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MARK HALLIDAY AT "DECALS OF DESIRE" [by Martin Stannard]
In 2003 I was invited to read at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on England’s east coast. At the welcome party I was buttonholed by the Festival director, who said she had someone she wanted me to meet. Moments later I was saying Hello to Mark Halliday, and he’s been a friend ever since. We hit it off immediately, and went on to spend most of the weekend in each other’s company, sharing our enthusiasm for the work of Kenneth Koch, as well as a passion for being rude about 95% of all the other poets in the world. The highlight of the weekend (if you discount our readings, which were, of course, sublime) was when we were in a coffee shop (I think it was a coffee shop; it may have been tea) and standing at the counter ripping with great pleasure into one of the Festival’s other poets, only to realize that “he” was standing within earshot just behind us. Oh, how we laughed. The following Spring I visited Mark and his family (the poet Jill Rosser, and their daughter Devon) at their home in Ohio. Since then he and I have collaborated on over a hundred short plays “inspired” by Koch’s short plays, as gathered in his One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays. They are not as good as Koch’s, of course, but they are nevertheless (as Mark has mentioned many times over the years) works of some genius. Some of the plays are very short, and some stretch to two or four pages or even more. Mark has a tendency to want plot lines (or what claim to be plot lines) to develop, whereas I usually think that by the time we’re approaching the bottom of page 1 it’s time to get out – and I’m usually the one who brings things to a close by, for example, having the actors/characters decide it’s time to go home. On one occasion, in a play called “Chess”, in which the characters are the chess pieces chatting to one another during a game, a dog dashes into the room and upsets the table and sends all the pieces crashing to the floor. Curtain. Mark and I are very different writers in many ways. At Aldeburgh we had, and have continued to have, somewhat opposing views on the place of the anecdote or “real event” in a poem, and I think he thinks I’m sometimes too whacky. Then he goes and writes stuff like this: MILDEWED ANTHOLOGIES Fragged and pre-emptingly disnerved am I by megrims forthrising from the down-sucked gravity-humbled fungal-damp discompositional demotion/dismissal of disremembered claimants. Their non-negotiable odor-sad weary-trope defunctness sticks in my aspirational craw. which is not exactly typical of his work, but you know…. Too whacky? The other side of Halliday is much more connected to the dictionary you have on your bookshelf. Several poems in Thresherphobe, his most recent collection, are undoubtedly prompted by the fact that the author is getting old – and, although ageing can sometimes be...
Posted Feb 3, 2017 at
The Best American Poetry
ABOUT ERIC ERIC [by Martin Stannard]
Of course, it’s not his real name, though I am led to believe one half is real; the other half, as he once remarked, is “an act of concealment.” I first came across Eric Eric in 1986 when I was editing my then magazine joe soap’s canoe. A chap I know, Richard Catchpole, sent me some of Eric’s poems. In the course of a long and rambling letter catching me up on his recent doings (he thought I was interested) Catchpole told me he had been working temporarily for a company doing the catering for a telephone engineers’ conference, and he had “fallen in” with a chap attending the event who wrote “weird little poems”, and he thought I might like to see some of them. One of the first poems I read, and subsequently published in joe soap’s canoe 10, was this: AIR The air is where The air is. And where The air is, is where There is a stinking bus. I was pretty much bowled over by what at first I thought to be a somewhat individual take on a minimalist approach to poetics, but I mainly fell in love with that sledgehammer of a final line that made me laugh out loud at the same time as realizing the poet and I at some point in our lives had experienced the same kind of bus service. This, for me, placed the poem absolutely in the everyday world, though it came with a dollop of questionable sanity for good measure. But I also initially assumed Catchpole was messing with me – he has his playful side, and I would not have put it past him to try and trick me into publishing a figment of his somewhat self-indulgent imagination. In fact, I was only finally convinced of Eric’s real existence when I met him briefly in Nottingham in 2008. We had kept in very occasional touch since I shut down the canoe, and he was visiting the city on some kind of training course to do with his work. He was still a sort of telephone engineer but now did something I vaguely understood to be to do with mobile phones; he said he was too near retirement to be much bothered to learn anything new, but it was a few days in a good hotel, and the financial subsidies he was getting for being away from home were excellent. Knowing I was back from China and working as the Royal Literary Fund’s Writing Fellow at Nottingham Trent University, he suggested we meet up for a drink. I knew enough about him by that time to know that, if he was indeed real, this was an uncharacteristically sociable move on his part, and I jumped at the chance to meet him. It’s an hour and ten minutes of my life I will never get back, but they do say it’s not always a good idea to meet your heroes. But I am jumping ahead of myself. To...
Posted Nov 5, 2016 at
The Best American Poetry
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