Cover image for The measure of islands
Title:
The measure of islands
Author:
Halperin, Mark, 1940-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Middletown, Conn. : Wesleyan University Press, [1990]

©1990
Physical Description:
vi, 65 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780819521774

9780819511799
Format :
Book

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PS3558.A396 M43 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Mark Halperin recovers forgotten moments and bygone people in these poems of place and memory. Through personal and historical recollections he fashions images so alive and concrete we regret ever having overlooked them. "We should have missed / nothing. But to the west, past the mountains, / is a town with fish in the streets. Who could imagine / the yellow and orange dots on their backs? Imagine / missing that."

Loneliness, lack, and wariness permeate these richly textured memories. Potiphar's wife, Zuleika, recounts her dreams but falters, unable to trust even her own words. "Part of me would fall to her knees in belief / but she is heavy.... / She / draws her gown over her knees, / the cruel curve of her mouth." She is saved from obscurity but not before exposing the unreliability of memories. Seductive fantasies tempt the narrator's troubled spirit only to confirm that they are moments long past or impossible. "The weight on my chest is air's / but monstrously heavy."


Author Notes

MARK HALPERIN became interested in physics and in poetry while at Bard College, from which he was graduated in 1960. He became a junior research physicist, then worked as an electron microscope technician for the Rockefeller Institute while he studied philosophy at the New School. Later, he attended the University of Iowa's Writer's Workshop and received his M.F.A. in 1966. He has been a visiting professor of writing at the University of Arizona and at Shimane University, in Matsue, Japan, and is now professor of English at Central Washington University. Halperin has published two other books of poetry, Backroads and A Place Made Fast, in addtion to two chapbooks. He received the Glasscock Award in 1960 and the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1975. He lives in the country outside of Ellensburg, Washington, near the Yakima River.


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In Halperin's third collection, at least two histories are evi~dent, ranging effortlessly over the millennia. On one hand, he offers a personal history in poems dealing with the concerns of the narrator's family, while, on the other, he examines the history of society and culture, looking at such notable events as the Sacco and Vanzetti case. What unites these two dramatically different branches of human experience is love--the need we have for it, its attainment (or loss), its elusiveness. "How could we love / beyond our reach?" Halperin asks early on, and as we progress through the volume, we find there is no answer except that, inexplicably, we do, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. In "Nightfall," Halperin suggests that trying to obtain love but failing is as important as achieving: "Listen, the insects are humming / a space that's complete. Love's speechless: afraid to tell its secret. . . ." A precise and sobering discourse on the sadness of human life. --Jim Elledge


Choice Review

Halperin's third book of poems takes its title from his persona of the exiled Alfred Dreyfus who speaks from Devil's Island in the poem "Dreyfus Pleads for the Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti." Here, waves "break at the foot of rocks,/ powerless, their executioners, an outline/ always the measure of an island." The human island has many measures in this book: "a boat for one"; "until where I was wasn't a place to stay"; "each/ life differs impossibly from any we recall" and each stop becomes an island of familiarity. All these help to account for the unifying metaphor of the title and also to enhance the sense of separation and isolation often encountered in the reading. Halperin is at his best when he is personal; he is at his worst when he alludes--often unclearly--to memories too private for clarity, too public for meaning. The voice that measures all of this is varied and not always successful--some islands are more prominent and some appear greatly changed from varied points of view. There is also a curious use of a second-person speaker--relatively rare and, somehow, disconcerting. The topics are not public issues here but an assessment of life experience. The themes are old: father and family, travel--especially to Israel and Japan--and the Bible. They are, perhaps, best summarized in the poem "Rescuing the Past." With his fine ear and a knack for atmosphere, Halperin achieves an air of liveliness in these poems. On the other hand, dense parallelisms often obscure meaning and require one to reread and reorient one's self. It is very needful to sip slowly in order to savor. -E. J. Zimmermann, Canisius College


Booklist Review

In Halperin's third collection, at least two histories are evi~dent, ranging effortlessly over the millennia. On one hand, he offers a personal history in poems dealing with the concerns of the narrator's family, while, on the other, he examines the history of society and culture, looking at such notable events as the Sacco and Vanzetti case. What unites these two dramatically different branches of human experience is love--the need we have for it, its attainment (or loss), its elusiveness. "How could we love / beyond our reach?" Halperin asks early on, and as we progress through the volume, we find there is no answer except that, inexplicably, we do, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. In "Nightfall," Halperin suggests that trying to obtain love but failing is as important as achieving: "Listen, the insects are humming / a space that's complete. Love's speechless: afraid to tell its secret. . . ." A precise and sobering discourse on the sadness of human life. --Jim Elledge


Choice Review

Halperin's third book of poems takes its title from his persona of the exiled Alfred Dreyfus who speaks from Devil's Island in the poem "Dreyfus Pleads for the Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti." Here, waves "break at the foot of rocks,/ powerless, their executioners, an outline/ always the measure of an island." The human island has many measures in this book: "a boat for one"; "until where I was wasn't a place to stay"; "each/ life differs impossibly from any we recall" and each stop becomes an island of familiarity. All these help to account for the unifying metaphor of the title and also to enhance the sense of separation and isolation often encountered in the reading. Halperin is at his best when he is personal; he is at his worst when he alludes--often unclearly--to memories too private for clarity, too public for meaning. The voice that measures all of this is varied and not always successful--some islands are more prominent and some appear greatly changed from varied points of view. There is also a curious use of a second-person speaker--relatively rare and, somehow, disconcerting. The topics are not public issues here but an assessment of life experience. The themes are old: father and family, travel--especially to Israel and Japan--and the Bible. They are, perhaps, best summarized in the poem "Rescuing the Past." With his fine ear and a knack for atmosphere, Halperin achieves an air of liveliness in these poems. On the other hand, dense parallelisms often obscure meaning and require one to reread and reorient one's self. It is very needful to sip slowly in order to savor. -E. J. Zimmermann, Canisius College