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Unpacking the Boxes: A Memoir of a Life in Poetry

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  261 Ratings  ·  69 Reviews
Donald Hall's remarkable life in poetry -- a career capped by his appointment as U.S. poet laureate in 2006 -- comes alive in this richly detailed, self-revealing memoir.
Hall's invaluable record of the making of a poet begins with his childhood in Depression-era suburban Connecticut, where he first realized poetry was "secret, dangerous, wicked, and delicious," and ends w
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ebook, 149 pages
Published September 11th 2009 by Mariner Books (first published September 2nd 2008)
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Sam Schulman
A good beginning - an interesting if somewhat incurious (about his parents, grandparents, etc.) account of his childhood in familiar Hamden and Whitneyville, CT, prosperous in the Depression - and a better account of wartime years at Andover and postwar years at Harvard, and then a completely gripping narrative of social/literary success at Oxford in the Korean war years - one begins to notice some things that are wrong.
First of all, Hall seems unable to appreciate his immense good fortune in s
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Rick
Dec 13, 2008 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Hall’s prose is always a good companion, whether he is recounting seasons on Eagle Pond, musing on work and life, or holding a reflective glass to his suffering through illness and tragedy, or merely recalling his childhood as the first part of his professional journey to his twilight years of diminished powers but heightened perceptiveness and understanding. Unpacking the Boxes is a philosophical look back, a frank one, remarkably free of self-pity or self-congratulation. He has lived his chose ...more
Clifford
Feb 10, 2015 Clifford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, biography
Over the years I have read an occasional Donald Hall poem, but I can’t say I’m familiar with his work. But he appeared on a recent cover of Poets & Writers, so I thought it was time I corrected that. While looking for his work in the poetry section of a used bookstore, I came across this book, one of his memoirs. That seemed like a good place to start, so I bought it.

See my full review here: Review of Unpacking the Boxes by Donald Hall
Kathleen
May 20, 2014 Kathleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so beautifully written and skillfully crafted, I read passages over and over again and took copious notes. Donald Hall's poetry has been a gift to me since I began to read his poetry in the early 1970's; he changed how I thought of poetry. To read how he came to be the writer he is...his love of reading and writing, his introduction to authors, his childhood, school and teaching experiences put an intimate face on his poetry for me.

“One’s life begins on so many occasions, construct
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Trisha
Jul 02, 2013 Trisha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Donald Hall, U.S. Poet laureate in 2006 and husband of poet Jane Kenyon is a favorite poet of mine, which is why I picked up this book – a memoir of sorts about his lifelong passion for poetry (which began, amazingly enough when he was a child and decided he wanted to be a poet when he grew up.) Unfortunately this book left me feeling oddly disappointed – as if I’d been indulging an elderly man by listening to him recount past sorrows and glories. At times I felt a bit embarrassed for him becaus ...more
mstan
So, this is the second memoir of Donald Hall's I've read, and I still haven't read his poetry. It's not like I actively sought this book out though - it was laid out on the $4.99 table at the Harvard Bookstore when I visited Cambridge last week, and I remember String Too Short to Be Saved with much fondness... and this was only $4.99...

In many ways, this memoir was too personal for me - perhaps an odd thing to say, but what I mean is that Hall assumes a basic knowledge of important literary figu
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Quanda
Dec 17, 2008 Quanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: To anyone who love poetry, the poetry greats and want a since of culture.
Recommended to Quanda by: A friend of mine (Jackie Angiuli)
First I have to say that I really enjoyed this man's since of humor, he was quite funny. Bluntly funny. LOL!!!

But I loved this book becuase it offered, innocence, newness, sweetness, and a subtle and shocking sadness. It's about his beginning of life, his traveling journey to becoming who he is today. But I must say that involves you, as if you were there and his personal side kick in his story.

However I must say that his life encounters were amazing and eye opening and it's also fun. He's met
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Delia Turner
Rambling and with odd repetitions and lacunae, this book encapsulates the image of a white male poet of a certain era until the very end, when it becomes a vivid and slightly unhinged image of first, a man grieving horribly for his beloved wife and second, the indignities of becoming an old man. The last chapter, "The Planet of Antiquity," is worth the whole book, especially his account of being pulled over and arrested (and handcuffed) for, basically, driving while old.
Traci
Oct 23, 2008 Traci rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I was disappointed by this book. It seems to me that Hall is still more proud of his glory days at Harvard and Oxford than he is of anything else he's ever done. The most interesting portion of this book was the last chapter, in which he describes what it's really like to grow old. The language is beautiful, but the story is just not that compelling.
Belle
Mar 07, 2015 Belle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The elegant and touching love story of Poet Donald Hall and his wife, Jane Kenyon, in her last days. I'm preparing to read Essays after Eighty by Donald Hall. I wanted a little bit of his back story.
Rose-Marie
Feb 26, 2010 Rose-Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago , I loved it for it's honesty. Having lived on a farm in Danbury , New Hampshire from where he wrote this book brought extra meaning for me. I am not looking forward though to getting old.
Milton Brasher-Cunningham
In less than two hundred pages, Donald Hall, poet and Red Sox fan, tells the story of his life. Early on, he writes,

"The first word I was taught to read, after weeks of memorizing the alaphabet, was 'that.' Did my life begin with 'that'? One's life begins on so many occasions, constructing itself out of accident derived from coincidence compounded by character." (16)

The book is not an exhaustive account of his life, nor a sentimental one, but it is full of rich imagery and detail. Hall's life is
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Craig
Mar 24, 2013 Craig rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Was really disappointed in this book after the amazing Without which was the volume of poems that made me want to know more about the man.

Unfortunately, I mostly read name-dropping of famous people that Hall had met over the course of his life and learned very little about the man at all. His children and his first wife, for instance, were mentioned and glossed over. While I appreciate his unwillingness to drag out every sordid detail of his divorce, making so little mention of his personal life
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Jesse
Dec 16, 2008 Jesse rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having never read Hall's poetry I was interested in reading about his life first. This is a good place to start even though his path to being a poet is a rather well worn one. Hall also wrote a memoir about the death of his wife (the poet, Jane Kenyon), but after reading "Without", Hall's book of poems about his wife's death, I'm glad I started here. "Unpacking the Boxes" gave me good background for the book of poems "Without" without ameliorating the immediate rawness that Kenyon's death evokes ...more
Barbara A
Feb 25, 2010 Barbara A rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The very first sentence of this book explains for me precisely why Donald Hall, despite life's typical sorrows and disappointments, has had, to quote Reynolds Price, "a long and happy life".

Much like figure skater Johnny Weir, who today gave an elegant statement on the grace of having loving parents, Hall's mother and father, from the very outset, believed in him and wished for him the opportunity to do in life exactly what he wanted....and her knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a
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Steven
May 12, 2013 Steven rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you've ever wondered what type of person the word erudition describes, this memoir is the perfect example. Donald Hall came of age and education when being a poet was revered in a way that was both romantic and exclusionary, and he celebrates it here with the humility of an aged man who's experienced the joys of love, career and family, as well as the inherent losses in each. The literary name-dropping gets a little tiresome, but Hall is self-aware enough to wink at it even as he does it, and ...more
Patricia
Jan 01, 2009 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir of a poet: the boxes are the remains of his mother's estate, objects from his childhood and adolescence, "model airplanes and toy cars...a baseball glove with its oiled pocket chewed by mice...a thousand poems, novels I wrote at seventeen and nineteen."
Hall was ambitious to be not just a poet, but a great one. The memoir starts strong, with evocative and sensual memories of his childhood, his mother and father, the conflicts between New Hampshire (farm, religion, work ethic) and Connecti
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Mary Raihofer
Jun 09, 2009 Mary Raihofer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Unpacking the Boxes" was my first introduction to Donald Hall's life as a poet/writer. It was actually the title of the book that caught my interest since I have found myself unpacking boxes of books and materials five years later. His life is fascinating and we follow him from his early childhood to faculty member at Michigan to the transition from the security of a tenured professor to poet/writer at Eagle Pond Farm, a homestead in New Hampshire.

The book portrays the development of his and hi
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Kirk Stewart
Feb 19, 2016 Kirk Stewart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As with any life, some parts of Donald Hall's life in poetry are not quite as interesting or engaging as others, but I have loved this man and his poetry and envied his writing life for more than a decade now. To learn more about his early life and history with all of his powerful and poetic word choices and rhythms in prose was rewarding and satisfying to say the least. I once wrote a very short essay/journal about reading "Letter at Christmas" and weeping openly in a bookstore, and my professo ...more
Betty G.
I have been a Donald Hall fan since he spoke at my college. (In this book he talks about his years of traveling around the read at very colleges.) As part of my student job, I had to tape record him. He also signed my copies of the two anthologies he edited, NEW POETS OF ENGLAND AND AMERICA, the textbooks for my Contemporary Poetry class. I've always enjoyed his memoirs as much as his poetry, especially the books about his house in New Hampshire and STRING TOO SHORT TO BE SAVED. Also LIFE WORK. ...more
James Murphy
Jul 16, 2011 James Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful memoir by a man who sees everhing and everybody in his life in the best light. A poet and writer and teacher, beginning in 2006 he served a term as the Poet Laureate of the United States. By far the most interesting sections of Unpacking the Boxes are those in which he writes about his education at Exeter, Harvard, and Oxford. Those chapters earn the highest marks. He spends little time on his marriage and family. Hall's 2d wife was the poet Jane Kenyon. He apparently covered ...more
Sheri Fresonke Harper
What I found most enjoyable in this memoir by Donald Hall is his focus on his life as a poet and what that meant to him. I found it fascinating how he approached the study and explanation of poetry, along with how he viewed poetry readings. For poets, I think that part is especially helpful. Mixed in with this memoir, is how his wife's death and to some extent how his earlier divorce affected him emotionally. I could feel his loss and pain and some of the love he shared with his wife. His connec ...more
Krista
Dec 19, 2011 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the year (year and a half?) of reading memoirs by writers who lived primarily in New England, most of which I've really enjoyed - and Unpacking the Boxes is no exception. I enjoyed Hall's honesty, his voice (even when it became quite proud), and getting a glimpse into what this writing life looks like, for him. I've only read a few Hall poems, but am interested to read more now. And am even more interested to read "The Best Day the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon" - a memoir about his s ...more
Otis
Jan 01, 2009 Otis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love poetry and language
It's like reading a list of famous poets, one after the other, who Donald Hall has amazingly known - taken classes with and had drinks with - and endless list of reasons to be jealous of his long life devoted to reading and writing. His writing is almost perfect. At times, it feels like reading Joyce. The best section - the most moving section - is "Grief's House" which is about the death of his wife, Jane Kenyon, who was also a poet. It's the section that is was the easiest for me to relate to. ...more
Melissa
Such strange pacing, which makes more sense when I realized that The Best Day the Worst Day was taken as a chunk from the center of this memoir and became another separate book, which I will eventually read. I like Donald Hall's poetry; yet in regards to him, I am mostly drawn to the love relationships between poets, and Hall & Kenyon's is so well-documented!

& there is this: "One morning as I revised, I set down a word that I knew was not right, and I heard myself think: But I can SAY it
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Amy
Jan 20, 2009 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
This is an interesting book about a very brilliant man. Honestly, I had never heard of him before I started reading this. Guess that goes to show what a good English major I was. Anyway, he was born middle class and excelled to go to Exeter, Harvard and then Oxford. And, the fact that he actually was able to make a living as a poet in this day in age is incredible in and of itself. There are parts of this story that are very tedious to get through, when he describes all of his academic endeavors ...more
Cynthia Sinsap
Aug 12, 2013 Cynthia Sinsap rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating to get a glimpse of how this poet (Donald Hall)came into poetry. I loved the cover-- exactly the room I would love to have. I kept turning back to the picture, seeing Hall in his space writing as I read the book. At points I was amazed/aghast at the ego expressed. But then again mustn't a writer, or any artist be confident in him/herself and her work? But perhaps Hall's e3go went to far at times. Was this just growing pains as a writer?
I am envious of the circle of friends-- all well
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Joyce
Aug 14, 2009 Joyce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Who knew that life as a poet was so full of travel, parties, famous people and brilliant conversation? Well, I guess if you're a poet with this pedigree it's to be expected.
I liked his memoir about New Hampshire, String Too Short to Be Saved. Apparently there is no such thing as a string too short to be saved, since this is a completely new book constructed from the same voluminous cache of letters, diaries, manuscripts, and other snippets of a literary life.
It's quite wonderful until, in the f
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Sheldon
Mar 04, 2012 Sheldon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Donald Hall's, "Unpacking The Boxes" is a GORGEOUS memoir. POet Laureate of the United States from 2006-2007, Mr. Hall was highly educated. It is fascinating to read what he did during all those years of education and fellowship. The interesting thing is that the book is not so much a memoir of a life in poetry, as a memoir of a life in WRITING. I HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone who aspires to be a writer. And frankly to anyone who does not. It is just a beautifully written memoir of the ...more
Jensownzoo
Honestly, I started this book so long ago, that I don't remember a whole lot of particulars about it. I started it in February, read it almost to the end, lost it, found it, then finally finished it. I remember it being interesting, but not gripping, and not a book that I feel that I will have to read again. For those that do not know, Donald Hall, the author, was poet laureate of the United States '06-07. He decided when he was 14 that he would devote his life to poetry and this book relates ho ...more
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Donald Hall was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928. He began writing as an adolescent and attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference at the age of sixteen—the same year he had his first work published. He earned a B.A. from Harvard in 1951 and a B. Litt. from Oxford in 1953.

Donald Hall has published numerous books of poetry, most recently White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1
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More about Donald Hall...

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“As I read my poems aloud, I paid still more attention to sound in my writing. One morning as I revised, I set down a word that I knew was not right, and I heard myself think: But I can say it so that it’s right. Immediately, I knew that I had understood one of the hazards of reading aloud. Performance can paper over bad writing, or substitute for the best language. Performance is a problem, and most performance poets or slammers are actors or standup comedians and not poets; we never hear a line break and seldom a new metaphor. There are other problems with the popularity of the poetry reading, but largely the reading has been good for poetry because poets watch their own poems come back to them on the faces of listeners. One addresses not only the Muse but actual people.” 0 likes
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