before God loved and made them green.
(“The spirit crept outside the house at night”)
When we think of poetry, we do not think of silence; we think of a page filled, a rhyme uttered or uttered. Yet Richard W. Halperin’s collection, Quiet in a Quiet House, is wonderfully hushed, giving us – as the title suggests – a peaceful space. A dual-national of Ireland and the U. S., Halperin has a talent for writing poems that traverse cities and small towns (for example, “Return to Japan” or “Rome”). In the main, however, the collection deals with the spirit of the place rather than its actual details:
a calm night
the souls of sweethearts
blow in the wind [.]
In a pause, Halperin opens up the page to white space, beckoning us to consider what lies between: the past, the remnants that push through stone and soil. Intimations of death do appear throughout the collection – this is to be expected in such a contemplative work – but it does no damage to the joy of other pieces, the movement of “A Walk in Venice” or the humour of “Winged Words”. In the latter the poet dines with Jane Austen:
She makes a pointed remark,
I choke with laughter, and the tea comes through my nose.
Quiet in a Quiet House is like a garden of echoes where words are nurtured and moments preserved. The various references to literature, from 8th century Chinese poet Po Chü-i to Joseph Conrad, reflect a love for language as well an undeniable affinity with nature. Admirers of either are sure to enjoy his poetry, as indeed, anyone who might wish to be quietened by a soft voice, by the musings of a bibliophile, by a small glimpse into Greek myth and in particular, by Homer’s Odyssey.
Above all, this is a collection of faith. Within the poems there is a faint undertow of Christian belief – the verse is not preachy, rather, intimate and genuine. Halperin allows God to enter almost every poem in the collection, though not gratuitously. Some poems, like “Book of Luke”, seem to attempt an understanding of Biblical themes; others are more subtle. God becomes a ghost in the corner of a room. He is in the walls, invisible, settling onto the page in these melancholic lines:
So quiet the house, the chair, the heart, the hour,
The world an anvil, I an anvil, waiting for
Christ the Hammerer.
The collection should not be judged on its presentation of Christianity alone. Those inclined to reject it based on this reason are free to do so, but they ought to have another peek…There is far more here than meets the too-fleeting eye, including a few snippets of wisdom:
I do understand that planets and chipmunks don’t know how to read
And do just fine, but they don’t know what they’re missing.
Halperin is especially good at final lines. Of all the stanzas, the last is often the most astute and most quotable. By the time we reach the closing word, the emotional depths of the collection are lulled to a calm, pleasant quiet.
Quiet in a Quiet House will not suit everyone, but it may surprise many who choose stay with its peace.