Breakfast Served Any Time All Day by Donald Hall
University of Michigan Press, 2003 [paperback 2004]

Breakfast Served Any Time All Day includes essays from a span of about 40 years from one of our most lucid critics of poetry. The quotations listed below come chiefly from the essay "Poetry and Ambition", one of many delights the book offers.


Poems are pleasure first: bodily pleasure, a deliciousness of the senses. Mostly, poems end by saying something (even the unsayable) but they start as the body's joy, like making love. [p. 1]

When we read poems we often feel more emotion than we can reasonably account for. [p. 2]

I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. [p. 154]

For Keats as for Milton, for Hector as for Gilgamesh, [fame] meant something like universal and enduring love for the deed done or the song sung. The idea is more classic than Christian, and the poet not only seeks it but confers it. Who knows Achilles' valor but for Homer's tongue? But in our culture -- after centuries of cheap printing, after the spread of mere literacy and the decline of qualified literacy, after the loss of history and the historical sense, after television has become mother of us all -- we have watched the degradation of fame until we use it now as Andy Warhol used it, as the mere quantitative distributions of images. We have a culture crowded with people who are famous for being famous. [p. 156]

True ambition in a poet seeks fame in the old sense, to make words that live forever. If even to entertain such ambition reveals monstrous egotism, let me argue that the common alternative is petty egotism that spends itself in small competitiveness, that measures its success by quantity of publication, by blurbs on jackets, by small achievement: to be the best poet in the workshop, to be published by Knopf, to win the Pulitzer or the Nobel. . . The grander goal is to be as good as Dante. [p. 156]

There is a stage at which the poem becomes more important than the poet. One can see it as a transition from the lesser egotism to the greater. At the state of lesser egotism, the poet keeps a bad line or an inferior word or image because that's the way it was: that's what really happened. The frail ego of the author takes precedence over art. The poet must develop, past this silliness, to the stage where the poem is altered to make it better art, not for the sake of its maker's feelings but because decent art is the goal. [p. 157]

Yet, alas, when the poet tastes a little fame, a little praise. . . [p. 157]