Daniel Halpern Peter Stitt - Essay

Peter Stitt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 It is assumed that this situation weakens the book, that the reader's sympathies cannot be given to a protagonist so withdrawn from humanity, seemingly so cold to it.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.)