Saturday, December 27, 2014

Blogs After Eighty

Essays, like poems and stories and novels, marry heaven and hell. Contradiction is the cellular structure of life. Sometimes north dominates, sometimes south – but if the essay doesn’t contain contradictions, however small they may be, the essay fails.

Donald Hall, Essays after Eighty, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

A blog is essentially an essay, a problem or belief stated, a background supplied, and a solution offered.

Essayist E.B. White said in Elements of Style, “ All writing is communication. It is Self escaping out into the open. No writer remains long incognito.”

I ought to know, I have written over 3600 blogs, over 500 this year alone. At my age, 81, you say what you think.

I believe in America, small government, a bottom-up society, a competitive market place, and individualism.

I believe ObamaCare is deeply flawed. It has good intentions and good points, but it contains fatal contradictions with American society and will inevitably devolve into something better.

I believe the experience of aging has its virtues and limitations. We all interpret the same facts differently, and we are entitled to.

I believe we are all fallible and engage in behavior in our own self-interest. And I believe innovative entrepreneurs, pursuing their dreams, and creative artists, expressing their beliefs freely , are the lifeblood of America’s exceptionalism.

These are some of the reasons why I enjoyed so much former poet laureate Donald Hall’s 134 page book Essays After Eighty.

Donald Hall is 85 years old and he still productive. He is still getting in his last words and his last licks about the state of mankind.

Over his life, he has written 19 books of poetry and 17 books of prose. He was a co-founder of the Paris Review in the 1950s with George Plimpton. Peter Mathiesen and others. I am a life-time subscription to the Paris Review. It features well-wrought interviews with writers. Hall was Poet Laureate of the United States in 2006 and 2007. He no longer writes poems, but he is fond of writing irreverent, off-beat, self-effacing essays on the pleasures of smoking, “No Smoking,” and of non-exercising, Physical Malfitness,” both of which are contained among the fourteen essays in this book.

Last year I met and spend two hours in his company at his home at Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire. I was there courtesy of my son, Spencer Reece, a poet in his own right and a friend of Donald Hall. Hall was crusty, outspoken, and memorable.

Spencer thinks of Hall as a mentor and critic. He has praised Spencer of this poetry but says Spencer's prose badly needs reworking. Nothing wrong with that. Hall claims his essays go through thirty to eighty drafts, as he seeks just the right word, the right way to say something, and the right rhythm and cadence. Precision in these things is the name of the writing game. If you’ll pardon the play on words, these are the “hall marks” of a good writer.

Hall has no qualms or illusions about his inevitable death. Of death he says, “It is sensible of me to be aware I will die one of these days. I will not pass away. Every day millions of people pass away – in obituaries, death notices, cards of consolation, e-mails to the corpse’s friends. They rest in peace, quit the world, go the way of all flesh, depart, give up the ghost, breathe the last breath, join their dear ones in heaven, meet their Maker, ascend to a better place, succumb surrounded by family, return to the Lord, go home, cross over, or leave this world.”

Not Donald Hall, he will get in his last word. He will have his say. He will make his last pass. He will say it the way he sees it. And if he sees a pretty girl, he is likely to say, “Oh, to be eighty again.”

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