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Richard W Halperin – A Country I Remember Fresh as Morning

Profile Halperin LE P&W March 2021

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing March 2021.

Richard W. Halperin holds Irish-U.S. nationality and lives in Paris. He has published four collections via Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher; the most recent is Catch Me While You Have the Light, 2018; People in a Diary is listed for 2021. In complement, he has published thirteen shorter collections via Lapwing, Belfast; the most recent is Under the Olive Tree: Three Poem Sequences, 2020. His work is part of University College Dublin’s Irish Poetry Reading Archive. He reads frequently in Ireland; scheduled readings for 2020 have been jumped to 2021. In 2005, Mr Halperin retired as Chief, Section for Teacher Education, UNESCO, where he edited Reading and Writing Poetry: The Recommendations of Poets from Many Lands on the Teaching of Poetry in Secondary Schools, downloadable gratis in English, French and Spanish. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from City University of New York; his mentor was Sears R. Jayne.


A Country I Remember Fresh as Morning

A theme comes back. From ‘Appalachian Spring’:
‘’Tis the gift to be simple.’ A country I remember
Fresh as morning. Words come back, as fresh
As when I first heard them. Our grammar school

Teacher’s telling us that if we had trouble spelling
‘Machine,’ to think of it as Scottish, think of it
As MacHine – thus opening a door of language
That I still walk through.

More Copland: ‘Fanfare for the Common Man.’
Opening hope. Opening hope. Opening hope.
I once saw Martha Graham coming out of
Saks Fifth Avenue, all of Saks Fifth Avenue

Becoming only a thing that Martha Graham came
Out of. A country I remember fresh as morning.

Rain and Birds

Young Leonard Bernstein conducts the young Mahler.
A recording made in the St. George Hotel,
Brooklyn, a few steps away from the building
Where I later worked for sixteen years.
None of us knew what we would be like, old.

Last night here in Paris, rain and birds woke me.
I am at ease with that. I have come to think
That the sound of rain falling is the sound
Of God thinking. Of course, you have to be rain
To understand it. I speed forward, everything

Speeds forward, to the inevitable west. But
Every once in a while I get snagged on Brooklyn.


Cornelia Street, Greenwich Village

Some of the best and some of the worst
Experiences of my life were on Cornelia Street.
Maybe for my pals, too. None of us was
Completely formed, although we thought we were.

We got old. We are still not completely formed.
Bur not completely formed old is not the same as
Not completely formed young. Hard to explain.
We cannot meet again on Cornelia Street. Death

Alters logistics. Some of us now aren’t. So, coffees
Can be tricky. As I write these lines – Paris 4:00 a.m. –
A bird is chirping. Where is the bird, as far as being
Formed is concerned? The song is liquid, the song

Is completely formed, the bird is nugatory.
So were we, and so are we, on Cornelia Street.

I Saw Her Disappear

I saw her disappear, my mother, but not
For long because mothers never disappear,
She was stepping backwards as she sometimes
Did when she was bowling, we’d sometimes

Go bowling together, her curly hair,
Her sailor trousers, her sporty blouse,
Once we saw Betty Hutton a few lanes
From us, a cheerful wave at everyone,

A generation now farther back in time
Than the 1890s was then, women full of
The sap of life, never imagining
That one day they could be old and if

They did get old, God would take care
Of them, and God did.


Of Edgard Varèse and Others

Hawthorn Street. It was and probably still is
Part of my old neighbourhood in Chicago.
Pleasant, like most streets around it,
Lake Michigan visible to infinity beyond it.
Blank infinity if you were a boy. I was a boy.

Varèse says in a radio interview taken in French
In Greenwich Village in 1964
That each person has a unique spectrum of sound.
That composers are manipulators of sound,
As painters are manipulators of light.

I was raised in two houses of divorce,
Wishing my mother could find compatible sounds.
I now know that her husbands wished they could find theirs.

Every street has its own spectrum. From the trees?
From the people who live provisionally on it?
From a boy who projects his own spectrum?
From a man who remembers? These past days,

I had been sorry that no new poem had come,
There is loneliness in that. There is loneliness
In everything, including Hawthorn Street.
‘What is your name?’ is always a shocking question.
‘A boy on Hawthorn Street’ is as good an answer as any.


© Richard W Halperin