Anne Daly studied English at University College Dublin and subsequently studied for a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama. She lives and teaches in Drogheda, Co. Louth. She writes poetry and is currently working on her first collection.
On Catch Me While You Have the Light by Richard W. Halperin
This latest collection of poems from Richard W. Halperin is a collection indeed, with over seventy poems encompassing a broad range of styles, subjects and locations brought together with a beautifully crafted and carefully considered eclecticism. It is a multi-layered work that begins with Irish Light and ends with The Pines of Georgia and brings the reader on a transcontinental odyssey that embraces the intimate and the epic, the parochial and the panoramic and namechecks both the literati (Proust, Woolf, James) and the glitterati (Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner).
As the title suggests, light and colour pervade these poems and Halperin’s painterly style is particularly effective when capturing the elements. The wind, the rain and the sea echo throughout, sometimes a fierce and howling presence as in Blown Off and often a gentle refrain (A Walk by the Sea). Some of the poems describe a painting (Kindness, Bronzino Portrait) while other poems simply are portraits or landscapes in and of themselves, delivered with the caution that what is alive is always more interesting than the rendering of it, whether in paint or in words.
The transient is emphasised by the recurring references to movement and travel. Platforms, trains and guest rooms feature frequently. However, the most visceral poems, are those that are the most intimate, honestly confronting the regret, loss and loneliness that come with age. The reader is constantly brought back to the quiet Parisian courtyard where the Poet contemplates the past and both the power and the inadequacy of language when capturing it.
You cannot read these poems without admiring Halperin’s depth of knowledge and mastery of style. He keeps his readers on their toes with numerous biblical, philosophical and literary references. The language is rich, switching effortlessly from the prayer-like (Honour for My Friend) to the list (Inventory, That We May All Go On) and making particularly good use of the sonnet form.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catch Me While You Have The Light. However, I would question whether the sheer number of poems, references and subjects take away somewhat from the resonance of what is at the heart of this collection. Halperin is at his best when gently capturing the stasis that occurs following the death of a loved one, when a person is caught between reminiscence of the past and contemplation of the future that might have been. The short series of verses in Green Light illustrates this, where the precision and lyricism of the language is distilled and given a chance to breathe. It is a small quibble that lacks significance when compared to the quality of the poems. Halperin’s poetry is beautiful, bright, vivid and compelling.
Catch Me While You Have the Light
Richard W. Halperin
© 2019 Anne Daly