Looking to Age


I read the paperback edition of Donald Hall’s 2014 book, Essays After Eighty, within the last few weeks of 2015. A reading list was compiled during that summer, which didn’t include this newest of Hall’s publications. As happens with summer reading lists, it promptly extended itself into the fall and winter. More than a few titles from last year are now due to be held this summer in my hands, with morning coffee nearby or propped upon my lap before bed. However with Hall’s book I felt an urgency to take in his voice on the page immediately. It was also an unexpected purchase, and as I heard no complaint from the other books in queue, I followed his literary towpath into the world of the former Poet Laureate’s native New Hampshire town and into his home at Eagle Pond Farm.

His ancient and warm voice can be heard here, if you’d like to pair sound with his prose on the page. The essays are not terribly vast in their range but are bound by the horizon line of his current locality, his bodily state and the breadth of his memories. We return again and again to the landscape of his last few decades: to the barn of his grandfather’s farm; to the local roads he looks out on from a passenger seat window while being driven to physical therapy or the airport; to his farmhouse where mice and snakes scurry and wriggle their way across the floor while he searches for his dentures. What’s unique about the perspective of Hall’s voice in this book is his humility through the advance of his years. It is both self-deprecating and appreciative of his limiting dependence and diminishing energy.

While the end of our lives are never known (except perhaps by medical diagnosis or superstitious prophecy) we are freely given mountains of advice as to how to live it. For the devout especially conservative religious we are told to repent now and strive to live without blemish or sin in our actions and thoughts – for the next life. For the hedonistic, never mind the soul – you better live it up while you’re able to function, as the body is sure to wither away. Then, there is the strange cult of fitness that is the sort of flip side of the latter: eat well, watch your diet, don’t smoke, work out, drink smoothies, etc. Even if the body is going to pass away, it ought to be in the best possible condition! And for as long as it can exist. What is most common with all these prescriptions is this: whatever you are doing with your life probably ought to be changed before you die.

We never know when we’ll divest the planet of our consciousness, but while we age the reality of this fact makes different impressions to different people, and is often dependent more on our outer practices than our inner beliefs. In his essay titled “Death” Hall proclaims, “at some point in my seventies, death stopped being interesting.” Later he affirms that his activities in spite of the reality of old age are very much the same things he was doing in the middle of life – “I try not to break my neck. I write letters, I take naps, I write essays.” I was reminded of an interview by Q TV’s Jian Ghomeshi of CBC with Leonard Cohen (another brilliant human past the age of seventy) who quotes his deceased friend and poet Irving Layton that “it’s not death that he’s worried about, it’s the preliminaries.” It makes a good point about where our heads usually are – do we live life from death’s perspective with dread or see death from life’s vantage point? He later tells Jian,

Of course, everyone has to have a certain anxiety about the condition’s of one’s death-the actual circumstances, the pain involved, the effect on your heirs. But there’s so little you can do about it. It’s best to regulate those concerns to the appropriate compartments of the mind and not let them inform all your activities. We’ve got to live our lives as if they’re real, as if they’re not going to end immediately, so we have to live under those…some people might call them illusions.


I see in Donald Hall, Leonard Cohen (and another of my “Don’t Trust Anyone Younger Than 70” club: author, educator and essayist Marilynne Robinson) a number of great inspirations to me and others that while we are wading through life’s swampy marshes or traipsing through its golden landscapes, we will continue to fade. How we are or aren’t becoming to the inevitable is but a little difference of musculature in the face – either a tensing up to brace, or a relaxing into the pleasant smirk of acceptance.

Speaking Music

The Scotland-based transatlantic publication Dark Horse Magazine is celebrating its 20th anniversary. A recent article by former U.S. Poet Laureate Dana Gioia entitled “Poetry as Enchantment” is available to read online here. I recommend it as an example of criticism done judiciously and with consideration to the future of the craft. Mr. Gioia writes of the sense of wonder at critical invention in a poem that can be understood intuitively be a reader. This same poem can also be examined to gain working knowledge of its form and structure, as a building is examined to discover how it is held up. More often than not today our wonder is subsumed by the task of the critic, as the child is surpassed by the adult.

"Spring Song" by Simon Glucklich
“Spring Song” by Simon Glucklich

Being able to listen to a poem read out loud is something the deaf are not able to do. But poetry began as an ancient oral art requiring no physical sight but the eye of imagination. Reading a poem on the page is likewise what the blind are not able to do. Poetry today stands somewhere between the page and the air, riding the backs of linguistic symbols and launching their arrows of meaning toward the reader. Somewhere between the old and the new, the sight and the sound of a poem, is its sense, which does not seek a house of understanding in one of our five physical senses. Both the deaf and the blind encounter this sense in poetry, and for those of us with senses intact, comparisons can be made and criticism “done.”

Poetry reading doesn’t begin with the critical eye. If it does so, say in the increasingly stringent quarters of an ideologically “rich” academia, a very narrow and more often literal or linguistic reading occurs. The study and enjoyment of poetry cannot be sustained by this activity alone, nor can it be continued with it at as the helmsman. There’s something in the immediate apprehension of language made in poetry that delights the intellect and connects it to the heart and the body – perhaps, feeding our souls. Enjoy the article and if you have the time, listen to a new poem I’ve recorded for the public at my Soundcloud. Spoken word – or spoken music?

By The Dawnzerlylight


The above image was my first venture into the small music world of Portland, Oregon. It was put together on a hand-me-down desktop computer more than a decade ago. I had just discovered I had a little penchant for songwriting as some lines I wrote in my poetry notebook never dried their ink to the page. When I picked up a guitar and began to teach myself tracks by Neil Young and Cat Power (and my biggest influence, L. Cohen) a new route of expression was discovered in that hazy green underbrush of youth. My words had found their place in verses, not in verse.

Besides the big names, I was also influenced by a group of young, local musicians that had come to Portland from their hometown of Salem. The lead singer-songwriter and I shared a class at Portland State University and I soon had him and another member of the band working beside me at the restaurant which I had picked up a bussing job at in a Northwest neighborhood. I soon learned that these talented players had a band and had just finished up their first self-released album under the name Typhoon. Their label was called Boy Gorilla Records. Soon, I was helping them load and unload gear, printing album covers and even recording my own split EP on the label with one Elec E. Morin. A few tracks of mine survive on a little visited Bandcamp site, but I’m proud of the work I got to share and experience with my friends.

I’ve given this blog the honorary http of “dawnzerlylight” as a smile and wink to that swiftly changing image of my Portland home for a good ten years of life – longest I ever stayed put in one place. But not many places, well, not many cities, remain as they were for the young who needed their streets, their cafes, their all-ages venues and their cheap homes for a cool basement to practice in beneath the hot summer streets. While playing scant shows in town I was privy to see the rise of friends to local and national acclaim, all beginning with a little label from the sons and daughters of Salem. See also Wild Ones, Genders, and Sons of Huns. There’s still quite a scene in Portland, I’m certain of it. Here’s to DIY movements, getting involved, and creating your own voice from the audience to the stage.