When Mark Halliday decided to become a poet
he should have given more consideration to the fact
that his name is not poetic, offers no immediate sense that
here we have a poet of degree, a poet of quality.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, strikes the poetic mind
from the outset: if Wordsworth hadn’t been called
Wordsworth he’d have had to change his name to
something more apt, like Lord Byron (whose name
always struck me as odd until I realised Lord wasn’t his
Christian name). Lord Byron immediately tells us that
here we have a poet willing to rage amongst the ladies,
to fight in real live battles with a sword, ˗ or maybe a gun
if he was lucky; to swim the Hellespont, or some equally
improbable water. (Though not to die of as miserable a
thing as a cold, and it wasn’t even caught in the
Hellespont.) Those are the sorts of things
aroused by the poetic name, Lord Byron: a true poet.
Robert Louis Stevenson, though he has the
advantage of a triple-barrelled cognomen, used the word
nice in one of his poems, so I discovered yesterday;
this rather undercuts his literary integrity.
Rudyard Kipling, on the other hand, could have
written what he liked (and used nice) and we would have
continued to read his poetry simply on the basis of his name.
See what I mean, Mark Halliday? The only
notorious thing your name reminds me of is Doc
Holliday, the whisky-slurping, gun-toting, gambling dentist (yes,
dentist!), the sidekick of Wyatt Earp ˗ another man who could
have taken up a career as a poet if he hadn’t had the poor
judgement to have several brothers who plainly desired more
strongly to appear in the Darwin Awards than to savour life,
marriage, family and a bunch of cattle on a largish ranch.
So before you decide to write any more poems, Mark ˗
if I can take advantage of our mutual poetic status ˗ I
suggest you consider rebranding yourself. Mark isn’t
too bad (Mark Antony springs to mind, a verbose man
capable of considerable blank verse) but Halliday is
too close to holiday, as in relaxed, I can’t be bothered,
I’m doing well just lying on the beach, speaking malarkey,
thanks very much. No one wants to read a poet whose
name bespeaks vacation, relaxation, can’t be botheredliness,
the mundane. Our immediate assumption, on seeing a
poem by Mark Halliday, is, well, he won’t have anything
to say ˗ just look at his name. It’ll be all malarkey
and wine biscuits, plain arrowroot, Graham crackers
(I included those since you’re a North American and
they’ll mean something to you even if they don’t mean
a thing to me, a person from the South Pacific,
where people go crackers, but don’t eat them with the
seeming obsessiveness of the average American).
See, this is what happens, Mark, when I read your
poetry and try to respond in kind. I find myself
meandering, unable to stick to the point, bringing in
beaches and Byron and a bunch of bogus baloney.
Instead of interaction between two poetic minds, it
becomes All Me, barely A Kind of Reply.
Written around August 2015