Last Thursday, on a night when many students tuned their televisions in to the presidential debate, poet Mark Halliday was having a debate of his own – with himself.
“I’ll be jabbing at myself the way Kerry and Bush will be jabbing at each other,” Halliday said of his visit to the College to promote his latest book of poetry, “Jab.”
Halliday’s poetry reading marked the first event in the College’s Visiting Writers Series.It was made possible in large part by the writing communities class on campus.
Attendees were treated to refreshments and a book signing, but most importantly, they were treated to Halliday’s unique poetry style.
While many poets use personal tragedies to inspire them to write, Halliday sees things differently.
“Some poets manage to address horror and misery. I can’t seem to do that because it’s not part of my life,” he said.
Instead, Halliday sees poetry as a very egocentric art. It’s a personal expression, and so the poet sees himself or herself as the most important person behind his or her work.
“People want or need to feel special or important,” he said.
In Halliday’s reading of “Self Importance,” it becomes evident that any life and any day’s events could seem more special and more important than anything else in the world.
Likewise, in “Population,” a feeling of importance can also come from the fact that we share commonalities and are not alone and that what we do is accepted by many.
Another aspect of Halliday’s poetry is his attempt to put himself into different personas. He calls works featuring this atempt “point-of-view” poems, in which through poetry, Hallidy attempts to explore different aspects of his own life – aspects that may “frighten” and at the same time “excite” him. In these poems, he puts himself in different situations or explores past situations from a different perspective.
Halliday’s readings of poems like “Another Point” and “Down Here” were particularly interesting for audience members, as an immediate transformation of Halliday was evident as he alternated between these characters.
It would be a challenge to find any poem quite like “Glove.” Certainly any poem that seamlessly brought together dune buggies, monkeys and radiant clouds deserves some sort of recognition.
As a professor of creative writing at Ohio University, Halliday has his own take on poetry workshops and how they operate. To try and convey the sense of absurdity that he sees in these workshops, he read a poem called “The Lost Glove.” The result was an entertaining “jab” at the terminology writers often use to define different poetic devices.
Halliday, who has kept a diary every day of his life since 1974, he has used his own personal history to inspire him in some cases. His reading of “The Jan Hanks Museum” was a perfect example of how specific events in his life have inspired his work. Halliday admitted that the girlfriends he has had over the years have played a somewhat significant role in his work as well.
“If I’d had more (girlfriends), I may not have had to stand in front of you today,” he said.
The night ended somewhat abruptly as Halliday seemed genuinely concerned that students were missing the presidential debates, but the audience certainly got to see the mind of a poet at work. While Halliday and his poems could be taken seriously, he wasn’t afraid to poke a little fun at himself every now and again. It made him more human, and the human ego is ultimately what his work is about.