In October 1974, I attended a dinner party hosted by my friends Ric Burns and Stephen Blos. They bought a suckling pig at Detroit’s Eastern Market to roast as the main course. Stephen photographed himself holding it:
The night of the party, eleven of us convened in their apartment on the second floor of the old brick building at the corner of E. William and Maynard.
Inside all was laughter and light:
The pig was presented:
and devoured. Cigarettes were lit and more liquor consumed. The poet Donald Hall mugged with the pig:
His wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, was not pleased.
“Sweetheart, I know this is your least favorite side of me,” he told her.
The next day, Don started work on a poem about the dinner. “Eating the Pig” was published in his 1978 anthology, Kicking the Leaves. The dust jacket called it “one of the poems that pushed him to the forefront of the poetic world.”
Stephen and I married in 1983. He died in 1985, and I inherited his photos of the evening. In 2009, after a chance meeting with Don’s son Andrew, I wrote to Don suggesting we put his poem and Stephen’s photographs together in some form. He wrote back with enthusiasm and recalled how, the following morning,
“I ran to my workroom and began to scribble pig-lines of poetry. I spilled out a tsunami of images and diphthongs and metaphors and obscurities … I picked up my DeJur Grundig Stenorette microphone (I dictated letters) and recorded pig poetry line after line at an unprecedented speed. Later, of course, I revised the poem, a hundred drafts …”
By the time Kicking the Leaves came out, Don and Jane had moved to his family’s farmhouse in New Hampshire. The cover of Kicking the Leaves showed Don’s grandmother and great-grandfather there.
In 1979, Stephen photographed Don and Jane in a similar pose:
They lived and wrote together at Eagle Pond Farm until Jane’s death in 1996. Don stayed on alone. I visited him there in 2015:
I showed Don a photograph of Jane and myself at the dinner.
After they moved to the farm, he told me, Jane “became more and more beautiful and her poems became better and better …” He reminisced about his dear friend Robert Bly—“Robert was always the optimist”—and Joseph Brodsky, his contemporary in Ann Arbor.
Brodsky “read like a cannon firing,” he recalled. “I had to read terrible translations but I had to read them with ENTHUSIASM!”
“We will correspond weekly!” he declared as we said goodbye.
Don died in June of 2018 at the age of eighty-nine. That winter, the Michigan Quarterly Review republished “Eating the Pig” together with my photo essay about the evening. Today Eagle Pond Farm is a nonprofit organization established to preserve the farm, honor Don and Jane’s work, and offer programs and residencies for writers.