Letter – to poet Mark Halliday

Here’s a poem by Mark Halliday. It’s one of many of his that compelled me to send him an email.

GRAY CHECKED SCARF
Mark Halliday

David Porter has said that for Dickinson
death is the summoner of style.
And I think of you placing your gray checked scarf
around your neck on a day in December.
Your hair, like hair that Yeats might have ached to touch,
falls across the scarf and upon the shoulders of
your black coat; we move toward the door;

the street opens upon my gaze like a new feature film
with sober intentions and I stand for a second
awed by the task of appreciation—
your hands—your eyes. There is the banquet
of what we do have while knowing it can vanish
and there is the cold banquet of what we once had
or conceivably could have had—
at both tables we gaze into the lamplit wine
and want to say something true but
not only true, something also lovely
in a respectful and charismatic sadness.
Here is the car, my dear, your gray Mazda,
and here we are in he middle of something,

unreligious, distracted, but lightly touching
each other’s knees from time to time during the ride
for the sake of what has been luminous and is not gone.

-from Tasker Street, The University of Massachusetts Press, © 1992. Winner of the Juniper Prize.

 

I wish I could write like that. Here’s the email I sent him.

Dear Mr. Halliday,

This morning I’m wading through closing documents for a house sale we’ll (Lord help) accomplish at noon, after three years of prep and pain.

I paused just now to read Writer’s Almanac. Which has forced me to look up your email and send you this sort of plaudit and thanks.

I’m almost done. Left to say is that in 1989, late summer, I arrived at a reading sponsored by the Boston University graduate creative writing program that I had, somehow, been accepted into. Only one seat remained in the room; it was in the front row, beside, I later learned, Lloyd Schwartz.

Then you read things that never depart, like “Gimme those worms, Jody.” And “back to his or her perfect desk.” (Forgive any misquoting.)

Your poems have been with me all these years—new poems, too. I never don’t read “Ketchup and Heaven” to my students. Never don’t I read aloud to them “just like this loaded world.”

We all repaired, after that singular reading (at which Mr. Schwartz and I kept looking at each other with amazement), to some restaurant nearby, and sat outside. Robert Pinsky was with us. Every three years or so I drive by that restaurant with my wife and say something feeble and charismatic about that dinner with Halliday. But, I repeat, I read your poems aloud.

Now I’ll click send and return to HUD statements and be glad, in an hour, to be free of a debt and burden. And glad to have said thanks to you meanwhile—and that you and George Saunders are the only writers I’d commit crimes to host at the tiny liberal arts college just north of Boston where I teach. If you’re ever nearby for this or that, and have an inclination to pop in for an evening, we’d gather a keen group to hear, and find some meager funds to fork over.

I’m saying that I love your poems.

Here is the car, my dear,

Mark Wacome Stevick

 

Astonishingly (to me), and sweetly, Mark Halliday emailed me back within the hour, to say thanks—and to request my address, to which he posted his two newest books of poetry. Character will out.
Let us be heartened by this story.

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