Daniel Halpern William Pratt - Essay

William Pratt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.