Mark Halliday is a poet who fits the concepts of “ultra-talk,” which is well-covered in David Graham’s “THE ULTRA-TALK POEM & MARK HALLIDAY.” Apparently Halliday had coined the term himself while reviewing another poet. In the first poem of Halliday’s book Tasker Street, “The Truth,” there is a list with items such as “a proof about a circle around a triangle, / a phrase including the word ‘reciprocal,’ / a film about pornography” that acknowledges the diverse and confusing lives of modern times, but it’s “neat.” We are immersed with memories, stimulation, details, and seemingly conflicting arenas of details that, in an “ultra-talk” postmodern poetic world, do not necessarily conflict.
Another aspect of ultra-talk is name-dropping. It is as if the poems were conversation
picked up by listening in on a bus conversation. Our lives hold highly specific
associations to movies, peoples, and places—Halliday shoots these out, either making personal
connections or brainstorming possible personal connections others could be making. “Couples,”
for example, is one of a few poems in “another speaker’s” first person voice—because the
“poet speaker,” or “real me speaker” returns. This voice also returns in “Back Street Guy” being viewed
by the protagonist as a middle-aged man.
What then are Halliday’s poems generally about? They are transcendental meditations on this modern
life, through the daily sparks. They are the zen journey. They are bringing into light realities of being a poet or a human; they are often insightful realities that still contrast with romantic ideals. In the last stanza of “Fox Point Health Clinic, 1974,” after an encounter with a downcast woman in the clinic and the patients in the room, the speaker says “I have a sore throat, I wish they would vanish, simply / vanish. But they don’t; and gradually I work back toward / Bjorn Borg whose clarity and dedication have seemed so / fine, so pure, so white.”
This is a pregnant statement about hypocrisy and the human condition. When the discomfort of
the conversation, the woman saying she is dying, the speaker finds his reverie of great ideas
and ideals thrown off. To achieve his peace, the speaker must return to his values quickly even
though his perspective has now been changed. The context of his values has been changed by
taking his book on a clinic visit.
Each poem is subjectively formed with a different life from any of the others. Common
interests tie them together—the lives of others, the desires of others. A longer poem near the
end of the book, “The Zoo’s Librarian,” is literally a poem of being talked at by a plane
passenger. There is a self-righteousness honesty in “I shall be happy to turn my back / on Philedelphia.
I’ve experienced so much / degradation in this area.” Whereas the speaker could anger a
reader, she is honest in attempting open-mindedness and sincerity. There is a wavering of her
interests—is this conversation for her or for you? She ends by suggesting milk as a stomach-
relief, saying this was her whole point for diverging. Are all humans guilty of this convolution?
The book as a whole accepts the gravitas of poetry, presents its paradoxes starting with
“The Truth,” then continues on with a sense of creative non-fiction. Whether or not factual, it is
revealing of this speaker’s life. His life is filled with lovers, music, awkwardness, crowds,
conversations, and growth—which makes his poetry universal. Later poems in second person
begin to emerge, placing the reader in strange shoes.
“Sax’s and Selves” is interesting in that it is an apostrophe to a character walking into a restaurant and later riding the bus (perhaps with the speaker?). It asks this stranger in public, doing public things such as drinking a Coke that are only so revealing, “What was your real point?” This is a frustrated speaker who desires to know the point of this person, which is something few people will try so hard to do. Perhaps this is a writer who wants to create a character, who needs to know both the topical and the inner parts
of his character—imagined or taken from this stranger.
And in the last part of the book, after some humor, the weight continues with “My
Strange New Poetry” with the apostrophe “You, you won’t quite know what you think— / you
won’t nod your old professional approval / but like if a tall stranger in tight jeans / suddenly in
the kitchen at a party touched your neck / and kissed you hard or said ‘You stupid bastard’ /
you’ll step back and a minute later still feel hot / and not forget the damn poem with its
nettles.” The speaker is addressing the reader. The image and suggestion to “you,” the reader,
is one of personal space, physical and emotional. The diction of the poem has words such as
“Ramblin’ Root Beer,” “Gimme those worms, Jody,” and “in my strange new poetry that soon I
put / right on paper, next week or sooner than that.” The level of seriousness wavers. Can the
reader feel the nettles of the poem/poems?
Finally, there is the poem “My Moral Life” followed by the last poem, “Tasker Street.”
There is something about the title “My Moral Life” that gives great weight to the book. It is as if
we are about to judge the book’s speaker. The speaker more or less says that ideally his book
world would come first, if not for the real world with its problems. “In my moral life these
things / are not just TV, they push my poems to the edge of my desk,” says the speaker about
water pollution and poverty. But his book world is coming first—the time references are
confusing but with “I see it there ahead of me,” or “Glimpsing it there is something like already
living it / almost and feeling justifiably proud,” it is fact that the speaker has not yet gone to
rallies or marches. He is going to write “an essay about the word ‘enough’” first—between two
to four years from this moment, the speaker is going to push aside the poems and prioritize real
change in the world. Few poets are not guilty of living in a world where it is too comfortable and one can easily spectate despite interferences .
The last poem, “Tasker Street,” has the tone of a sigh, or tired, sarcastic acceptance.
“Now I have a son; / can’t die young. / Can’t even groove on grimness as before. // Buy the
miniature basketball hoop, / write the paragraph, / catch the bus, // meet his eyes, // make a
meaning shape up.” This loaded section sums up the book because it sums up a life—anyone
must face the dying glamour of their ideals, live in a consumer world with other people to think
of (a large step from a young idealist to a mature one), and yet as a poet or worker make the
meaning worth doing it all, and worth passing on to a child. Anyhow, the line reads raw.
Mark Halliday has an insightful range into the lives of others, as well as a realistic
viewpoint as a poet. Yet this viewpoint is not realistic to the point of pessimism. Because a
reader is left with a sense of creative non-fiction, with which he has revealed his awkward moments, part
of his self. Each poem is an attempt to focus on one or several evasive notions or insights. He is
showing himself in the learning process, which is a weak position in a way, which allows for
empathy. The final product is better for the giving he has done—admitting his shortcomings of
all sorts, he has given strength to the understanding of modern life and poetry-writing.
Cited source: https://www.valpo.edu/vpr/grahamultra.html