Hazel Hall (1886-1924)
By Walt Curtis © 1995
The short-lived poetic career of Hazel Hall lasted from 1916 through 1924. This extraordinary Portland poet was published and lauded nationally. Harriet Monroe of Poetry championed her work and her first book. Curtains (1921) contains the sewing poems. Hall, who lived with both her mother and her sister, was virtually an invalid and shut-in. She helped the family finances by doing fine needlework for wealthy families in the West Hills.
Walkers, her second book, was released at J.K. Gills bookstore in 1923. The Cry of Time was published posthumously in 1928. Her sister Ruth, a librarian, gathered the last poems from her death bed. She died on Mother's Day, May 11th, 1924. Her obituary made the front page of The Oregonian. The headline screamed: SWEET VOICE OF HAZEL HALL IS HUSHED BY DEATH.
After her untimely demise, her work drifted into obscurity until recently. Who was this woman poet? Susan Mach has written a successful play about her life, Monograms. The Portland Repertory Theater has staged it twice. The national feminist anthology No More Masks, which is taught in universities, now includes Hall's work. An annual poetry award is named for her. And Ahsahta Press of Boise State University offers a selection of her work, with an introduction by Beth Bentley.
The family home, at 106 NW 22 Place, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a movement afoot to rename the street Hazel Hall Place. The Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission dedicated a "poetry garden" and memorial to Hall on Mother's Day this year. Check it out!
The following three poems are inscribed on granite slabs in the Hazel Hall Poetry Garden:
Light SleepWomen who sing themselves to sleep
Lie with their hands at rest,
Locked over them night-long as though to keep
Music against their breast.
They who have feared the night and lain
Mumbling themselves to peace
Sleep a light sleep lest they forget the strain
That brings them their release.
They dream, who hold beneath the hand
A crumpled shape of song,
Of trembling sound they do not understand,
Yet love the whole night long.
Women who sing themselves to sleep
Must lie in fear till day,
Clasping an amulet of words to keep
The leaning dark away.
Things That GrowI like things with roots that know the earth,
Trees whose feet, nimble and brown,
Wander around in the house of their birth
Until they learn, by growing down,
To build with branches in the air;
Ivy-vines that have known the loam
And over trellis and rustic stair,
Or old grey houses, love to roam;
And flowers pushing vehement heads,
Like flames from a fire's hidden glow,
Through the seething soil in garden-beds.
Yet I, who am forbidden to know
The feel of earth, once thought to make
Singing out of a heart's old cry!
Untaught by earth how could I wake
The shining interest of the sky?
The Listening MacawsMany sewing days ago
I cross-stitched on a black satin bag
Two listening macaws.
They were perched on a stiff branch
With every stitch of their green tails,
Their blue wings, yellow breasts and sharply turned heads,
Alert and listening.
Now sometimes on the edge of relaxation
My thought is caught back,
Like gathers along a gathering thread
To the listening macaws;
And I am amazed at the futile energy
That has kept them,
Alert to the last stitch,
Listening into their black satin night.