Something Shining: Poems [NOOK Book]


Widely praised for his earlier collections, Daniel Halpern has grown steadily in stature and attainment. Now, with Something Shining, his first collection of new poems in seven years, he gives us an ambitious, wide-ranging meditation on birth, love, and maturity, marking a turning point in both his life and his work.

These beautifully crafted poems explore relations between lovers, between friends, between fathers and children. Written by the...
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Something Shining: Poems

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Widely praised for his earlier collections, Daniel Halpern has grown steadily in stature and attainment. Now, with Something Shining, his first collection of new poems in seven years, he gives us an ambitious, wide-ranging meditation on birth, love, and maturity, marking a turning point in both his life and his work.

These beautifully crafted poems explore relations between lovers, between friends, between fathers and children. Written by the light of a young daughter's presence, in the distinctive lyrical language that Ted Hughes described as "so free and effortless and unerring," these poems ponder the fading of the body and the struggle that consciousness wages to keep the self afloat. And into this intimate world also enter a surprising array of characters: ancient Chinese poets and modern Cuban musicians, Charlie Parker, Chekhov, and the dervish mystic Rumi. But it is the poet's awareness of his own frailty ("the days run out--no longer oneself," he writes in "Fugue"), that, together with the extraordinary beauty he discovers in environments familiar and exotic, unifies this collection. The work of a poet at the top of his form, Something Shining confirms Halpern's place in our national literature.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Poet, world traveler, and eloquent food enthusiast, Daniel Halpern is also one of our leading literary editors. He founded and now directs Ecco Press, a literary press that consistently publishes outstanding books of poems and is now an imprint of HarperCollins. For 25 years, Halpern also edited Antaeus, a leading literary journal that he started with Paul Bowles.

This winter, two books that showcase Halpern's dual talents as writer and editor have been released, both of which show the fruits of several decades of literary labor. Something Shining is his eighth book of verse, and in it, for the first time, Halpern writes about the wonders of fatherhood. With a series of poems about his daughter's fingers, questions, and fears, Halpern details the change a young child can bring to a worldview. The Art of the Story, a lively anthology of contemporary short stories selected by Halpern, offers a peek into the varied worlds of writers from around the globe.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elegies, ghazals, epigrams, travel poems, and domestic verses present Halpern (Foreign Neon) as an articulate, amiable, comfortable, middle-aged man contemplating, in this ninth collection, mortality, fatherhood, friendship, food and wine--sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. While alert to nuances of feeling, Halpern's lines lack acoustic and formal interest: many seem inert both aurally and intellectively. In one quietly celebratory poem, "We place beach chairs just beyond the tidal line/ and here we sit. Shorts and T-shirts. Yet not wholly here." "Direction" explains portentously "my path is not destined/ although the one direction now is forward." "Midnight: Triadic Ghazal" makes this its central image: "In the dark we walk through rooms/ familiar as questions/ asked of us over and over." And in the entirely predictable "Dance," "The evening moves on the heat of the rhythm." Sometimes Halpern seems to be trying for camp, as in the bathetic Latinity of "Infestation" ("gentle sleep/ that's said to be indispensable/ for cerebral stability") or at the end of "Beauty & Restraint": "even the sun, hovering in this paradise,/ eventually goes down." But most of the poems come across as sincere and slack, with the genuinely campy "Carnival Food" and "Carnival Mood," and a diverting sestina-like poem in five-line stanzas, coming across as the only real inventions. Halpern seems content with careful records of his feelings and deeds. It's hard to imagine readers will feel the same. (Nov.) FYI: Halpern co-founded the Ecco Press, now a Harper imprint, and remains its editorial director. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
For 30 years, Halpern has demonstrated multiple literary talents as cofounder (with the late Paul Bowles) of the literary magazine Antaeus, publisher of Ecco Press (and then, postacquisition, editorial director of Ecco Press: HarperCollins), gourmet-traveler (Halpern's Guide to Essential Restaurants in Italy), and editor of quality anthologies. As with prior work (e.g., Tango, LJ 1/87), the poems in his ninth book of poetry reveal how much he cares about classic writers (Chekhov, Li Po, Machado), the New England coast ("the hillside terraced to the sea/ with flowers"), and things of light (in language and nature). Like art itself, the subjects of this poetry--conversation, music, vintage wine--are composed of "things fitting together, whether in the hand/ or mind." Tributes to his daughter ("our first light"), loving and more personal, give these stylish poems a delicate sense of passing time and by extension signify a larger world of family, friendship, and "the pure pleasure/ of sharing one thing with another." "High/ above the darkening," Halpern's eye is on "something shining."--Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307559876
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/24/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 96
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Daniel Halpern was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1945 and has lived in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York City, and Tangier, Morocco. The author of seven previous collections of poems, Halpern is editorial director of The Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins. He has received many grants and awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Halpern divides his time between New York City and Princeton, New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Zeno's Lemur

Isn't he the man with crimson socks
and the slow loris climbing
like the hour hand from his shoulder,
over his ear and up
to the pale dome of his head?

The man's face shines with affection.
He's an honest man and his pet,
lackadaisical but not dispassionate,
is devoted and clear about the nature
of their relationship. There are times

to eat and times to climb, the two things
a loris is always in the act of.
As the man turns, nearly in slow motion,
the slow loris peers
from behind his left ear and a smile

begins to spread like a sunrise
on his face. A word
takes shape in his mouth as his hands
reach into the air--reach out
as the word moves forward,

a word of arrival, recognition hovering before him.

Daughter & Chai

It's a sunny day in the middle of the year,
    My daughter in a new white dress
        suns herself in a very bright green beach chair.

She's too young to sit there for long,
    just long enough to pursue a dream,
        a single longing: a sweet, a new toy.

The sun is steady, late afternoon. She's an only child
    and we worry she's lonely, even when dressed up
        and dreaming. If we ask her she pretends not to hear

and pulls at her reddish hair, looking off.
    If we ask again she'll say, Yes, lonesome.
        There's only the one sun and it shines in her eyes.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Table of Contents

Zeno's Lemur 3
Her Body 4
After the Vigil 8
To a Daughter 9
The New Road 10
Moon Over Squibnocket 12
Keepers 13
Hot Tea 14
Marriage Poem 16
After Rumi 17
Love Song 18
My Eyes your Eyes 19
Fugue 20
Dusk 21
Midnight: Triadic Ghazal 22
Just Another Darkening 23
Resurrection 24
Thaw 29
Real Estate 31
Infestation 33
All City 34
Cinema Verite 35
Dance 37
Careless Perfection 39
Nature Lover's Lament 40
Hungry as Dogs 41
A Place to Eat 42
Desperados 43
Abiding Memento 44
First Fever 45
Daughter & Chair 47
Carnival Food 48
Carnival Mood 49
Tattoo 51
A Bad Year 53
Here at Fifty 55
Direction 59
Rusted Tin 60
The Eternal Light of Talk 61
In Season 63
New Strangers 65
Beauty & Restraint 66
Late 67
Measures she has Taken 68
Hoeg's Island 69
Air, '56 70
Buena Vista Social Club 71
Dinner for Two 72
Bravura Lament 74
Foreseeable Futures 75
Homage to N. 77
Acknowledgments 83
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Interviews & Essays

Barnes & There are a lot of poems about beauty in Something Shining. In fact, the epigraph, from Paul Valéry, reads: "The definition of beauty is easy; it is what leads to desperation." What interests you about beauty?

Daniel Halpern: In terms of these poems, I wanted to talk about age. I wanted to go back to childhood, both my own and my child's, who's only six, and then the other way, toward the end, the ultimate stopping-point, unless you believe in the afterlife -- which I don't. Looking back, I wanted to find different forms of beauty, from a daughter to particular memories, to friends who are no longer around. I wanted to find the beauty of a kind of equilibrium that is possible in a state relatively free of anxiety. What do you mean by "the beauty of an equilibrium"?

DH: The idea of finding some sort of stasis, some sort of emotional balance. Between birth and death, one hopes to come across a place in which you understand the world as you never did, while at the same time you start thinking about the end. That place where you understand things about yourself and about others. You begin thinking about the fact of mortality and the loss of consciousness. In fact, loss of consciousness is the underlying irritant in the book. Without consciousness, it isn't possible to witness beauty.

The theme of beauty is one of the more subtle themes here. I wasn't writing into it the way I was writing into the theme of mortality. And there's nothing like a six-year-old to make you feel your mortality in a big way. Your daughter plays a prominent role in this book.

DH: There are a lot of poems about her, though I really resisted writing these poems. When I taught I used to tell my students that there are certain subjects that if you write about them, you better be really good at it. And writing about your children is a setup for crossing the line into sentimentality.

That said, I resisted for a while. Some months -- not long. And yet, I find her so interesting in terms of who she is and who I am via who she is. I've learned a lot about myself watching her, taking mental notes. Did it feel a bit odd to write poems about your daughter?

DH: Not really, because I don't feel that I'm giving anything particular away that need be private. What's not said, what can't be known behind the poem is what she will know and my wife will know and I will know, but they're not necessarily translatable.

I think if you're writing a poem that's just a personal note for a select audience to understand, it's better to write an email or a letter and not a poem. What's important to me is to write about things that are personal and matter, but in a way that will invite a reader to reexperience something similar or to experience what you have. Did you read other poets' poems on their daughters while working on these poems?

DH:Yeats's great poem "A Prayer for My Daughter" is the model, the archetype of poems for the daughter. It's such a beautiful poem. I remember early on reading "Heart's Needle" by Snodgrass, a beautiful sequence of short lyric poems about his daughter. Lowell was a great champion of Snodgrass. Let's walk through one of your short poems, called "To a Daughter." What were you hoping this poem would do?

DH: In some ways this poem is very personal, and the response to it has been interesting. I thought of it as a kind of coda, an epigrammatic statement to my daughter when she's older. A lot of the poems in this book anticipate what's about to happen, what's inevitable. This is a kind of elegy to the loneliness we're destined to feel when she grows up and removes her presence from our house.

It's a pretty simple statement -- you want to be protective. The children go on, they have lives and friends of their own, they forget Dad. This is just a statement saying "should this not work out, at any point along the way, you are always welcome back home." And that's probably what any father-daughter poem is ultimately about. I'm curious about your formal choices. Can you comment on the length of the poem and the choices you made in line break and rhyme?

DH: With this one, I wanted it short. I didn't want it to be overly metrical. I wanted something that resonated, a particular sound, since it was a short poem. And I wanted something to distract it a little bit, so there would be a kind of parallel movement to what the poem is saying. When you read this aloud, even though they are direct rhymes, they don't bang too much, because the lines are different lengths and are paced differently. There is a long last line, which is important since you have three direct rhymes -- night, sunlight, light -- you want a little time before the final line. That's the idea anyway. What about all the commas?

DH: [laughs] Think there are a lot of commas?

The commas are just a way of signaling pacing. They are kind of dictatorial, but there are only two ways to signal a stop or a pause -- punctuation and line break. The line break is critical in poetry. There's got to be a reason to break lines. Often it's a breath unit, and in metrical verse, it's prescribed. But it has to be an inevitable break. That's where form gets interesting.

When you're reading a poem, you have a horizontal movement and a vertical movement. The vertical movement is the completion of a syntactical unit, the sentence. Even though it's poetry, we write mostly in sentences. Then you have the line breaks, which add another horizontal dimension.

That's the one thing you can say about poetry that prose does not have. You can extend a word or accentuate a word through line break. The line break is an amazing instrument. With line break, words actually change their affect. I'd like to ask you about one particular word, the "a" in the title, "To a Daughter."

DH: "To My Daughter" seemed sentimental to me. I wanted to make it generic. It seems to give it a distance. Distance is an interesting theme in your work. You've spent a lot of time abroad, and in fact, titled your first book Traveling on Credit. Which countries have you spent the most time in, and which have you lived in?

DH: I lived in Morocco for two years, and I have since spent a lot of time there. I had a close relationship with Paul Bowles, who lived there, and I wanted to see him at least once a year. I've also spent a lot of time in Italy, and I wrote a book about Italian food and wine.... My wife and I spent many Christmases in Italy. We'd spend six weeks or so driving between Rome and Milan. We did that for many years until my daughter was born.

Years ago, the United States Information Service sent writers around to other countries. The USIA set up writers to make trips, and they sent me to Germany, Egypt, Scandinavia, and Italy. They would set up readings and meetings with local writers. Egypt was particularly interesting, and I got to meet writers I would just not have met otherwise. What do you think travel does for a writer? There's a long tradition of writers traveling.

DH: There's nothing like a change of landscape, a change of everything. You go to a place like Morocco or Egypt, and everything is completely different. The outlook on life is different, and the attitude toward life is different -- music, art, cuisine, and the hierarchy of what's important in life. The two years I spent in Tangier were really wonderful, because I got to experience Ramadan, which was such an alien concept. I grew up in California. I'm glad you mentioned "cuisine." I understand that you're quite interested in food, and, of course, you've written Halpern's Guide to the Essential Restaurants of Italy.

DH: I love food. Evidently, there's no way to hide that. I once did a cookbook with Julie Strand. Cooking is a real form of relaxation. I don't think I'd want to be a food professional. I get more enjoyment being on the outskirts. One profession that's not always understood is the editor. What does a poetry editor do, and what do you do when you edit books of poems ?

DH: Editors do a lot of things, ranging from psychological hand-holding to real hands-on work on the manuscript -- line-by-line comments and ordering of poems for the books of some poets. With some poets, almost nothing is required. It ranges from a lot of work to no work at all. You've got to know what the poet needs, what the poet wants.

And they want different kinds of encouragement. What's most important is to be a good reader of poetry and to get a sense early on of what these poets are trying to accomplish, book by book, poem by poem. You really need to see it in the context of their body of work. To have someone objective read your poems, who is on your side -- that's what an editor is. The one person who doesn't have an agenda is your editor. What, in your view, is the importance of literary magazines?

DH: For young writers, I think they're really important. One, as a place to publish, as a place to see what your peers are doing, the kinds of things that are being written. It's important that there are always a handful of editors who are passionate about collecting the literature they like. Part of the health of poetry is due to the amazing number of really good literary magazines that are around at any given moment. Let's flip back to your work as a poet. How does it feel to complete an eighth book of verse?

DH: In some ways, a relief. This book, I hope, has humor in it, which I'm happy about, and it has irony. It gets harder to write books of poems. It's such an odd enterprise, to sit around and write things that don't take up much space on a page, with an audience of a few thousand people. I seem to do it for a handful of personal reasons. What are the reasons?

DH: One reason is to figure out what I think about the world. Poems are like shells, but you once lived in them and you learned a lot during those moments -- and I couldn't have done it without them.

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