In an earlier memoir, Life Work (1993), written while his wife was still well and alive, Mr. Hall disclosed his illness with and recovery from cancer. While he was ill, he said, "Jane wrote wonderful poems about my imminent death."
"And here you are -- alive."
"Yes. Here I am, 76 damn years old. The irony is that this book is me about her rather than the other way around. But I really have been feeling good about this book. The last 17 months during which I wrote it, I didn't do any poetry. Typically in my life as a writer I've worked all day on different things, short poems and so on. But I just couldn't do anything but this book. I worked many hours a day. I think that every page was gone over at least 25 times. I kept changing sentence structure and getting rid of an adjective.
"But I loved working on it. I love working. Because in these circumstances it's almost as if you're doing something about a horrible thing that happened. As if you're repairing it, which you can't do, of course. There was that impetus as well as the love of writing these sentences. People thought of my writing Without and writing this book as suffering by revisiting the suffering. That is really not true. I'm certainly revisiting the suffering, which I am anyway. Remembering. Constantly. But I'm revisiting it now in a way to memorialize it, to make it into something fixed and permanent as a monument to Jane. Also, I was happy in this book to talk about our marriage, our time together, that happy stuff."
"You had a wonderful marriage."
"Yes. We struggled, of course. I had cancer; we had troubles. At times we were anxious about money. I got lucky. I wrote that children's book Ox-Cart Man, which won the Caldecott. The Caldecott is a prize that actually sells books. There were wonderful illustrations by Barbara Cooney. I did write the text, but it was also a picture book. And so you have to say there's been a lot of good luck in my life."
"Jane Kenyon became exceedingly beautiful in her early 40s."
"Ah, she became so beautiful. You know, when I married her she was not a particularly pretty girl at 24. She had a pretty figure. But her bone structure was so gorgeous and those big, heavy glasses that she had to wear before she got lenses kept you from appreciating her cheekbones. She just became a knockout. She was about 40 when she came into her beauty. Amazing.
"There are several pictures in my study of Janie in a bathing suit and the one reporter who was here wrote that I had pictures of the young Jane in a bathing suit, looking glamorous, you know."
"Are you writing poems again?"
"Yes, I am. For the first time in my life, as I said, as I was finishing this book, I was not writing poems. Then a year went by and I thought, 'Well, maybe it's over.' But it's been coming back and lately for the last year I've started quite a few. Not as many as I used to but I started two or three in the last couple of weeks. I work on them every day. I'm putting together for next year a big selected poems. My last selection was 1990. I'm trying to cut out old stuff because it's going to be too big. It may be 400 pages.
"I have usually avoided that writer's block syndrome by working on so many things at once. It's also temperament. There are some people who just can't work that way. I don't write so many different things now. But I think maybe I'm beginning to expand again. I hope I am.
"I've recently done a couple of little tiny reviews and I just did the introduction to the Yale Encyclopedia of New England --- a million word book that's going to come out next September. I had some fun doing that. Between poems or work that I can take more seriously, I love to have things that are just a job of work. I've been able to do a new children's book, mostly since Jane died, there were a couple in process at that time that came out. But I've written about a dozen and I do enjoy it, but nothing's been coming out right. Maybe that will come back."
"The company of your own mind must be in its own way delightful."
"Yes, and I like my solitude. Jane and I were so, so much 'a double solitude,' as I keep saying. We were in the same household all day. I was in one part of the house and Janie in another part of the house. I have a girlfriend now who comes one day a week. And it's wonderful. I'm very fond of her. But when I'm alone it's more like when I was with Jane."
"Of course, you were an only child."
"That's right. We're different. I was a weird only child. My parents both read all the time. They didn't read great stuff but I grew up thinking, 'This is what grownups do after supper.' We had the radio, of course, in my days. A weekly ritual was to listen to Jack Benny."
"The radio made you imagine."
"Absolutely. Books required you to imagine even more, you had to be more active."
"Poetry, when read well aloud, creates a strong presence in a room. Is it difficult for you to read Ms. Kenyon aloud?"
"No, not at all. No, I triumphed over that. It's a time of fulfillment and a continuation of the partnership. We were a joint enterprise."
"A Mom and Pop poetry store?"
"Absolutely, mom and pop. And at the end, when she was too sick to write, and I was sitting beside her writing, it occurred to me that this could upset her, because she couldn't write. But she was happy that one of us was writing.
"After my cancer adventure, when I was supposed to die, and I was having chemo and lying in bed in the dark, I remember Jane tip-toeing in and handing me a copy of a poem she was writing about what was believed to be my imminent death. 'Do you mind?' she asked. I said, 'It's weird, but it's wonderful.' And there she was writing about my death and showing me the poems. When she had leukemia I was writing about her illness and probable death. And I was reading her the book."