Poems and McPoemsnby Fred Chappelln”Even one verse alone sometimes makes a perfect poem.n— Ben JonsonnOld and New Poemsnby Donald HallnNew York: Ticknor and Fields;n244 pp., $24.95nIt was Donald Hall who gave us thatnuseful and precise critical termn”McPoem” to describe the garden varietyncontemporary poem in flabby freenverse whose dismal ambitions are set tona spavined music. Hall is a savvy andnperspicacious critic, and the bloke whonundertakes to write about his work hasnthe immediate task of not appearing anpure fool before his subject.nBut with the best intentions in thenworid, the best preparation and thenmost meticulous care, we all write ancertain number of McPoems. I’ve donenso. So have Robert Penn Warren andnHoward Nemerov and Richard Wilbur.nDonald Hall has published more than anfew, as he will sorrowfully admit. Innfact, it was he and Robert Bly and LewisnSimpson and Galway Kinnell whonhelped to develop the McPoem in then1960’s by borrowing surrealism’snquaintest mannerisms. This stuff wasncalled Deep Image poetry and constitutedna sort of versified Method Actingnmumble. Here is a sample from Hall’sn”The Alligator Bride”: “The sky is angun aimed at me. / I pull the trigger. /nThe skull of my promises / leans in anblack closet, gapes / with its good mouthn/ for a teat to suck.” In about three daysncollege sophomores learned to write thisnkind of babble by the yard; in anothernweek they learned to think it was poetry.nIf Donald Hall felt called upon tondefend these lines, he would make angood case for them; in literature everythingnis defensible because everything isnopen to attack, and Hall’s best criticalnwork is his appreciations of other poets.nThe silly passage above may be justifiednFred Chappell, a poet and novelist, isnthe author most recently of ThenWodd Between the Eyes (LSUnPress).n26/CHRONICLESnby autobiographical circumstance: severalntimes in his career Hall has foundered,nhas hit dry spells and halted versencomposition entirely. Then he found anway to begin anew, writing in a stylenthat looks radically different from whatncame before. “The Alligator Bride” isnone of a number of poems that enablednHall to pick up his pen and start over.nOther poems that mark similar stagesnare “The Long River,” “The BluenWing,” and “Kicking the Leaves.”nThe broad variety of Hall’s writingnhas long been a source of wonder.nBesides poetry and criticism, he hasnpublished fiction, drama, children’s literature,nbiography, and reminiscence.nnnHis poetry encompasses all sorts ofnforms, from steely epigrams, like thenone addressed to a philosopher (“Thenworid is everything that is the case. /nNow stop your blubbering and washnyour face.”) to an attempt at a contemporarynepic. This latter poem, callednThe One Day, is an honorable effort,nbut hobbled by muddy organizationnand some puffy rhetoric. It won annaward from the National Book CriticsnCircle, a group whose selection committeesnhave boasted in the organization’snnewsletter that they don’t likenpoetry and don’t read it.nBut it is not Hall’s fault that a hordenof critical midges have conspired tongive him a prize for work that is not hisnbest. His best work is very fine indeednand there is plenty of it. So much of it,nin fact, that my list of favorite poems isntoo long to include here. But I willnname a few I consider among the bestnwritten in two generations: “Exile,”n”At Delphi,” “The Long River,”n”The Moon,” “Beau of the Dead,”n”In the Kitchen of the Old House,”n”The Blue Wing,” “The Table,”n”Kicking the Leaves,” “The Black-nFaced Sheep,” “Names of Horses,”n”Whip-Poor-Will,” “Old-Timers’nDay, ” and “On a Horse Carved innWood.”nKnowing readers will see that I’venincluded a few Deep Image poemsnamong my tip-top favorites. WhennDonald Hall is writing well, he cannbring to almost any kind of discourse anprofound and polished wit, a finenessnof observation that a naturalist mightnenvy, and a warm and ready aff^ection.nThese qualities are controlled by a firmnintelligence, a sly curiosity, and a waryncritical sense.nWhen he makes mistakes it is sometimesnbecause he tries to write beyondnhis means. One of his character traits isnan admiration of the vahc voice, thenmystic vision; he would like to achievensome of the effects we find in JamesnWright and Robert Bly, or even innWilliam Blake and Walt Whitman. It isn