My heart is in my mouth, and the sound of the poetry is the way in

Donald Hall and Obama

President Obama awards Donald Hall the National Medal of Arts

Caitlin McKenna:
In your essays, a reader can immediately tell that sound is important to you.

Donald Hall:
I read poems for the pleasure of the mouth. My heart is in my mouth, and the sound of the poetry is the way in. My poems often begin with a rhythm but without the words. A few words may come to you, and they may be sort of unintelligible, but there is a characteristic rhythm, and the sound is in there. It seems to lead the way. Many people are bound to the intellectual structure of a poem. Helen Vendler once wrote a book about Keats and never mentioned his sound, and Keats is a master of sound. Pound too. And Thomas Hardy. One of my favorite Hardy poems is “During Wind and Rain.” Here’s the last line: “Down their carved names the raindrop ploughs.” Hardy makes you climb out of the rocks of all those consonants that slow you down. Vowels repeat themselves, first word and last, and elsewhere with “names” and “rain.”

by Donald Hall (born September 20, 1928)
from a Narrative Magazine interview with Pat Gage and Caitlin McKenna
found in Narrative Magazine, Spring 2010
image – Medill DC

More Words

September 20th is the 83rd birthday of poet Donald Hall. In 2006 he was appointed the fourteenth Poet Laureate of the United States. At about that time he was featured on The News Hour With Jim Lehrer. Click through for a transcript. Last year (2010) President Obama awarded him with the National Medal of Arts.

You can read the rest of the Narrative Magazine interview online, with a free registration to Narrative is also available with a monthly Kindle subscription.

While I have you here, try reading the last stanza of Thomas Hardy’s “During Wind and Rain” out loud. See if you don’t agree with Hall about the way the shape of the words makes a reader slow down. When compared with skimming silently, reading out loud is a whole new rainbow.

     They change to a high new house,
     He, she, all of them—aye,
     Clocks and carpets and chairs
          On the lawn all day,
     And brightest things that are theirs….
               Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.Excerpt – Wind and Rain (1917)
by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Clocks and carpets and chairs… the years, the years, the years… down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

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