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June 14, 2006

Donald Hall Named Nation's Poet Laureate


Filed at 3:50 a.m. ET

WILMOT, N.H. (AP) -- A fax last week informed Donald Hall he would be the next poet laureate of the United States, and since then, between phone calls, sitting for photographs and giving interviews, he has been thinking about his new job.

''I don't have an end in view besides the making of poems,'' said Hall, a former New Hampshire poet laureate.

In the living room of his farmhouse Tuesday, Hall wondered whether he could persuade a cable television network to run an occasional program of poetry, or sell satellite radio on creating a poetry channel.

''I think most of the things I think about are unrealistic because they would take a great wad of cash to get started,'' he said. But, ''I can ask,'' he said, smiling.

Hall, 77, will assume his duties this fall. Poet laureates receive $35,000 for the year as well as a travel allowance.

The Library of Congress says it tries to keep official duties of its poet laureates to a minimum so they can work on their own projects. Maxine Kumin, a friend and former state and national poet laureate from Warner, N.H., founded a women's poetry series. Ted Kooser, the current poet laureate, has a weekly newspaper column, ''American Life in Poetry.''

There will be some public appearances, however. Hall is scheduled speak at the library's National Book Festival on Sept. 30 in Washington and to open the library's annual literary series in October with a reading of his work.

At 12, Hall wrote his first poem, an overwrought piece about death. Two years later, he declared his ambition to become a poet.

''It was because of the love of the art that I began to write at all, not because I had something to say, but because I loved the art of poetry,'' he said.

His poems, chronicling seven decades of life, are rich with New Hampshire's rural landscape, in particular Eagle Pond Farm, where Hall's grandmother and mother were born and where he spent his boyhood summers before moving there permanently 30 years ago.

The 200-year-old homestead is a collision of old-time New England and pop art: Andy Warhol prints and oversize covers of the Paris Review on the walls, a wood-stove in the living room, and an ancient, horse-drawn sled gathering dust in the barn. He writes in longhand, keeping his works-in-progress in a folder decorated with a kitten.

Hall is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, most recently ''White Apples and the Taste of Stone,'' a collection of poems from 1946 to 2006. A memoir, ''The Best Day the Worst Day,'' chronicles his marriage to poet Jane Kenyon, whom he met when he was a poetry professor at the University of Michigan and she was a student. She died in 1995.

''Donald Hall is one of America's most distinctive and respected literary figures,'' Librarian of Congress James Billington said in an announcement prepared for Wednesday. ''For more than 50 years, he has written beautiful poetry on a wide variety of subjects that are often distinctly American and conveyed with passion.''

Hall said he writes from passion, not for prizes.

''The making of poems involves dealing with all sorts of subjects, and when a subject is particularly emotional for me ... writing poems helps me. In particular, my late wife,'' he said.

''I wrote a book-and-a-half about her illness and death. It helped me to write it and I believe it helps many other people to read it when they face such a thing.''

Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.