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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing May 2023
Lens, poems by Richard W. Halperin
I look at an eighteenth-century painting
of a German park in broad daylight:
bushes, trees, fountains, paths, laid out
in perfect symmetry. At a distance,
a palace whose park this is. Every object
casts a perfectly symmetrical dark patch.
Even if it poured rain, the ideal geometry
of the scene would be unchanged.
Seasons have little to do with this.
Wilhelm Kempff’s playing of
The Goldberg Variations has to do
with this. To what I give that which
a character in Enid Bagnold’s play
The Chalk Garden calls ‘the privilege
of my attention’ has to do with this.
Mansfield Park has to do with this.
There is room for Enid Bagnold,
as there is room for Francis Bacon.
There is room for Alexander Pope
as there is room for tabloid news.
Experience, mine, can never be
passed on to anyone; it waits.
I can see – because I choose to –
Wilhelm Kempff walking through ii.
The Ponder Heart
Daniel Ponder is the protagonist,
and Edna Earle Ponder his niece,
in Eudora Welty’s whimsical fantastical
The Ponder Heart – a play of which,
with perfect actors, David Wayne,
Una Merkel, others, was running
on Broadway when I first moved
to New York and is running still
in my head, because of the title.
‘The Ponder Heart’ would, I think,
be a good name for Gray’s Elegy.
Certainly, a good epitaph for several
friends of mine who have died: he was,
she was, a ponder heart. I think that
many figures who are mentioned in
history books were ponder hearts.
How can one not be? And many in
the news now, even those whom I am
horrified by. Many, it seems to me,
in the Bible. And so many in any creche.
Then there are the artists. How can one
be an inspired artist – David Wayne,
Una Merkel – without being a ponder heart? –
even when time has blown you away
and subsequent generations can
only know you because you allowed
yourself to be stuck in the gum of film.
Today is Easter Sunday 2023.
Tomorrow, on the road to Emmaus,
two – or three – ponder hearts.
Is it decadent to write a poem about
a great novel? I think not. A good deal
of literary criticism is decadent.
Over-estimating ambiguity is decadent.
Life is love, fear, betrayal, hope, death,
shock. These are found even in universities.
‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley
again.’ Some books begin at the apogee
of language and vision and remain there.
Moby Dick, ‘Call me Ishmael.’ Great
Expectations, the child Pip’s thinking,
when he reads his parents’ gravestone,
that his mother’s name was Also Georgina.
The flow never abates. A sleazy character
in Rebecca who had been Rebecca’s lover
asks, when told that she died of cancer,
‘Does anybody know if it’s contagious?’
The shock of a great novel is not the book,
it is the reader. Some books begin
where ‘Kubla Khan’ ends.
Of an evening, I run my fingers over
The Wasteland. Great art – and there is
not much of it – depicts where things are.
A blank space separates that, from what I
am used to. Words collapse, except for The Word.
Words are inadequate witnesses, anyway.
Twenty years ago, I had a great grief
which nevertheless gave me a long respite
before I could pull the plug entirely out.
Of evenings, I run my fingers over the result.
I do not know – do not want to know –
anything about Eliot. Everyone sentient
is some guy or some gal. The rapture and
merciless discipline of a great artist
is something else. I recognise it in The Wasteland.
The work of someone who has pulled the plug
entirely out, goes into Apollo’s chariot,
takes up the reins and rides. He does not
The Book of Job. Rebecca. Washington
Square. Three aspects of the human soul,
perfectly done, as the fire begins to dim
in my fireplace – for which I am grateful.
The last thing I want is kerosene.
Three aspects of the human soul, perfectly
done. They point the way. The way never meant
anything to me and still does not. What means
everything – all that I see – is the person
pointing. The Iliad. Homer pointing.
A blind man pointing. I am not sure that
Homer was blind. I think someone changed that,
trying to make art merciful. Homer is easier
to deal with if one is told he was blind.
Washington Square would be easier to deal with
if one was told that Henry James was blind.
© Richard W Halperin
Richard W. Halperin’s poems are published by Salmon/Cliffs of Moher and by Lapwing/Belfast. Salmon has listed Selected & New Poems for Autumn 2023; it will draw upon poems from Mr. Halperin’s four Salmon and sixteen Lapwing collections, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. A new Lapwing, The Painted Word, will appear this Spring.