Last year David Mendelsohn visited Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire, to photograph the noted American poet Donald Hall. It was an assignment that David relished; in fact, it was his idea. “I’d read Donald’s essay in The New Yorker,” David says, “and the visuals were all there.”
Donald Hall was poet laureate of the United States for 2006-2007, and was twice named poet laureate of New Hampshire. His essay, Out the Window, published in the January 23, 2012, issue of The New Yorker, is a meditation on growing old and living at the farm, which has been in his family for three generations and where he’s lived since 1975. In the piece he says that new poems no longer come to him, but prose endures. He writes sitting in a blue armchair from which he can look out the window at birds at a feeder, snow sliding off the tin roof of the barn and, beyond, the fields where 70 years ago he and his grand-father cut hay.
“Donald’s poetry and now his prose draw heavily from his home, his memories and from New England,” David says,“and when I read The New Yorker piece, I suggested a story on him to New Hampshire magazine.”
Because of Donald Hall’s age—83 at the time David was at the farm—a planned one-day shoot turned into two. “He gets tired after a while, and I had to work around his schedule,” David says. He talked with the poet as he worked—”about life, poetry, women, the Red Sox.
I knew he was a wonderful storyteller, and I was familiar with some of the stories he’d told, particularly one about how he was treated at an art gallery.”
New Hampshire magazine ran the story, A Lion in Winter, with ten of David’s photographs in the January, 2013, issue. Shortly after publication, David got a letter from Donald Hall saying how much he appreciated the imagery, and that he now understood what David was doing during all that time at the farm.
There was also an invitation to return.