Daniel Halpern Essay - Critical Essays

Halpern, Daniel


Halpern, Daniel 1945–

Halpern, an American poet, is noted for his cool, almost emotionless poetry in which he explores man's interior landscapes. Life among Others is his most recent collection. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols, 33-36, rev. ed.)

Peter Cooley

Traveling on Credit has an ease, depth, assurance and picaresque range of subject matter rare for a first volume. Halpern takes us out of the house, out of America, but remains himself in any adventure, mastering experience while in it. "I've been after the exotic for years," the book begins, but this poet shows us (in the title poem and elsewhere) that the journey is made with imagination and language as much as lifted thumb….

Though his catalogues, his peripatetic quality and his flip-ness relate him to the "New York poets," Halpern focuses on an image just long enough to take it, make it, without the obsessive repetitiousness one has come to associate with that movement recently. He's hip and sophisticated, somebody to watch. (pp. 83-4)

Peter Cooley, "Turning, Turning: 7 Poets Moving In and Moving Out," in Michigan Quarterly Review (copyright © The University of Michigan, 1974), Vol. XIII, No. 1, Winter, 1974, pp. 79-84.∗

Calm and melancholy in tone, the poems in [Life among Others] are diminished, weaker than his earlier work, at best simple sketches or dream scenes. A few, like the last piece, "I am a Dancer," have a strong, clear voice, but most are less elegant, less animated, and rich in metaphor, a backing away from illuminating intelligence towards blankness, suspension, "white images that lift away." Nature is good, man evil in the scheme proclaimed by the title; and an orderly life excludes relationships, so that one lives among, not with, others.

"Poetry: 'Life among Others'," in Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1978, by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 54, No. 3 (Summer, 1978), p. 100.

Jay Parini

[Life Among Others is Daniel Halpern's] best work to date, not different in kind but in degree from Traveling on Credit and Street Fire. The new poems intensity and extend Halpern's earlier visions of isolation and loss, and they push outward into the real world of lovers, houses, friends, food. The dreamlike quality of his previous collections persists, as does the claustrophobic aspect of heightened self-consciousness, but with a difference. A newfound transparency, an almost embarrassing directness and simplicity, presents itself here; the poet casts a net over (into) his experience of himself in the world. This is psychic fishing, so to speak, an attempt to retrieve from strange personal depths something of the subliminal energies which charge the dream-world with meaning.

Halpern obliterates normal boundaries of day and night. In doing so, he also blurs the usual limits between self and others or between subject and object…. Halpern traverses an interior world in pursuit of what Yeats called "radical innocence," a condition in which the world outside of the mind and the world within find a natural balance, a dwelling in the evening air. Halpern longs for this sense of equilibrium and acceptance wherein "You are no longer the stranger / who made too little sense."

This ideal state of being remains, as it must, at the edge of Halpern's experience, a luminous stillness like a clearing deep in...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

William Pratt

Solitude. Silence. Stillness. Whiteness. Otherness.

These words and others like them resonate through [Life Among Others,] a sequence of short poems that seem to be about almost nothing. But the nothing penetrates, as Paul Valéry once said. Here, deliberate reticence sometimes becomes potent with meaning…. Life Among Others is a quiet book, like a conversation in whispers, conducted by strangers who meet for the first time but somehow seem intimate. Their world is the city—no particular city, but a peopled space where meetings are casual and inconclusive, anonymous encounters with others, faceless souls in limbo seeking some human contact. The voice that speaks them is less a talker than a silent listener, one who says, "My work is to stand still and see everything."

This … collection of Daniel Halpern's poetry is mostly impressive for what it is not about, for he seems to have passed through the rather slick cosmopolitan world of his earlier books, Traveling on Credit (1972) and Street Fire (1975), where exotic, forbidden places beckon with a leer, into a purer world where everything is white, clear, transparent: "It is winter. The trees / march away from the window / like the ghostly skeltons of fish." Lines such as these are reminiscent of the later poems of Wallace Stevens, and it is probably significant that this volume begins with a few verses from "The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour." But Halpern's poems move at their own pace through this bare inner landscape, with an air of attentive and at times compelling anticipation, as if the poet were on tiptoe, a somnambulist walking through a dream. The dream never wholly materializes, but the mood of expectancy lingers, like breath in cold air, giving hope that someday, perhaps in his next book, Halpern may stumble on a revelation of what all this stillness means. It is a faint hope, but amid the myriad slim, forgettable volumes of poems, it is something. (pp. 293-94)

William Pratt, "World Literature in Review: 'Life among Others'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1979 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 53, No. 2, Spring, 1979, pp. 293-94.

Dave Smith

For me the severely spare and squeezed distillate of human experience in most of Daniel Halpern's third book, Life Among Others, is interesting but not, finally, enough. The poems haven't a sufficient dirt on their feet, however earnest their hearts, however they fully disclose an aesthetic intelligence. Twenty of Halpern's thirty-six poems commence with the same monosyllabic conjunction of a personal pronoun and a verb of the most modest action, if any, ("I take the hand of others.") which makes a flat statement whose value depends on our interest in Halpern's emotional life, his travel, or his ennui. I would guess he has come to a dead end mannerism not unlike "It is night. The snow is falling."… [Yet] beautiful poems have a habit of rising out of the most arid zones…. Three of Halpern's poems seem to do as much as we might ask and more; they are "The Hero at Midnight," "Letter To The Midwest," and "The Dance." If we are lucky, and if we look for what is and not what isn't there, we may see more poems with Halpern's own stamp of joy, such as ["The Dance"]…. Mr. Halpern is dancing pretty nicely in his poem and I am dancing for the pleasure it gives me…. (p. 33)

Dave Smith, "Dancing through Life among Others: Some Recent Poetry from Younger American Poets," in The American Poetry Review (copyright © 1979 by World Poetry, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Dave Smith), Vol. 8, No. 3, May-June, 1979, pp. 29-33.∗

Peter Stitt

Daniel Halpern's Life Among Others has been criticized for the stance expressed by its title—the speaker of these poems is seen as an observer of rather than a participant in life, as one who doesn't live with others. It is assumed that this situation weakens the book, that the reader's sympathies cannot be given to a protagonist so withdrawn from humanity, seemingly so cold to it. This view, I think, ignores certain important features of the book. In many of its poems, the speaker does in fact reach out to, and express real sympathy for, other human beings. Then there is the tone of most of the poems, which seems to me more stunned and psychically defensive than downright cold. The book has an inner plot of sorts, and we must attend to this if we are to understand the speaker's seeming coldness.

It is not until the second of the book's two sections that we learn the reason for the speaker's strange withdrawal from humankind—a broken love affair. This theme is carried by several poems—"For You" and "I Hear Nothing" among them—but appears centrally in the beautifully written "Sad Endings," which concludes:

And how simple it all is. Someone finally just walks
away. It might be sunset, but it mustn't be.
The one who leaves is moved
less than the left,
but both are touched, and touched in different ways.
One leaves, one remains:
For you who go, for me who stays, two autumns.

The pacing and precision, the rhythmical...

(The entire section is 666 words.)