By Meaghan Menzel
On Nov. 5, Poets.org featured Associate Professor of English Dr. James Allen Hall’s poem “Out from the Patches of Briers and Blackberries” for their Poem-a-Day series.
“The editor, Alex Dimitrov, has been a very kind supporter of my work in the past… I woke up that morning and do what I always do: read Poem-a-Day. It’s the best way to wake up with poetry in your head. I saw my poem and tried to pull the sheet back over my head. I wasn’t sure I was ready,” Dr. Hall said. “Because of my history with Poem-a-Day, the editor asked to see some new work.”
Poem-a-Day is a project of Poets.org from the Academy of American Poets. According to the website, it “is the original and daily digital poetry series featuring over 200 new, previously unpublished poems by today’s talented poets each year… Launched in 2006, Poem-a-Day is now distributed via email, web, and social media to 350,000+ readers free of charge and is available for syndication by King Features.” Poets.org has featured Dr. Hall’s poems before. They featured “Pittsburgh” in June the year he moved to Chestertown and “A Home in the Country” in October 2014.
“Poem-a-Day has an incredible circulation, both with its own subscription base and on social media,” Dr. Hall said. “It’s wonderful to wake up to a poem and to people talking about your work, though it can also feel like a lot of lamps turn on you all at once.”
His most recently featured poem “Out from the Patches of Briers and Blackberries” takes its title from a line out of Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” It is about the death of Dr. Hall’s father as well as the death of one of Dr. Hall’s former students who died on the same day.
“I wrote the poem because it wouldn’t stop nagging at me. I have included it in a manuscript I’ve finished, which is called ‘Romantic Comedy.’ The manuscript is unpublished, but I’m circulating it now to university and independent presses,” said Dr. Hall.
Dr. Hall said of his father that he “had an irreverent sense of humor, despised hoity-toity people, [and] loved playing cards. He was a history buff. He was a terrible cook. He loved my mother more than anything in this world… He was a really good teacher, though he never made a living at it. When I was little, he could make anything make sense, even long division. He taught me to shave, to tip, to drink just a little bit of whisky, but only after you’ve finished calculating your taxes on April 15.”
His father had suffered from dementia for about 10 years and passed away in his sleep over the summer. At the same time, Dr. Hall said, “I found out a former student, Christopher Miller, had also been found dead in Peru where he’d been vacationing… the shock of his death went deep into the marrow. It is still something that many of us who knew him feel deeply.”
“One of the reasons we write… is to build memorials for people, for those we love who time has taken,” Dr. Hall said. “‘Every poem is an elegy,’ I once heard my teacher Mark Doty say. ‘It tries to re-establish the experience or the feeling of some experience that has already passed.’ Poets use language, sculptors use marble and clay, musicians bits of sound, but maybe we’re all trying to build some monument to house the past.”