Thursday, April 14, 2011

Mark Halliday: Yeah, He Has Some Good Clumpies.

Last night, Jill Rosser and Mark Halliday read to a packed house last night at John Carroll. Both Jill and Mark held us all in thrall. Much laughter.

Here's my introduction of Halliday:

A few zinger lines of Halliday’s always buzz around my brain:

“A beautiful woman is a problem”
“One zucchini does not ask another zucchini for praise.”
“Romance hates democracy.”
“Schnordink? Oh, I suppose he has a few good clumpies.”
“Everybody’s father dies; but/when my father died, it was my father.”

Taken together, they suggest the odd brilliance of Halliday’s work; his psychological investigation of masculinity, his comical goofiness, his love of postmodern fictions and weird language, and, ultimately, his gravitas.

“Everybody’s father dies; but/when my father died, it was my father.”

Some time ago, Mark Halliday interviewed his former teacher Frank Bidart, who said, ‘If what fills your attention are the great works that have been written—Four Quartets and Ulysses and “The Tower” and Life Studies and Howl (yes, Howl) and The Cantos—-nothing left to be done. You couldn’t possibly make anything as inventive or sophisticated or complex. But if you turn from them, and what you look at is your life: NOTHING is figured out; NOTHING is understood…Ulysses doesn’t describe your life. It doesn’t teach you how to lead your life. You don’t know what love is; or hate; or birth, or death; or good; or evil. If what you look at is your life, EVERYTHING remains to be figured out, ordered; EVERYTHING remains to be done’ (232).

Halliday’s work has lived this contradiction. Everyone wants to make Mark Halliday into a New York School poet, a la Frank O’Hara and Kenneth Koch, two admirable poets whose hip novelty and charm and verve are certainly inherited by Halliday. But it is his immersion in and conversation with the tradition of more Romantically-inflected poets (Frank Bidart, Allan Grossman, even William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman) that Halliday earns his staying power.

Halliday has published five celebrated collections of poetry, including Little Star (1987), selected for the National Poetry Series; Tasker Street (1992), winner of the Juniper Prize; Selfwolf; Jab (2002); and Keep This Forever (2008), and is known for poetry that he has termed “ultra talk”—a kind of talkative, reflexive, hip, self-referential style.

But I like to think of him as the guy who hand-typed a one-page response to each of my grad school workshop poems when he was a visiting professor at Indiana (all of which I kept); who played hoops with us in his Converse high-tops; who expounded on the glories of Bob Dylan; who lifts his eyebrows, shrugs his shoulders, and does a little poochy-pout of the lower lip when he reads; who cleaned out his father’s house in Vermont after he died; who gave me the permission to listen to my own life, and see in it a text worth working on, and writing out. Mark Halliday.


Anonymous said...

Great intro. Phil. -Kempf

Philip Metres said...

Thanks Chris.