Monday, April 30, 2012

The Haunts of Hazel Hall, Part 2

Admittedly, I knew nothing of Hazel Hall. It was a sunny morning, last summer, I was on my way to Anna Banana's for coffee, when I first saw the house. It was a funny sunny day too. It was warm, nearing hot, and the sun felt more direct than usual. I noticed the plaque first. It got only a small part of my attention and then I looked up at the house. I did all this without breaking my stride. I suspect that many people do just this.

This stretch of NW 22nd Place is not all that attractive of a street. In fact, well, it's rather ugly. It runs the length of one block from Burnside to NW Everett St. This small street is like a canal at the bottom of a canyon and the canyon walls are tall apartment houses left over from olden times. The street is narrow and lined on both sides with the cars of the apartment house residents. Since this street ends on both sides the views at the end of the block are rather disappointing too. Looking south and up the slight acclivity, one sees the gas station and the towering St. Claire apartment building. Looking north and across NW Everett St one sees the parking lot and 1970's industrial looking medical offices. As I said, not particularly attractive. But for me, this was a great short cut of a walk to 22nd Ave and that was the route to Anna Banana's.

On the day I first saw the house at 106 NW 22nd Pl, I did make note of it. I figured that I would eventually walk the small courtyard and investigate the poet. I would first read some of her work so that the experience would mean something to me. After all, I made the trip from Salinas to Monterrey to see all of the houses where John Steinbeck lived. In 2007, Janice and I finally made the pilgrimage to Concord, Mass to see the graves and homes of our heroes: Henry, Waldo and the Ol' Manse where the Hawthorne's lived. Yes, to see this house in north west Portland, I would have to read some poems first.

If now is a good time for honesty, I didn't read any of her poems before I visited the house. I didn't read any beforehand because I couldn't remember her name. Hazel Hall, Hazel Hall, Hazel Hall. Say it three times and you'll remember it too.

Here's what I learned. Hazel Hall didn't live in the house at 22nd Pl for very long. But she did die there. She didn't live long either: born in 1886 and died in 1924. She was wheelchair bound from scarlet fever (what the hell is that?) and she seldom left her home. Apparently, she was a worker of fine silk and needlepoint and that's how she made a living. Her poems came late in her life. “To an English Sparrow” was her first published work in 1916. The last eight years of her life were marked with failing health and a thriving career as an accomplished poet. Her collection Curtains was published in 1921 by the John Lane Company and her collection Walkers was published in 1923 by Dodd, Mead Company. Her third collection the posthumous Cry of Time was published in 1928.

I'm sure that her needlepoint and silk work are all gone now. It's been nearly one hundred years, and cloth does not hold up well especially if used. And her house looks as if there are occupants living in it. I can't even imagine what it would be like to live in a dead poet's house and the visitors that may come by at random. The house looks as maintained as any house in the neighborhood. Who knows? But when it comes down to it, three volumes of poetry is no small legacy.  

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