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A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety

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“Hall lived long enough to leave behind two final books, memento mori titled ‘Essays After Eighty’ (2014) and now ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety.’ They’re up there with the best things he did.” —Dwight Garner,  New York Times From the former poet laureate of the United States, essays from the vantage point of very old age Donald Hall lived a remarkable life of “Hall lived long enough to leave behind two final books, memento mori titled ‘Essays After Eighty’ (2014) and now ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety.’ They’re up there with the best things he did.” —Dwight Garner,  New York Times From the former poet laureate of the United States, essays from the vantage point of very old age Donald Hall lived a remarkable life of letters, one capped most recently by the New York Times bestseller Essays After Eighty, a “treasure” of a book in which he “balance[s] frankness about losses with humor and gratitude” (Washington Post). Before his passing in 2018, nearing ninety, Hall delivered this new collection of self-knowing, fierce, and funny essays on aging, the pleasures of solitude, and the sometimes astonishing freedoms arising from both. He intersperses memories of exuberant days—as in Paris, 1951, with a French girl memorably inclined to say, “I couldn’t care less”—with writing, visceral and hilarious, on what he has called the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of extreme old age.   “Why should a nonagenarian hold anything back?” Hall answers his own question by revealing several vivid instances of “the worst thing I ever did," and through equally uncensored tales of  literary friendships spanning decades, with James Wright, Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney, and other luminaries.  Cementing his place alongside Roger Angell and Joan Didion as a generous and profound chronicler of loss, Hall returns to the death of his beloved wife, Jane Kenyon, in an essay as original and searing as anything he's written in his extraordinary literary lifetime.


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“Hall lived long enough to leave behind two final books, memento mori titled ‘Essays After Eighty’ (2014) and now ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety.’ They’re up there with the best things he did.” —Dwight Garner,  New York Times From the former poet laureate of the United States, essays from the vantage point of very old age Donald Hall lived a remarkable life of “Hall lived long enough to leave behind two final books, memento mori titled ‘Essays After Eighty’ (2014) and now ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety.’ They’re up there with the best things he did.” —Dwight Garner,  New York Times From the former poet laureate of the United States, essays from the vantage point of very old age Donald Hall lived a remarkable life of letters, one capped most recently by the New York Times bestseller Essays After Eighty, a “treasure” of a book in which he “balance[s] frankness about losses with humor and gratitude” (Washington Post). Before his passing in 2018, nearing ninety, Hall delivered this new collection of self-knowing, fierce, and funny essays on aging, the pleasures of solitude, and the sometimes astonishing freedoms arising from both. He intersperses memories of exuberant days—as in Paris, 1951, with a French girl memorably inclined to say, “I couldn’t care less”—with writing, visceral and hilarious, on what he has called the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of extreme old age.   “Why should a nonagenarian hold anything back?” Hall answers his own question by revealing several vivid instances of “the worst thing I ever did," and through equally uncensored tales of  literary friendships spanning decades, with James Wright, Richard Wilbur, Seamus Heaney, and other luminaries.  Cementing his place alongside Roger Angell and Joan Didion as a generous and profound chronicler of loss, Hall returns to the death of his beloved wife, Jane Kenyon, in an essay as original and searing as anything he's written in his extraordinary literary lifetime.

30 review for A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety

  1. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. I expected more reflection on the process and peculiarities of aging. I expected less (or no) opinions of other poets, nor the ad nauseam rendition of the past 150 years of family history and circa 1865 farmhouse. I expected humor aka David Sedaris. I am at a loss to review A Carnival of Losses except to say I am most definitely in the minority with my strong dislike and disappointment of it and, therefore, will refrain fro My thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. I expected more reflection on the process and peculiarities of aging. I expected less (or no) opinions of other poets, nor the ad nauseam rendition of the past 150 years of family history and circa 1865 farmhouse. I expected humor aka David Sedaris. I am at a loss to review A Carnival of Losses except to say I am most definitely in the minority with my strong dislike and disappointment of it and, therefore, will refrain from delineating my numerous criticisms of this compilation of notes and essays from the highly respected and praised Poet Laureate, Donald Hall.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    I had read and enjoyed Hall's previous set of essays, so what was to lose in reading these? Nothing, though much gained. Although some of the material covered subjects read about in the last issue (wife Jane Kenyon's death, his New Hampshire grandparents and Connecticut mom, etc.), Hall also shared a lot of remembrances of things past by touching on the many poets he'd met over the years. Short, some one-page and some two- or three-pages. It's an inside look at poets and turf and quests for fame I had read and enjoyed Hall's previous set of essays, so what was to lose in reading these? Nothing, though much gained. Although some of the material covered subjects read about in the last issue (wife Jane Kenyon's death, his New Hampshire grandparents and Connecticut mom, etc.), Hall also shared a lot of remembrances of things past by touching on the many poets he'd met over the years. Short, some one-page and some two- or three-pages. It's an inside look at poets and turf and quests for fame and marketing (it was better then than now because Hall's was the Age of Magazines and ours is decidedly not). There's also the hilarious news that some poets' readings were followed by female fans looking to land the man (yes, as if he were a rock star). My have times changed for the better in many ways (and I don't care who--or better yet, WHAT--is in the White House). Quick, endearing, concise, and humorous. If you're interested in his reminisces about Kenneth Rexroth and Allen Tate, you can read them here.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    It dismays me that I had to learn of this book only through the obituary for Donald Hall, poet, editor, anthologizer, Poet Laureate. This final collection of essays and reminiscences was ready for release when Hall died in late June 2018, a few months shy of his ninetieth birthday. Hence the book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, is truly a valedictory. He tells us how difficult it was to summon the strength to write. His mind was willing, but the body would not always cooperate. But t It dismays me that I had to learn of this book only through the obituary for Donald Hall, poet, editor, anthologizer, Poet Laureate. This final collection of essays and reminiscences was ready for release when Hall died in late June 2018, a few months shy of his ninetieth birthday. Hence the book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, is truly a valedictory. He tells us how difficult it was to summon the strength to write. His mind was willing, but the body would not always cooperate. But that agile mind – that was an inspiration! He seems not to have lost the sharp intellect that made him a prominent man of letters, a force to reckon with. The process of growing old is the steady loss of pleasures and abilities, one by one, but the losses are not the same for everyone. Growing old, as they say, is not for sissies. Apparently Hall’s ability to turn a phrase, to make an observation did not go away. The failing body and the lapses in short term memory often came in for humorous treatment, a fact that endeared Hall to me. He might write and edit and polish prose, but he could not remember to use a garage door opener. The new garage, with covered access from the house, was meant to make life easier, but it introduced a new skill too late. Hall kept backing his car right into the door, rendering it inoperable. I loved his self-deprecating confession. The book has four distinct sections. The first and last are reflections on his life, long past as well as recent. The inner sections include one about poets Hall has known and another about the poetry of death and dying. It is the bookends that matter most. He wrote about Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, about his wife, Jane Kenyon, who died too young, about events in their past, and about aging. Not every word was thrilling. The section reflecting on various poets he had known or with whom he interacted interested me little, despite the fact that I’ve been reading a lot of poetry lately. Within that section the essays I liked best were those which alluded to poetic movements of the past half century. In particular, I liked the chapter on Richard Wilbur, who declined to write confessional poetry. Hall reports that Wilbur had told him that “he was not about to spill his guts out for anybody.” Hall recalls that this “reticence became grounds for the contempt of the New York Times Book Review.” Thus the rumblings of professional disagreements and rivalries borne out of poetic philosophies and sometimes big egos. That’s always a little fun to glimpse. Donald Hall counted his blessings along with his losses, and now we have lost Donald Hall. I am grateful that he left us this book, a carnival of memories.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gerri

    Until I saw a write up about this book in my local newspaper, I had no idea who Donald Hall was. The synopsis of the book was so intriguing that I had to read it and I’m so glad I did!!!! One of the best reads this summer. Mr. Hall is so open and honest in this writing about everything from aging, his loves, loss and life in general at turning 90. I don’t think he held anything back. Loved the way he wrote in short chapters which made this book so easy to get through while stilling reading a mor Until I saw a write up about this book in my local newspaper, I had no idea who Donald Hall was. The synopsis of the book was so intriguing that I had to read it and I’m so glad I did!!!! One of the best reads this summer. Mr. Hall is so open and honest in this writing about everything from aging, his loves, loss and life in general at turning 90. I don’t think he held anything back. Loved the way he wrote in short chapters which made this book so easy to get through while stilling reading a more in-depth novel.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bookish

    This is beloved poet Donald Hall’s moving memoir A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. Hall’s late wife, Jane Kenyon, is one of my favorite contemporary poets, so I have a soft spot for Hall anyway, but when I read his essay “Between Solitude and Loneliness” in The New Yorker a couple of years ago I was brought to my knees. This essay is now a chapter in A Carnival of Losses, and it’s a pretty great example of what you will find in this book, which is basically one part grieving love story This is beloved poet Donald Hall’s moving memoir A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. Hall’s late wife, Jane Kenyon, is one of my favorite contemporary poets, so I have a soft spot for Hall anyway, but when I read his essay “Between Solitude and Loneliness” in The New Yorker a couple of years ago I was brought to my knees. This essay is now a chapter in A Carnival of Losses, and it’s a pretty great example of what you will find in this book, which is basically one part grieving love story, one part reflection on things past, one part shaking his fist at God, and one part Andy Rooney curmudgeonliness. It’s also a book about aging and continuing to write as one does. Simply put: It’s a heartbreaking beauty of a book. —Myf (excerpted from Bookish's Staff Reads)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Hall passed away as this book was being published so we have lost our Virgil of longevity. What you need to let go of, what you need to cling to, how you can find meaning and value in a world that still engages you to the best of your declining abilities—and a model for looking at is with determination, humor, and unfettered frankness. His Essays After Eighty was wonderful—blunt, wise, witty, charming, and belligerent; A Carnival of Losses is exactly that too, but different. Hall wrote poetry fo Hall passed away as this book was being published so we have lost our Virgil of longevity. What you need to let go of, what you need to cling to, how you can find meaning and value in a world that still engages you to the best of your declining abilities—and a model for looking at is with determination, humor, and unfettered frankness. His Essays After Eighty was wonderful—blunt, wise, witty, charming, and belligerent; A Carnival of Losses is exactly that too, but different. Hall wrote poetry for love and money and, at first, prose for money. His books about living in New Hampshire were masterpieces of personal history and being present. His children’s book The Ox-Cart Man was based on a poem but re-worked for a young audience, without condescension. His poems won prizes but his fame as a poet was overtaken by that of his wife, Jane Kenyon, to whom he was devoted in life and after her tragic early death to cancer. As he adjusted to the limitations of aging, he stopped writing poetry because he could no longer do it with the sustained attention required. But he was a writer and he continued to write prose. With his latest collection of essays he has mostly reduced the essay to the shortest form possible, a page and a half, a page, a paragraph. This is the difference to the previous book of essays. And he makes the economy of length work. One or two of them could be called prose poems, but that’s our secret. There are essays about losing his teeth (not quite what you think), his inability to read books or even The New Yorker—though I suspect he read the cartoons and the Talk of the Town still. There is happy news, but I won’t spoil it, about his family home. There are questions about fame with presumptions about how fleeting it will be for him (and others). Speaking of others, there are 17 delightful essays on “The Selected Poets of Donald Hall,” often built on a single anecdote. Mostly they are very kind, though one reads in its entirety, “My recollections of some poets are brief. Allen Tate always looked grumpy.” Revealingly about the age when he was prominent in the world of poetry, 16 of the essays are about men, one is about husband and wife poets (Edwin and Willa Muir). All are white. It was a world dominated by academia and cocktail parties and even with liberals in bastions of liberalness (Ann Arbor, The Paris Review, where he was the founding poetry editor) it was a white guy world. As it was after the color line in the Major Leagues was finally broken, and critics of admitting Negro League players to the Hall of Fame used to say—after first saying “this isn’t about race,” which of course it was impossible not to be since that was what the color line was based on—the Negro League players simply didn’t play against the best competition so they couldn’t be appropriately evaluated for Hall of Fame inclusion. Of course, if true one way it was also true in reverse. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig never had to hit against Satchel Paige when it counted; and great white pitchers never had to get Josh Gibson or Cool Papa Bell out. Heaney deservedly gets an essay but Syzmborska and Walcott do not. E.E. Cummings but not Marianne Moore. Tom Clark but not Gwendolyn Brooks, and so on. “The Selected Poets of Donald Hall” is very entertaining and the essays are worth reading on their own. But the title almost intentionally calls attention to an aspect of white male privilege and it, not the individual insights, is the most revealing fact in this section. Opportunities—for publication, reviews, prizes, and, therefore, audience—were controlled by a white men’s club that benefited them. It would have been interesting to hear Hall’s thoughts on race and gender in his chosen field in response to his personal white male “selected.” It begs the question, selected from whom, by what standard and with what consequences? He did in this collection and the previous one, however, confront the question of how to live well beyond the average lifespan with as much dignity and grace as time allows in its last dropping grains of sand. A Carnival of Losses is poignant reading about the toll that life at the end takes on us and how, nonetheless, we can still define our response. Doing what we love for as long as we can—writing, if you’re Donald Hall, enjoying the window views and the memories, however shakily they come to you, telling our story, being with family, leaving your mark. Hall will be remembered, I’m confident, for some of his poems and much of his prose, particularly but not exclusively his late essays on how to live out your days with dignity no matter how confined and put upon you are my circumstances of health and capacity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lorena

    A delight! Painful and funny, a heads up for writers looking ahead to old age, or for humans. Writers are humans too, after all! The many ways you can lose your dentures. Demolishing your automatic garage door not once but twice because you forgot it was there. Deciding that the ability to write poetry goes before your ability to write prose. What it means to live in the house of your ancestors and view the world from that stable vantage point. I think I'll back up and read the book he wrote abo A delight! Painful and funny, a heads up for writers looking ahead to old age, or for humans. Writers are humans too, after all! The many ways you can lose your dentures. Demolishing your automatic garage door not once but twice because you forgot it was there. Deciding that the ability to write poetry goes before your ability to write prose. What it means to live in the house of your ancestors and view the world from that stable vantage point. I think I'll back up and read the book he wrote about his eighties...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ellyn Lem

    I bet if someone is an ardent fan of Donald Hall's poetry, that person would revel in this latest collection of essays written in his late 80s. The novelist Ann Patchett is one such fan and has heartily endorsed the collection, which is how I had heard of it. While somewhat familiar with Hall's poems (less so his children's books and criticism), I had a hard time mustering up much excitement for most of these short snippets on a wide variety of topics, many of which involve lots of his relatives I bet if someone is an ardent fan of Donald Hall's poetry, that person would revel in this latest collection of essays written in his late 80s. The novelist Ann Patchett is one such fan and has heartily endorsed the collection, which is how I had heard of it. While somewhat familiar with Hall's poems (less so his children's books and criticism), I had a hard time mustering up much excitement for most of these short snippets on a wide variety of topics, many of which involve lots of his relatives that most people will never have heard of. As a result, those essays were hard to get into and did not keep my attention fully. There was a middle section on poets that was a little bit more interesting, but uneven. Some well-known poets were mentioned like T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams, but others were lesser known and the anecdotes varied in their level of engagement. A few pieces stood out for me--one on necropoetry that talks about the poetry he wrote after losing his second wife to cancer and how poetry and grief are companions. One that shocked me a little toward end was called "Fucking," but that one was not boring at all!! Wish someone had edited these essays more and found a more effective organization for them since everything came off as a little bit random...but with sprinkled gems throughout.

  9. 4 out of 5

    TL

    I received this via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. Ally my opinions are my own. --- Hits and misses... he writes well, but most of it wasn't very engaging for me. I'm in the minority it seems *shrugs* Maybe I just wasn't the right audience for this.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Edward

    Sometimes titles are particularly apt, and this is true of Donald Hall's book. He died this past summer at the age of 89. When you get to be that age, you've experienced plenty of losses, and have to be anticipating the biggest loss of all, your life. But at the same time, Hall kept writing, humorously and with balance in essays and meditations about many of these losses. Many are physical, detailing the indignities of the failing body, many are comments on famous poets and writers that he knew; Sometimes titles are particularly apt, and this is true of Donald Hall's book. He died this past summer at the age of 89. When you get to be that age, you've experienced plenty of losses, and have to be anticipating the biggest loss of all, your life. But at the same time, Hall kept writing, humorously and with balance in essays and meditations about many of these losses. Many are physical, detailing the indignities of the failing body, many are comments on famous poets and writers that he knew; always there is a sense of the past. "I can't go on; I'll go on", words from Beckett's Gogo come to mind. There are two long pieces in this miscellaneous collection, one about Jane Kenyon, his wife who died of leukemia in l995 at the age of 47. She was much younger than Hall and the expectation was always that she would outlive him, but in fact he outlived her by 23 years, details that give life to a piece called "Necropoetics" in which he points out that poetry begins "with elegy, in extremity." He writes about many well-known poems that try to work through grief and find something lasting of value, not the least of which are the emotions the survivors feel. Writing about death also means writing about life, the life that leads up to the death. And the life that survives after the death. He concludes: "In the months and years after her death Jane's voice and mine rose as one, spiraling together images and dipthongs of the de ad who once the living, our necropoetics of grief and love in the unforgivable absence of flesh." The other long piece is titled "Way Way Down, Way Way Up" and describes a period in the year before he died when he was sure he was dying. He was so ill he couldn't write, alarming because he had written every day since he was 12 years old. He fell, had internal problems, ended up in emergency care and felt so exhausted that he was sure he was dying, especially as someone in the hospital had clipped off his beard. The end was near. But he revived and went home, albeit with a lot of care. He writes, "Only the wrenching apart permits or reveals the losses. Down and up, Up and down, way way down, way way up, A carnival of losses." Shortly after this experience, he was feted at a Music Hall in Portsmouth, a joyful occasion that celebrated his long life, full of poetry and reminiscing about his experiences and all of the poets and writers he had met in his life. He reflects that life "expresses itself most fiercely in contradiction." It is only endings that give meaning to the whole, and within a year, Hall would be dead. Hall was United States poet laureate in 2006, a honor to be sure, but he ruefully notes in one place that all poets are neglected after they die. This last book of his makes you realize that old age is interesting, certainly no impediment to reflection and wisdom.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Natalie Tyler

    Hall's reflections and memories are haunted by loss. As he continues to stumble through his final years, being a widower becomes not more familiar but more hauntingly depressing. This book does not provide any peppy affirmations about aging but is rather a lament. The lament comes in several forms and digressions. He's spun a verbal web, like the most adroit spider, but the orb of the web and all of its threads are informed by loss and grief. Hall is stoic and manages to write ironic (slightly) Hall's reflections and memories are haunted by loss. As he continues to stumble through his final years, being a widower becomes not more familiar but more hauntingly depressing. This book does not provide any peppy affirmations about aging but is rather a lament. The lament comes in several forms and digressions. He's spun a verbal web, like the most adroit spider, but the orb of the web and all of its threads are informed by loss and grief. Hall is stoic and manages to write ironic (slightly) field-notes about his life. The meals of the widower are "Lean Cuisine" and "Stauffer's". When stuck in a hospital that does not carry MSNBC he watches Fox News and tried to decipher the Fox stories from his own ideas of what they might mean. The book is sad, because Hall is not longer alive and also because his description of the accommodations to old age is both a warning and a bit of wisdom. Keep a piss-pot by your bed to use in the middle of the night is one concept. Bite the hand of the nurse who comes at you with a razor is another. Hall's mind stayed lively as his body declined. It left me pondering whether I would prefer to watch my own demise (as Hall did) or to be start-raving demented and not care about anything. I prefer Hall's way.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Lomazow

    Donald Hall wrote so openly and honestly of aging.He held nothing back the fact that the older he got the more naps he needed remembering his younger years.When he talks about Jane Kenyon his love a young woman he met when she was in his college class. How they fell in love built a life both poets her poetry so beautiful. Their daily routine till his heartbreak she fell ill he nursed her daily but this much younger woman the love he never got over passed away.He now so old missing her wishing sh Donald Hall wrote so openly and honestly of aging.He held nothing back the fact that the older he got the more naps he needed remembering his younger years.When he talks about Jane Kenyon his love a young woman he met when she was in his college class. How they fell in love built a life both poets her poetry so beautiful. Their daily routine till his heartbreak she fell ill he nursed her daily but this much younger woman the love he never got over passed away.He now so old missing her wishing she would be sitting by his side as his turn came,Heartwrenching& I hope they are dancing in heaven together.His poetry& hers along with his essays will always keep them alive,

  13. 4 out of 5

    Roberta

    Amazing. From the book flap: "New essays from the vantage point of very old age ..." Donald Hall, the former poet laureate and husband of poet Jane Kenyon, has written this gem of book as he approaches the age of ninety. Many essays will make you laugh out loud; many are short and sweet; others encompass his knowledge and experience with poets and poetry; and many more are about his New England roots, his family, and his family farm in New Hampshire. There are a few essays that dive too deep (fo Amazing. From the book flap: "New essays from the vantage point of very old age ..." Donald Hall, the former poet laureate and husband of poet Jane Kenyon, has written this gem of book as he approaches the age of ninety. Many essays will make you laugh out loud; many are short and sweet; others encompass his knowledge and experience with poets and poetry; and many more are about his New England roots, his family, and his family farm in New Hampshire. There are a few essays that dive too deep (for my tastes) into the politics of poetry; nonetheless, I think it may be my favorite book of the year. I would particularly recommend it to anyone with aging parents or loved ones.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    Donald Hall who died last year produced a final book of prose subtitled Notes Nearing Ninety. A work of remarkable candor and charm his prose has not suffered from the advent of great age, though it is a subject he treats with wryness, humor and sometimes despair. A number of his essays profile various writers he met throughout his illustrious career and will be of interest to those of a literary bent. The more generalized essays will be enjoyed by anyone fortunate enough to read them.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I did not know who Donald Hall was before I read this. I read a review of this somewhere. It wasn't as depressing as it sounds. A lot of it was pretty funny actually. Donald Hall was the poet laureate of America about 10 years ago. He was married to Jane Kenyon who died of leukemia at 47. He talked about her a lot and also about getting older (no surprise there), poets that he had met, friends, his family, and the old farmhouse he lived in among other things. He seemed like a smart, witty guy. I I did not know who Donald Hall was before I read this. I read a review of this somewhere. It wasn't as depressing as it sounds. A lot of it was pretty funny actually. Donald Hall was the poet laureate of America about 10 years ago. He was married to Jane Kenyon who died of leukemia at 47. He talked about her a lot and also about getting older (no surprise there), poets that he had met, friends, his family, and the old farmhouse he lived in among other things. He seemed like a smart, witty guy. It must be nice to call your profession "poet" and be able to make a living off of that. A rare breed.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    *****

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Watkins

    Reading Hall's A CARNIVAL OF LOSSES is like a visit with an old friend. The essays run the gamut from his opinion on the resurgence of beards to the origin story for his infamous children's book, OX-CART MAN, which was originally a poem. Antidotes about dinner parties with T. S. Eliot., driving around Oregon with James Dickey, or how Theodore Roethke was a self-serving operator are in stark contrast to as essay entitled "Losing My Teeth" in which he talks about constantly losing his dentures. Po Reading Hall's A CARNIVAL OF LOSSES is like a visit with an old friend. The essays run the gamut from his opinion on the resurgence of beards to the origin story for his infamous children's book, OX-CART MAN, which was originally a poem. Antidotes about dinner parties with T. S. Eliot., driving around Oregon with James Dickey, or how Theodore Roethke was a self-serving operator are in stark contrast to as essay entitled "Losing My Teeth" in which he talks about constantly losing his dentures. Poet Donald Hall has lived an extraordinary life and his thoughts as he nears ninety years old are a treasure.

  18. 5 out of 5

    April

    Read this in one day and enjoyed it immensely. Another old guy who knows how to write.

  19. 4 out of 5

    D.j. Lang

    I read this final book of Donald Hall's close on the heels of his Essays After Eighty (You can find that review here.) However, I did not want to review two growing old books, one after the other, especially one with a title about losses. At the time that I read the book, I still had all of my aunts and uncles and both parents alive (and I'm not a child). I have seen that they have had to live through the losses of loved ones and the loss of health, but they have continued to live. This book is I read this final book of Donald Hall's close on the heels of his Essays After Eighty (You can find that review here.) However, I did not want to review two growing old books, one after the other, especially one with a title about losses. At the time that I read the book, I still had all of my aunts and uncles and both parents alive (and I'm not a child). I have seen that they have had to live through the losses of loved ones and the loss of health, but they have continued to live. This book is about living even as it is also about losing, and there is much to be learned from Hall's story. Not to mention, as I have come to realize, there is much to learn from Hall's writing. He remained a master writer to the very end (he died in June of this year), no wonder as he continued to revise to extraordinary lengths. In his first essay "You Are Old," he writes: "You are old when an essay of reminiscence takes eighty-four drafts." However, he is comparing that number to the numbers he mentioned when he was younger -- up to sixty! Clearly, he hones his craft more than the rest of us. Because Hall writes from the vantage point of nearing ninety, "he feels free to reveal...several vivid examples of 'the worst thing I ever did' which is different from someone trying to keep an untarnished image of him or herself. However, be prepared for an entire essay (only two paragraphs, one half of a page) dedicated to the F- word. It is on page 181 of a 216 page book. Some will get the book for that essay alone and others will want to burn the book. I wouldn't go that far. I both bought the book and also dislike that particular essay. I don't want obscene words in my head that will come out at random sometime in the future if I fall into my father's stage of Alzheimer's or have a stroke and the only words I remember are obscene. It may sound funny on paper or in a movie, but in real life, it's not humorous at all. Here are the great parts: amazing writing, writing of images that make this book (and his Essays After Eighty) required reading for some medical students. Hall captures so incredibly well what aging can look like that medical students are asked to read the book so that they will have some understanding of their older patients, some understanding of what the ailments of growing older feel like. His essay "Solitude Double Solitude" is nothing short of amazing (I'm running our of superlatives for Hall's writing) and his final sentence was gut-wrenching. A surprising element of reading this book happened as Hall recounted his life with various poet-peers. These were poets who were famous in their day, and some I had never even heard of. Hall didn't expect to be remembered for too long either, and I think, perhaps, his prose will outlast his poetry! Nonetheless, I read these chapters at the same time that I was pondering legacy. Not many people will have their names remembered for years upon years, but each person matters. Each person brings something to the world of living, whether it be for ill or good. Hall's final essay "Tree Day" is the perfect essay to end on, a perfect transition from one generation to the next. I do recommend the book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Will Chin

    OK, it's more like 3.5. I generally stay away from prose written by poets. Call me uncivilised, but I am generally not a fan of poetry. But when I heard about this book — A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall — I just couldn't pass it up. Death and dying are topics that fascinate me as a reader, and descriptions of this essay seem to promise exactly that — from the perspective of a ninety-year-old poet, no less. An essay collections, like short story collections, collect both OK, it's more like 3.5. I generally stay away from prose written by poets. Call me uncivilised, but I am generally not a fan of poetry. But when I heard about this book — A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall — I just couldn't pass it up. Death and dying are topics that fascinate me as a reader, and descriptions of this essay seem to promise exactly that — from the perspective of a ninety-year-old poet, no less. An essay collections, like short story collections, collect both hits and misses. And while the chapters that touch on ageing, death, sickness, solitude and isolation are compelling — easily a five-star read — the book also collects a slew of other essays that are somewhat unrelated to the topics at hand. Sometimes Hall writes of a conversation he overhears at a party, or a dinner party he added a long time ago. There's even a large chunk of the book on all the poets, famous and forgotten, he had met over the years. It would make sense for their inclusions if the essays somehow tie back to the topics of death and dying, but they don't always do. While they do feel like they could perhaps make for good materials for a separate book altogether, collecting them here just seems somewhat out of place. It's like serving mash potatoes in the middle of a dessert course. But the essays on the topics at hand are so good, so well written, that they struck my heart in the deepest, most tender spots. I cannot say I fully recommend this book as a whole, but sections of this are such wonderfully written essays that I feel everyone should read it. After all, we are all dying as we are living.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Unless his estate surfaces unpublished pieces, this is the last of Donald Hall's work, and I will miss reading something new of his. With honesty, sometimes, humility, and always, humor, Donald Hall remembers what is important about his heritage, family, and writing life as well as what he has lost as he moves slowly in his ninetieth year. His thoughts on work reminded me of Studs Terkel's important commentary, "Working." Every once in a while, one of his poems sent me to an anthology such as his Unless his estate surfaces unpublished pieces, this is the last of Donald Hall's work, and I will miss reading something new of his. With honesty, sometimes, humility, and always, humor, Donald Hall remembers what is important about his heritage, family, and writing life as well as what he has lost as he moves slowly in his ninetieth year. His thoughts on work reminded me of Studs Terkel's important commentary, "Working." Every once in a while, one of his poems sent me to an anthology such as his mention of "Exile." His long list of poets, "The Selected Poets of Donald Hall," will keep my poetry reading focused over the next few months. His chapter on "Prosaic Laureates" made me smile: "It was a lesson, learned in my twenties, that humility is a necessary component of genius."..."Radio baseball was better than radio football."..."I remember when I first fell for girls."..."The "Paris Review" invented the literary interview , printed like a play without stage directions."..."Politics has clogged the air of my life." Reading Donald Hall's essays is always like having a conversation with him; he writes with such clarity, such feeling. Because I have several of his collections, I feel like I know him, remembering his days at Harvard with a former colleague of mine, Paris in 1951, his friendships with literary greats, and the death of his beloved wife, Jane Kenyon. He is one of the literary giants of my life, and I am grateful for every word I have read of his. Rest in peace, Donald Hall.

  22. 5 out of 5

    JQAdams

    I think I might have read Essays after Eighty, but nothing about it stuck with me, and it's not like the memoir of a poet was ever likely to resonate with someone who usually gets nothing out of poetry. So I probably wouldn't have bothered with this sequel, except it was very small and convenient for the commute at a moment when I was looking for a book like that. And, indeed, it worked well for that purpose; of the book's four sections, three (the first and last, which are scattered fragments o I think I might have read Essays after Eighty, but nothing about it stuck with me, and it's not like the memoir of a poet was ever likely to resonate with someone who usually gets nothing out of poetry. So I probably wouldn't have bothered with this sequel, except it was very small and convenient for the commute at a moment when I was looking for a book like that. And, indeed, it worked well for that purpose; of the book's four sections, three (the first and last, which are scattered fragments of memoir, as well as the second, which are brief recollections of poets Hall knew) are mostly in chapters of a page or two. Even the longer essay, about poetry regarding death and coping with the death of his second wife, has discrete sections where it doesn't really matter if you remember what came before. In fact, it may work better if you don't, because several of the fragments overlap one another and give the same information. Relatively few of the entries explicitly included poetry, so the book is accessible to the poetry-averse (though none of the included excerpts caused the scales to fall from my eyes, either). It was mostly remarkable for the ease of Hall's professional life: scholarship to Oxford, junior fellowship at Harvard, assistant professorship at Michigan, successful first book allowing an independent writing career. Even Hall blithely admits that that first book didn't merit the praise it received, so the life story ends up being a story of how success, however fluky or undeserved, breeds more success.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Beautifully written, by a former poet laureate , this collection of essays on nearing 90 speaks to the author's experience of being elderly and its challenges. Being that age, he doesn't feel the need to hold anything back, and this is an insightful view of his experiences. Mr. Hall is amusing but there's an angst that permeates this collection that had me rushing to finish it by the end. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since the title is A Carnival of Losses. Most people avoid the topic of Beautifully written, by a former poet laureate , this collection of essays on nearing 90 speaks to the author's experience of being elderly and its challenges. Being that age, he doesn't feel the need to hold anything back, and this is an insightful view of his experiences. Mr. Hall is amusing but there's an angst that permeates this collection that had me rushing to finish it by the end. I guess that shouldn't be surprising since the title is A Carnival of Losses. Most people avoid the topic of old age (at least old, old age--as he points out regarding one of his friend's who was in his 70's--that's not old--he could still climb stairs) so I find it interesting to read a first hand account. Granted I've read such books by elderly women before, but this is the first one I read by an elderly man. Most of this culture is in complete denial about the infirmities of old age and, of course, what comes after. To be fair, I think angst (or at least attraction to thinking about death) is what attracted him to poetry as a boy so despite his gentle humor, he comes by it honestly. His essays include many events in his life including poets he has known (and he knew a bunch of them) and his marriage to another poet, Jane, who was the love of his life. Sadly Mr. Hall did not reach 90. I think this is a great book and highly recommend.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I was enticed to read this book by seeing the opening paragraphs on Twitter. Here's a man, I thought, who can write, with humour, about old age and dealing with it. Well, yes, that was the opening section of a bunch of mostly short 'essays' on a variety of topics which became increasingly less humorous as they proceeded through the book. Many of them left quite a bitter taste in the mouth - and not just because of Hall's ranting about old age or about the early death of his second wife. There we I was enticed to read this book by seeing the opening paragraphs on Twitter. Here's a man, I thought, who can write, with humour, about old age and dealing with it. Well, yes, that was the opening section of a bunch of mostly short 'essays' on a variety of topics which became increasingly less humorous as they proceeded through the book. Many of them left quite a bitter taste in the mouth - and not just because of Hall's ranting about old age or about the early death of his second wife. There were some quite sarcastic views of other poets (the section on other poets is probably the least successful in the book, though there are occasional moments when they light up) and there are the surprisingly odd comments about the way other people helped him when he was ill. I haven't read Hall's poems mostly because apart from the fact that he's the editor of a book of American poetry which I have on my shelves I've never heard of him. His poems may be worth exploring: poems often speak with a better voice than the poet's ordinary everyday one. The writer who comes across in this book often presents with an arrogance and self-indulgence which isn't endearing. A lot of the material in this relatively short book is little more than stretched-out anecdotes. Some of the other stuff is rambling. And at $16US for the Kindle version, the book is excessively overpriced...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    There are many things I liked and enjoyed about this book - having just finished it, I find it difficult to try to organize a suitable short explanation of why I enjoyed. One comment would simply be that I am a typical (I fear) individual who only occasionally reads a poem or feels much affinity for poetry, but there is much here that does not require an enthusiasm for poetry.. While reading the book, I looked up some of Mr. Hall's other works and discovered that he died last month (June 2018). There are many things I liked and enjoyed about this book - having just finished it, I find it difficult to try to organize a suitable short explanation of why I enjoyed. One comment would simply be that I am a typical (I fear) individual who only occasionally reads a poem or feels much affinity for poetry, but there is much here that does not require an enthusiasm for poetry.. While reading the book, I looked up some of Mr. Hall's other works and discovered that he died last month (June 2018). An attentive librarian at the Library of Congress (or perhaps somewhere else) has already updated his name authority record so that I learned this when I read in a bibliographic record for one of this book - Hall, Donald (1928-1918). The book was officially published only after his death, it seems. In reading Mr. Hall's obituary in the Washington Post, I was saddened slightly to learn he did not quite make it to his 9oth birthday, which would have been in September. In this book, he describes the celebration of his mother's 90th birthday and one sensed he looked forward to that milestone celebration. Really, five stars is not enough.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This year started early with the death of an internet friend, a photographer, who I never met in person. It continued in spring with the death of a childhood friend, who left the earth not long after a brilliant whirlwind tour of Italy with her long loved husband and beloved daughter. I returned home from a blissful trip out west to the death of the very fine and lovely man I was honored to have as my manager for not nearly enough years. He left his wife, two teen-aged children, countless friend This year started early with the death of an internet friend, a photographer, who I never met in person. It continued in spring with the death of a childhood friend, who left the earth not long after a brilliant whirlwind tour of Italy with her long loved husband and beloved daughter. I returned home from a blissful trip out west to the death of the very fine and lovely man I was honored to have as my manager for not nearly enough years. He left his wife, two teen-aged children, countless friends, and many co-workers bereft. He was too, too young and good to go when he did. I had deathly sick family members myself who were thankfully spared. A long time colleague has been diagnosed with a rare and fatal disease. I think ending the year on this last night with this wise and painful book, that looks to the years beyond ours, the new lives, and the new trees, is the right way to close out 2018.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    4.5 Stars. This was a real pleasure to read. While I know more about Hall's late wife, Jane Kenyon--one of my favorite poets--I was delighted to learn so much more about Hall through these essays and vignettes. I learned that at some point in their marriage he came to understand that Kenyon's craft, and the poems that resulted from it, had surpassed his own. I learned about his own brushes with death before and while writing this book. I particularly enjoyed his writing about other poets he knew 4.5 Stars. This was a real pleasure to read. While I know more about Hall's late wife, Jane Kenyon--one of my favorite poets--I was delighted to learn so much more about Hall through these essays and vignettes. I learned that at some point in their marriage he came to understand that Kenyon's craft, and the poems that resulted from it, had surpassed his own. I learned about his own brushes with death before and while writing this book. I particularly enjoyed his writing about other poets he knew or encountered in his long career, and I sorrowed with him as he described his wife's illness and death, and how devastated it left him. Hall was a great poet, a brilliant critic, and a man who could look back at his life with humor and self-effacement. I'm 20 (and a half) years younger today than he was at the end of his life, and that scares me a bit. I enjoyed the light from the candles he carried to help me understand what life is worth and how to bear the end with humor and dignity.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I would have read A Carnival of Losses even without the quote from Ann Patchett on the back cover: "Donald Hall writes about love and loss and art and home in a manner so essential and direct it's as if he's put the full force of his life on the page. There are very few perfect books, and A Carnival of Losses is one of them." But, it turns out that Patchett (whose work I also admire) was right about this book. I don't use the five star rating often, but Hall's book is so deserving. Donald Hall I would have read A Carnival of Losses even without the quote from Ann Patchett on the back cover: "Donald Hall writes about love and loss and art and home in a manner so essential and direct it's as if he's put the full force of his life on the page. There are very few perfect books, and A Carnival of Losses is one of them." But, it turns out that Patchett (whose work I also admire) was right about this book. I don't use the five star rating often, but Hall's book is so deserving. Donald Hall was a brilliant writer and his use of language so skilled, it saddens me that I will not be able to read anything new from him again. If you are new to Donald Hall, I recommend reading some of Hall's other memoirs to give context to this last work - especially The Best Day The Worst Day, Unpacking the Boxes and Essays After Eighty.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cora

    As he approached the age of ninety former poet laureate of the United States, Donald Hall, wrote this collection of essays. In them he reflected on the life of someone approaching the end, reminisced about things that happened to him when he was younger, and recorded his thoughts on his fellow poets. Many of the essays were moving, especially given the perspective of someone who was nearing the end of their life. The section on his thoughts on other poets was less interesting to me, primarily be As he approached the age of ninety former poet laureate of the United States, Donald Hall, wrote this collection of essays. In them he reflected on the life of someone approaching the end, reminisced about things that happened to him when he was younger, and recorded his thoughts on his fellow poets. Many of the essays were moving, especially given the perspective of someone who was nearing the end of their life. The section on his thoughts on other poets was less interesting to me, primarily because I am not familiar with most of the people he was talking about. The final essay, "Tree Day," was poignant as it was the one where he most directly addressed the fact that his days were numbered and how he wanted to leave something for the future.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Patty Weiser

    I really enjoyed Unpacking the Boxes so I expected to also like this collection of Donald Hall essays. The first section, Notes on Nearing Ninety, reminded me of talking with my grandmother, an author with extensive literary knowledge, a quick wit, and a dry sense of humor. The second section about poets was interesting but my attention flagged a tad. Things picked up in the third and the fourth section blew me away. I came away in awe and a desire to read Jane Kenyon’s poetry, a Handful of poem I really enjoyed Unpacking the Boxes so I expected to also like this collection of Donald Hall essays. The first section, Notes on Nearing Ninety, reminded me of talking with my grandmother, an author with extensive literary knowledge, a quick wit, and a dry sense of humor. The second section about poets was interesting but my attention flagged a tad. Things picked up in the third and the fourth section blew me away. I came away in awe and a desire to read Jane Kenyon’s poetry, a Handful of poems for my bulletin board, and a wonder at people who live their lives in the magic of making beauty out of words.

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