Halpern, Daniel

views updated


Nationality: American. Born: Syracuse, New York, 11 September 1945. Education: San Francisco State College, 1963–64; California State University, Northridge, 1966–69, B.A. in psychology 1969; Columbia University, New York (Woolrich Fellow), 1970–72, M.F.A.1972. Family: Married Jeanne Catherine Carter in 1982. Career: Since 1969 editor, Antaeus magazine, New York; since 1971 editor-in-chief, and since the 1990s editorial director, Ecco Press, New York; since 1978 founder and director, National Poetry Series, New York. Freelance editor, Bobbs-Merrill publishers, New York, 1971–81; founding editor, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses. Teacher, American School, and Spanish School, both Tangier, Morocco, 1969; instructor, New School for Social Research, New York, 1971–76; visiting professor, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1975–76, 1987–88, 1995–96. Since 1976 associate professor, and since 1978 chair, Columbia University School of the Arts. Awards: Rehder award (Southern Poetry Review), 1971; YM-YWHA Discovery award, 1971; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1974, 1975, 1987; Bread Loaf Writers Conference Robert Frost fellowship, 1974; Creative Artists Public Service grant, 1978; Guggenheim fellowship, 1988–89. Address: The Ecco Press, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, New York 10022, U.S.A.



Traveling on Credit. New York, Viking Press, 1972.

The Keeper of Height (as Angela McCabe). New York, Barlenmir House, 1974.

The Lady Knife-Thrower. Binghamton, New York, Bellevue Press, 1975.

Treble Poets 2, with Gerda Mayer and Florence Elon. London, Chatto and Windus, 1975.

Street Fire. New York, Viking Press, 1975.

Life among Others. New York, Viking Press, 1978.

Seasonal Rights. New York, Viking Press, 1982.

Tango. New York, Viking, 1987.

Foreign Neon. New York, Knopf, 1991.

Selected Poems. New York, Knopf, 1994.

Something Shining. New York, Knopf, 1999.

Recordings: Louise Gluck and Daniel Halpern Reading Their Poems, Gertrude Clarke Whittal Poetry and Literature Fund, Library of Congress, 1990.


The Good Food: Soups, Stews, and Pasta, with Julie Strand. New York, Viking, 1985.

Halpern's Guide to the Essential Restaurants of Italy. Reading, Massachusetts, Addison-Wesley, 1990.

Editor, with Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Frank MacShane, Borges on Writing. New York, Dutton, 1973; London, Allen Lane, 1974.

Editor, The American Poetry Anthology. Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1975.

Editor, The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories 1945–1985. New York, Viking, 1986; as The Penguin Book of International Short Stories 1945–1985, London, Penguin, 1989.

Editor, The Antaeus Anthology. New York, Bantam, 1986.

Editor, On Nature: Nature, Landscape, and Natural History. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1987; as On Nature, London, Collins, 1989.

Editor, On Reading. New York, Ecco Press, 1987; London, Collins, 1989.

Editor, Literature as Pleasure. New York, Ecco Press, 1987; London, Collins, 1990.

Editor, with Joyce Carol Oates, Reading the Fights. New York, Holt Rinehart, 1988.

Editor, Writers on Artists. Berkeley, California, North Point Press, 1988.

Editor, Our Private Lives: Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries. New York, Vintage, 1989; as Journals, Notebooks, and Diaries, London. Collins. 1989.

Editor, Plays in One Act. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1991.

Editor, with Joyce Carol Oates, Sophisticated Cat: A Gathering of Stories, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings about Cats. New York, Dutton, 1992.

Editor, The Autobiographical Eye, with illustrations by John Sokol. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1993.

Editor, Too Far from Home: The Selected Writings of Paul Bowles. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1993.

Editor, Dante's Inferno: Translations by Twenty Contemporary Poets. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1993.

Editor, Not for Bread Alone: Writers on Food, Wine, and the Art of Eating. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1993.

Editor, Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment. New York, Harper Collins, 1994.

Editor, with Jeanne Wilmot Carter, On Music. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1994.

Editor, Who's Writing This?: Notations on the Authorial I, with Self Portraits. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1994.

Translator, Songs of Mririda, Courtesan of the High Atlas, by Mririda n' Ait Attik. Greensboro, North Carolina, Unicorn Press, 1974.


Critical Study: "The Elegies of Style" by Richard Jackson, in Georgia Review (Athens, Georgia), 42 (4), winter 1988.

*  *  *

Highly educated, moderately successful as an author, editor, and translator, Daniel Halpern is caught in the alienation, isolation, and yearning for spontaneous feeling that incites much contemporary poetry. "The Ethnic Life," the first poem in his first book of poetry, Traveling on Credit, begins, "I've been after the exotic /For years," and ends, "For years I've lived simply /Without luxury— /With the soundness of the backward /Where the senses can be heard." The headlong rush to identify the ethnic and exotic with the simple leaves Halpern stranded between objective sensations and subjective feelings.

Traveling on Credit and Street Fire are carefully arranged into sections by topic: places are seen with a fine precision of mood; the vagaries of affection between men and women rise up out of stillness; and the small rituals of daily life and social gatherings ward off larger fears. The language of both books hews to a clear speech neither too idiomatic nor too elevated, set in lines of regular length. Throughout, Halpern aims at a middle road, oscillating between melancholy lyricism and bemused objectivity.

Wary of extremes in emotional life and of the norms of accepted tradition, Halpern concentrates on the seductive pull of the imagination. "Aubade," from Life among Others, modifies its traditional form by being neither particularly joyous, wholly of the morning, nor precisely of lovers parting. It begins at night with the lovers going to bed: "It is when I fall to dream in your arms /that I climb into the arms of another: /… until I am back again beside you /in the first light, the morning of the different day." The protagonist of Halpern's poems is a man to whom life has come easily; this ease, however, has spawned a restless investigation into the ambiguities and difficulties of communication.

Life among Others focuses directly on the dimensions of these difficulties, addressing openly the isolation that was held at arm's length in his earlier work. The first section puts into service the delicate atmospheric descriptions of Traveling on Credit to present the loneliness of the traveler's rooms:

   I sit in front of my window, I tempt
   the solitary lights that go on and off
   on the water: lights of boats, cape lights,
   the lights across the water. They pile up
   in darkness here. It is a collection, a pastime.
   Now I have the chance to speak—not to explain
   but to return everything—your bright lives
   rooted to nothing more than a light seen at a distance
   that diminishes as it moves closer and closer.

The desire for speech comes in such moments, but its consummation escapes him. The others remain nameless and faceless. The poems of the second section spring from memories and images, moments of pain and loss when the protagonist tries to accept his isolation or at least to understand it. The final four interconnected poems—"White Tent," "White Train," "White Contact," and "I Am a Dancer"—envelope his isolation in a series of images:

   White, the color of clarity
   where nothing has to live.
   It matches everything and can go
   anywhere. It fits in and is nothing.
   White contact in a house where nothing
   is said.
            The tent of dream
   is a privacy, the bird a way out,
   the train, power to keep on. I'm,
   not really unpleasant, and there is no crime
   committed against others.

But this neat summary belies the strength of the attempt, and the sentences are too coolly structured to give us the feeling of a break in the protagonist's intellectual reserve. Despite this, the book is a clear step forward. Halpern seems a patient poet, and his patience may yet be further rewarded.

—Walter Bode