Poetry Failure

By Mark Halliday b. 1949 Mark Halliday
For example, I wrote my first poem in 1976 about being in the Vermont house
after my mother’s death; she died the year before;
she loved that house. My father said he kept having moments
of thinking she must have just stepped outside for a minute
to weed the garden or to walk just a little way
along Prospect Street, for a few minutes only and now
almost now she’d be coming back, we’d hear the screen door,
Bev would be back and saying something casual about—
about the cats, Daphne and Chloe, or about Mrs. Yamokofsky next door
or about the pear tree, “or a colored stone she found.”
That was the phrase that ended my poem in 1976:
“or a colored stone she found.” The phrase rang slightly false
but I wanted it—the “ound” and “one” sounds sounded profound
and in 1976 “stone” was still a word guaranteed poetic.
But did my mother ever pick up colorful stones?
Wasn’t that more something I did fifteen years earlier?
In the poem I was trying to turn my ironic mother into
an ideal figure certified sweet like a child.
But what could I make her say? Something very sly and wry?
The poetry would be in her voice, the way of her voice being
hers—voice of my mother—whether the words were about
the cats or Mrs. Yamokofsky or potatoes to peel for mashing.
Not your mother. My mother. Poetry of her
saying in her Bev way “those potatoes” or “Mrs. Yamokovsky”
or “Daphne’s gone down by the Black River
but if we feed Chloe I’m sure she’ll be back.”
And my father and Kimbo and me just going “Yeah” or “In a minute”
because this was all just life.

Mark Halliday, "Poetry Failure" from JAB. Copyright © 2002 by Mark Halliday.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.

Source: JAB (The University of Chicago Press, 2002)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Mark Halliday b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Parenthood, Sorrow & Grieving, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

 Mark  Halliday


Poet Mark Halliday earned a BA and an MA from Brown University, and a PhD from Brandeis University. Halliday has published several collections of poetry, including Little Star (1987), selected for the National Poetry Series; Tasker Street (1992), winner of the Juniper Prize; Jab (2002); and Keep This Forever (2008). Influenced by New York School poets Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara, Halliday writes disarmingly accessible and . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Parenthood, Sorrow & Grieving, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.