Tag Archives: mark halliday

Poems About Writing

Standard

Writer

A person, for you, is a book.
Impossible to categorize,
it veers from non-sense verse
to the most tedious of novels
and back
in just a breath.
And the book ends, the book ends.
And what makes the person more real,
then,
than a book,
is just that you cannot re-read
one chapter, one sentence, one word.
You must re-write him,
her,
and you cannot.
This inability is the source
of everything you have to say.

Joe Wenderoth

 

Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you?
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Graded Paper

Mark Halliday (b. 1949)

On the whole this is quite successful work:
your main argument about the poet’s ambivalence?
how he loves the very things he attacks?
is most persuasive and always engaging.

At the same time,
there are spots
where your thinking becomes, for me,
alarmingly opaque, and your syntax seems to jump
backwards through unnecessary hoops,
as on p. 2 where you speak of “precognitive awareness
not yet disestablished by the shell that encrusts
each thing that a person actually says”
or at the top of p. 5 where your discussion of
“subverbal undertow miming the subversion of self-belief
woven counter to desire’s outreach”
leaves me groping for firmer footholds.
(I’d have said it differently,
or rather, said something else.)
And when you say that women “could not fulfill themselves” (p.6)
“in that era” (only forty years ago, after all!)
are you so sure that the situation is so different today?
Also, how does Whitman bluff his way into
your penultimate paragraph? He is the last poet
I would have quoted in this context!
What plausible way of behaving
does the passage you quote represent? Don’t you think
literature should ultimately reveal possiblities for action?

Please notice how I’ve repaired your use of semicolons.

And yet, despite what may seem my cranky response,
I do admire the freshness of
your thinking and your style; there is
a vitality here; your sentences thrust themselves forward
with a confidence as impressive as it is cheeky. . . .
You are not
me, finally,
and though this is an awkward problem, involving
the inescapable fact that you are so young, so young
it is also a delightful provocation.

A-

1991