The Back Chamber

In The Back Chamber, the twentieth book of poetry by former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, iconic objects (a white stone, garden bricks, a plaid picnic blanket) and poignant imagery (lilacs purpling, a cow missing her cowbell) serve to illustrate and render concrete the passage of time. While Hall writes much about mortality in this collection, he does so from all angles; when meditating on death, Hall's tone runs the gamut of haunted, stricken, plaintive, and even humorous, depending on the poem.

Hall's devoted readers will find comfort in familiar subject matter—friendship, baseball, marriage, poetry, sex, and love are all themes of The Back Chamber. Throughout the book, Hall is a lively, wily narrator. Yet there is a shift in the series of poems that end the collection; these poems are centered on Hall's own mortality. In this group of poems, Hall reiterates his age, while bringing into focus—even summoning—the important figures of his past and present: lovers, beloved pets, relatives, and friends. The Back Chamber is an affecting collection by an enduring poet.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, fall 2011, issue 41.