The Back Chamber - Donald Hall

From jump-rope songs about mortality to the light satire of “Ric’s Progress,” the tale of a modern would-be rake, Donald Hall’s 18th collection ranges wide in subject and form. Like the objects gathered in The Back Chamber (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22) of his family’s New England farmhouse, these poems are invested with love and consummate craftsmanship; they’re made to last. In his eighties now, the former U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of nearly every writing award going, has a prodigious memory; he gives us details of boyhood farm chores, names of beloved horses, radio news of the 1930s and ‘40s, train rides. In moving, tightly compressed elegies he remembers lost friends, family, and fellow writers. But he lives in the present as much as in the past, and here also are new loves, recent travels, the sustaining enthusiasms of watching baseball and writing poetry. Always aware of passing time, Hall is still the one in charge, pruning “dead limbs for next year’s sake.”