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This review is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

THE PERSONAL AS POETICAL DONALD HALL, The Old Life (Boston and New York, 1996)
VIRGINIA HAMILTON ADAIR, Ants on the Melon (New York, 1996)

Donald Hall and Virginia Adair's writing careers stand in near total contrast. 68 years old, Hall is America's most voluble poet. Stifled by university teaching, Hall quit to make a living as a writer and has since published 53 books of which The Old Life is the latest. Virginia Adair was a talented student who early in marriage gave up a writer's career for domesticity. But in the corners of her housewife days she continued writing until, now eighty-three, she was persuaded to publish Ants on the Melon, a selection of 77 from her more than one thousand (!) poems. In terms of literary politics, Hall is the Authoritative Male Voice, Adair is the Reticent - if not Silenced - Woman. Neither Hall nor Adair has necessarily asked for these roles but both writers' verse shows the effects, sometimes not always happily, of having assumed them. And both their books implicitly raise the question of whether the poet's life is enough for poetry.

In The Old Life Hall continues the elegiac memoir which has for the last decade been the meat of his prose and poetry. The title is a triple play: the old life of the aging writer; the old life of the poet's past; and the old life before both Hall and his wife got cancer. Hall's is, apparently, in remission. Tragically, his wife, the fine poet Jane Kenyon, has died. Hall's concluding 'slip/of the tongue: "My life has leukaemia'" is heartbreaking. That Hall is ...


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