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Shy White Tiger / Richard W. Halperin

Shy White Tiger

By: Richard W. Halperin

"These marvellously accomplished new-mint poems, as with those of his recent first collection, Anniversary, insist that ‘To try to change in the mind what happened/Is to block transfiguration.’ Certainly not for a man who knows, because he was told so by another man on a park bench in winter, as indeed how could anyone doubt, that the image the earth most closely resembles, (in fact looks exactly like), is a blob of ligh...
ISBN 978-1-908836-34-2
Pub Date Saturday, June 01, 2013
Cover Image Jessie Lendennie
Page Count 86
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"These marvellously accomplished new-mint poems, as with those of his recent first collection, Anniversary, insist that ‘To try to change in the mind what happened/Is to block transfiguration.’ Certainly not for a man who knows, because he was told so by another man on a park bench in winter, as indeed how could anyone doubt, that the image the earth most closely resembles, (in fact looks exactly like), is a blob of light as reflected at night in a hare’s eye. Richard Halperin must have lodged for a time with the sea-charts in the map-room of one of Calvino’s Invisible Cities; he deals so adroitly with any possible misunderstandings between the poem as it unfolds and the strange particulars from which it is unfolding.
     Some of the greatest traditions of that visionary matter-of-fact magic are represented here, Russian, French, Irish, Jewish, stories which are portals to other stories in turn become other stories, as in Colum’s The King of Ireland’s Son; South America, Joseph Cornell, Glenstal Abbey, Sunset Boulevard, nineteen fifties New York City, the Talmud clear and hidden, the powerfully significant, constant active presences of the poet’s wife and mother. For him, discovery and rediscovery, in the past and future memory of the imagination, and a trust in the deep deep down essentially benign polarization of things, are what make us what we may become. That we may accept the half loaf with the blessing we have as birthright, and set out to find where the poem goes, arriving at a spiritual resolution as the poem itself arrives at its own fulfillment."  Macdara Woods

Richard W. Halperin

Richard W. Halperin holds Irish and U.S. nationality, and for the past decades has lived in Paris. His poetry is widely published in journals and magazines in Ireland. Catch Me While You Have the Light is his fourth collection for Salmon. The others are Quiet in a Quiet House, 2016; Shy White Tiger, 2013; and Anniversary, 2010. The latter was published in Japanese by Kindaibungei-sha Press, Tokyo. 2012. A French version, Présence, is the subject of an article in Translation Ireland 2017. He has had seven chapbooks brought out by Lapwing Publications, Belfast. The most recent of these are Prisms and Three Poem Sequences. He retired in 2005 as Chief of 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. 

White Nights

Sometimes starry winter nights tilt,
As in a dream of Dostoevsky’s,
A madman on the deserted streets of Saint Petersburg
Only it’s a farm field, fenceless in the cold white light
And a dog running toward you,
Friendly, happy to see you,
Yes, your dog, the one you loved when you were five,
And the field tilts, or is it the stars that tilt,
And the dog running toward you not through the field
But through the mass of stars, so so so many,
And you feel you’re close to what’s really home,
Home without houses, without—thank God—memory,
Without anything more than a feeling of warmth,
Of love, nothing else was necessary,
Never was quite real, and there’s the dog
Getting closer across the stars, across the field,
Across the deserted streets of Saint Petersburg
And you try to close the book or you will die of happiness,
And the harder you try to close the book, you open the book
More and more open, hoping memory won’t come into it,
Hoping everyone you ever loved will be there, without memory,
Only with love, and these are white nights, nights
Without end, without colour, with only the sense that
Dogs and horses have when they know—know know know—
That something good is very near and warm, and
Dawn blows away like a coloured rag
And so does happiness, because this is happiness.

Passing, passing

Two students lie on their backs on a riverbank talking,
Their caps pushed back, their arms over their eyes 
To protect their eyes from the sun, the river flowing,
The clouds unseen passing, passing. I will do this
And I will do that, one says. I will do this and I
Will do that, the other says. Each talks as if to himself,
That intimate, that unformed, that easy, because friends
Forever, their books in satchels on the grass, the river flowing,
The summer nearly over, the afternoon any afternoon,
As if there will be infinite afternoons, as if the sun were
A third friend, as if there were no difference between day
And drowsiness, as if there were no towns or obligations.

Later, much later, dying and very old—they had taken
Different paths, of course—one of them, the one who didn’t
Die at forty-five—sees himself on the riverbank again,
He and his friend talking, planning, letting the day run through
Their fingers, because why should the future ever come?
‘That was perfection,’ he thinks. ‘That the future was a story
We could sketch and discard, sketch and discard,
Our voices murmuring, our books in our satchels, our caps
Pushed back, all the ropes loosed and not our concern, really.
Maths is not perfection, perfection is not perfection,
Perfection is what music points to, the next note not there yet 
And so not our concern yet, but surely something wonderful 
Wherever it is going, and we were there, wherever it was going, 
Wherever it was going.’

Copyright © Richard W. Halperin, 2013
Review: Shy White Tiger reviewed by Books Ireland in the section ’First Flush’ (October 2013, No.351)

Since he first had poems published in 2005, Halperin’s work has appeared in a number of publications and won him awards. He regularly reads his poems at festivals and other events. His first collection from 2010, Anniversary, has even been translated into Japanese. He draws on a wide range of sources for these poems including Irish, Russian, French and Jewish stories. His poems are complex and enchanting works which weave fantasy and reality together in order to get to deeper universal truths. He has a third collection on the way.

Review: Shy White Tiger reviewed by David Troman for Orbis Quarterly Literary International Journal, No. 165, page 50 (West Kirby, Cheshire, UK, Autumn 2013)


A second collection which shows the strength and conviction of a poet who has discovered himself and is now probing the meanings of life and the vagaries of death.

It is populated by ghosts. Not ghosts who rattle chains and carry their heads under their arms but those who rattle the reader’s cage of comfort with messages as telling as any given by Jacob Marley to Scrooge; messages coded in images as ordinary as strawberry jam or as pertinent as gravestone effigies.

Much in the writing impresses, particularly its variety. It makes full use of all the reader’s senses, particularly to establish place and atmosphere. In several poems, the poet uses repetition without its feeling contrived or obtrusive, but then avoids all such language devices in others. The shortest piece is a perfect example of his precise control. In full, it reads:

‘My Mother’s Gravestone’
There isn’t one
What dates or phrases could contain her?

The language is generally quite ordinary. Its truths should define our everyday living, although those which we often avoid. Much of the work includes unusual links with thoughts and images, making perfect sense in context, but possibly demanding effort from the reader to discover it. But he also creates striking images, and those lingering in the mind long after I shut the book include Paris
in the half-light of visionary uncertainty, the conviction of Jewishness and the frequency use of flowers. Here are two examples from one verse:

A garden of pale blue roses, in moonlight,
at the back of a house….
pale blue hydrangeas, my first certainty
as a child that I had been alive before I was born
[‘Dream, waking thought’]

If you are looking for poetry that tells you what to think, then avoid this collection. But if you want poetry that tells you to think, then invest 12 Euros and enjoy money well spent.

Review: Shy White Tiger reviewed by Mary Johnson for Revival Literary Journal, Issue 27, August/September 2013

Richard Halperin, an American living in Paris, does not confine the theme of his second volume of poetry to The City of Light.  He travels his imaginative journey through native country, Ireland, Russia and Switzerland, his literary expression a clear language which magages to capture the ephemeral with the particular ‘the grey lake of a Paris dawn’ ‘Where did Chicago go?’  The Liffey ‘at midnight’ finds the poet not needing the exotic of the Red Sea when he inhabits ‘a city of crumbly red bricks’ reflected in that river’s water: neither does he need magnificence there ‘You don’t need Venice.’

Halperin is neither an urban or rural poet but seeks to express emotion and to make meaning in both landscapes, exploring them through light and shade, successfully juxtaposing rural and urban.  Paris is contemplated ‘at midnight’ ‘in wheaten light’ on an early Summer morning.  The ‘sun a coin’ shines over Central Park.

The poet is well aware of striving for effect in poetry poking fun at such effort ‘in the usual dappled light’ when he walks through a birchwood copse.  The same poem expands to a wider horizon, repeating the humour ‘over there/Under a tree (not a birch)’.  He imagines a reading Tolstoy, clad in white, being painted by Repin; the images coupled with the groined birches captured forever in a painting reminds him of his wedding day.  All images ‘were in the book; but not the birches’ suggesting Halperin sees the eternal not in nature but in art.

For all Halperin’s delicate style and the sometimes ‘twilight’ aspects of the poetry ‘tenses are baggage’ ‘flares in the night that lit our way like fireflies’ he does not shirk from slamming the reader with that sliver of steel and directness of language without which no poet can make meaning. He bides his time until the later poems in the book and then risks cliché ‘a civilisation/On the brink of stupid and avoidable destruction’; but ‘Life mashed her,’ the fate of a young girl who rejoiced, shows Halperin can control his language perfectly balancing the banal with the shocking.

Some of the poems in Shy White Tiger deal with bereavement but Halperin does not risk expressing the finality of death until the later poems in this volume.  ‘Your silver clock stopped/Tock/Silencium/Down, down, down’.  The delicacy of the language is mitigated by the harsh T, D and word ‘down’ repeated thrice.  The thrice repeated ‘down’ has uneasy connotations of burial and descent into the Underworld.

Bereavement can bring out the sentimental and maudlin but Halperin in referring to Tydnale, first translator of the Bible in English ‘a poet strangled’ and Li Po, greatest of the Chinese poets of the Tang Dynasty, is unafraid to emulate the former’s directness and the latter’s  delicacy of language.  The directness seems a ‘spine’ to uphold the delicacy and unbearable poignancy of the line ‘I reach for you and you aren’t there’; the colloquial ‘aren’t’ perfectly expressing the quantum space left by the death of a loved one.

Halperin mourns the death of his parents but here his verse flows more easily than in the poems on the death of his wife.  There is an ease of communication with the reader, the dead and an acceptance that a parental death is a part of life for most of us.  A ‘twin’ poem for father and mother each has a grain of humour ‘Dear Leo, you haven’t written in a while/but honestly, I wasn’t expecting you to’.  My Mother’s Birthday, her 108th,  is one the poet  will celebrate by attending ‘Fellini’s Roma and a long walk home.’ Lest the reader think that Halperin regards the deaths of others than his wife as lesser grief the lines ‘my tongue vibrated/wildly like a clapper’ and ‘blew off everywhere into the wind’ belie such impression.  This poet knows the agony of loss and grief.

To suggest that much of the poetry in Shy White Tiger is concerned solely with bereavement is to do this collection an injustice. There is no despair here.  Walking is a constant metaphor; a walking through rural and urban landscape; a walking through memory and into the future with no sense that joy is lost for the poet.

For this reader the outstanding poem in this collection is Rabboni with the metaphor of the gardener whose ‘giveaway is his naming of flora, fauna and a woman’s name.’

From the title poem Shy White Tiger ‘someone stole his colour’ but not his soul to the last poem My Mother’s Birthday with its final line ‘the long walk home’ Halperin’s second volume of poetry is one to be treasured. His poetry can be elusive, sad, pondering without being ponderous. It is an invitation to walk with the poet who can find ‘gobs of love’ in a shared pot of strawberry jam in his walking through experience.

Review: Shy White Tiger reviewed by Graham Rippon for Carillon (ISSN: 1474 - 7340, Issue 36, Summer 2013)

Richard is well-known to many magazine editors and readers: he has a long list of publication credits as well as a number of competition successes - and deservedly so. The writing in this collection is lean, thoughtful, literary and yet eminently readable. His poetry spans a myriad of topics and there are surprises and pleasures in each work. In fact, so much that it is difficult to give a full flavour of the collection in a review. By way of illustration here are a few excerpts:

Sometimes starry nights tilt,
As in a dream of Dostoevsky’s,
A madman on the streets of Saint Petersburg
        (White Nights)

You were upstairs folding sheets that smelled of sun.
I left out on the table a tacky summer book.
No one would ever press a flower into it. Or would they?
Who knows what things can happen in houses?
                                                                               (Off Bantry, i. Closing up)

I walked through them in the usual dappled light,
They not turning but I, in the light, turning
      Toward birches, as deeper and quieter I went...
                                                            (Birches on a Day)

Whether it is about strawberry jam (...always on the breakfast table), or a shy white tiger (someone stole his colour / but not his dignity ), or where souls go (where does the soul go when it goes? / when one is driving, reading but not reading...) the insights and nuances offer a fresh view of our world.

This is a book that will grace any bookshelf.

Other Titles from Richard W. Halperin

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