Offering advice about reading criticism by a poet, Donald Hall told an interviewer, “Look at what an author was writing at the time.” So what was Don Hall writing in the 1980s when he wrote his provocative essay “Poetry and Ambition?” Hall admitted that he was submerged in the most ambitious thing he’d ever written: The One Day. He spent seventeen years on the three-part, book-length poem, which stitches together classic texts and modern voices to examine middle age.
Now in his eightieth year, two and a half decades after the contentions raised by his essay, Hall expressed a tinge of regret at characterizing MFA programs in terms of McPoems and Hamburger University, but he’s steadfast in his belief that the only reason to write poems is to write great ones.
Having written every day for the past forty years, Hall is never certain that what he’s written is “good.” What keeps him at the desk? As you might guess, he never stops trying to write “words that will live forever.”