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Hall’s Mark

A former librarian turned poet uses poetry to overcome memory loss

May 30, 2012, 12:00 am

 As a young man, Stuart Hall wanted to be a novelist. 

“I did a lot of writing,” Hall recalls. But like so many would-be novelists, after earning a degree in English literature, he went on to get “real” jobs—albeit jobs that allowed him to remain immersed in words. As a science reference librarian at San Francisco State University, he taught courses and gave guest lectures in addition to selecting the materials for various academic disciplines. He wrote short stories in his spare time, but the Great American Novel never materialized.

Now, Hall suffers from dementia, which has limited his ability to create a longer narrative work.

“If you can’t remember more than five lines, it’s hard to be a novelist,” he says, then dissolves into honest, self-effacing laughter. This is who Hall is: funny, self-deprecating and amazingly at peace—at least to an outsider—with his disability. But Sue Foley, Hall’s caregiver within a network of community caregivers, stresses that it is not Hall’s disability that defines him, but rather his remarkable skill at crafting limericks that, like Hall, are at once humorous and incisive.

“He writes poems how we eat meals: It’s regular; it’s necessary; and he uses his limericks to entertain and to manage his stress,” Foley explains. “He first expresses himself through verse…He has the scope and framework to say what he feels through poetry.”

This week, Hall reads from his extensive collection of limericks on Wednesday and Friday (see page 38 for details).

Limericks by Stuart Hall 

Lost in the midst of a sentence

Lost in the sequence of time

Lost beyond repentance

That is exactly where I’m.

It comes as a bit of a shock

That I may never go to Ladakh

I said I would go

Everywhere that I know

(That was always a bit of a crock.)

But still, I believed it some way;

Just as, at the end of the day

I’d have clear in my head

Every book that I’d read;

And have learned all the games people play.

Version Nth

Someone, quite possibly Proust,

Rewrote and rewrote, and I used

To mock and make fun

Of how that was done.

Chickens come home to roost.


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