Poet Mark Halliday, “Curator of the Past,” shares award-winning work

Jessica DiSalvatore, The Carroll News

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Students, professors and community members are filling up Rodman A for the first poetry reading of the term. All the chairs are occupied, people are sitting on tables and others are still standing. Professor George Bilgere enters with an older gentleman and both walk up to the front of the room. Bilgere stands at the podium to introduce Mark Halliday, now standing off to the side. He says how he finds it hard to introduce a poet who, for example, titles his poems “230 Sneakers,” “Muck Clump” and “Heavy Trash.”

“There are only a handful of poets who can make me laugh,” Bilgere concludes, then welcomes Halliday to the podium. Halliday reads a poem, says he’s getting pretty hot and, with a flourish, throws his grey suit jacket to the ground, revealing a pink and navy striped dress shirt.

Halliday, winner of the Rome Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship, is the author of seven poetry collections, including his newest,  “Losers Dream On,” published in 2018.

Besides writing witty yet existential poetry, he also teaches English at Ohio University. Halliday manages to take the smallest, and often funniest, details of everyday life and extrapolate upon them to reveal deeper meanings in ways one would never expect.

His work is accessible and relatable, which makes it easy for anyone to appreciate his work, whether they be poetry lovers, those who are indifferent or those who are wary.

“I enjoyed my first poetry reading!” Alex Taylor, a junior Biology major, said afterwards. “I discovered there is a difference between reading a poem and hearing a poem spoken. Hearing Halliday’s poems spoken allowed me to focus my undivided attention on the meaning behind the poem.”

At the reading on Feb. 7, some of Halliday’s poems focused on football, childhood and his parents, including “1946” and “The Sandy Ridge,” both of which are about his mother. “The Sandy Ridge,” he reluctantly admitted, was based on a dream he had.

Another poem he read was the humorous “Boarding Pass.” The speaker in this piece is anxiously waiting for a flight and observing the other people in the airport. “Pathos of the Momentary Smile” opens with, “Like nearly all women under sixty she would have deftly / avoided meeting the eyes of an unknown man,” and reveals Halliday’s witty nature and overwhelming consciousness of his surroundings. The speaker in this poem notices a younger woman who does end up glancing at him even though he is older, and he reads a lot into the smile she gives him.

Olivia Mirmohomed, a freshman English creative writing major, recognized the honest, raw nature of Halliday’s poems: “He was very fun to listen to. His work was different. It had a sense of youthfulness and honesty to it.”

With titles like “Muck Clump,” it is evident that Halliday takes great pride in appealing to people’s “inner kid” by making them laugh.

“I am a relentless curator of my past,” stated Halliday. He talked about how he always finds himself wanting to recreate it and reflect on events that have happened, no matter how big or small.