Julie Rogers. The reading begins at 6:15 p.m. The open mic signup list will be available by 5:45. Open mic will follow the features. Please time your reading to be three minutes or under.


Rumi’s Caravan: A Poetic Conversation

03rumiRumi’s Caravan returns to Oakland on Saturday, July 14, 7:00 p.m.. For fifteen years Rumi’s Caravan has inspired audiences, weaving together poems by Rumi, Hafez, Machado, Rilke, Yeats, Mary Oliver, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Whyte and other poets across the world. Recitation of World Poetry by Doug Von Koss, Barry and Maya Spector, Larry Robinson, Kay Crista, Carol Fitzgerald and Carol Bower Foote. With musicians Christine Tulis, Suellen Primost and Sufi dancer Chelsea Rose.


Unitarian Church, 685 14th Street (doors open at 6:00). $15.00/Advance, $30.00 at the door, Performances benefit local non-profit organizations. More details at:



Poetry in the Redwoods with Dana Gioia and Maya Khosla

danagioia_240-1-240x240  poetry_in_the_redwoods_600  maya_khosla-285_web

California State Parks is partnering with Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods and the poetry community in Sonoma County to bring Poetry in the Redwoods to the historic Redwood Forest Theater at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.

This is a FREE, all-ages event open to poetry lovers, nature lovers, community families and friends. The event will be bookended by live music, a silent auction, and include readings by a diverse group of poets, along with youth participants from this year’s Poetry Out Loud competitions. Participating poets include California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, Sonoma County Poet Laureate Maya Khosla, plus Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Sandra Anfang, Arthur Dawson, K.M. English, Jackie Hallerberg, Richard Loranger, Brian Martens, Phyllis Meshulam, Margo Perin, Pamela Stone Singer and  Amos White.

This event is in conjunction with the Gourmet Walk in the Redwoods on July 21, 12:00-4:30 p.m.The only cost is that of park admission, $8 per vehicle.


Poem for July

The Names of Horses
by Donald Hall

All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.

From The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update co-editor


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