Coover talks about digital media movement

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 11th, 2009

"What is the difference between a rock concert and a poetry reading?" Mark Halliday asked the crowd at his poetry reading last night at Kelly Writers House. "At a rock concert, you beg the performers to do more."

Last night, Kelly Writers House hosted a poetry reading by former Penn professor and acclaimed poet Mark Halliday. During the event, Halliday read pieces from his new book Keep This Forever, a collection that addresses themes of loss and the inevitable distress arising from an awareness of one's own mortality.

After a brief introduction by Creative Writing Program director Greg Djanikian, Halliday opened with "Chicken Salad," detailing one of his final interactions with his ailing father, closely followed by "Skein" and "Clearing the Apartment." The poems were inspired by the death in 2003 of Halliday's father.

Pausing briefly to address the audience, Halliday quipped, "When did I decide to be so grim? It must be a sign of maturity."

He then recited the autobiographical "Roots," which had, he recalled, been written at a time when many poets were tracing their ancestries.

"I was afraid of having a bland family history," Halliday said. "And whenever something disturbs me, I try to encapsulate it in a poem."

The poem, a tribute to "boomer nostalgia," was the first of many to elicit a flurry of appreciative chuckles from Halliday's audience.

He concluded the reading with "Way, Way Up There," which explores the notion of the divine as an "ultimate preserver of experience."

"I liked [the event] a lot," said College sophomore Hannah McDonnell. "It was very funny, and I enjoyed the conversational tone. It's nice when you can tell the audience is receptive."

McDonnell, who had read "a few" of Halliday's poems prior to the reading, decided to attend the event at the recommendation of Djanikian, her former poetry instructor.

According to administrative assistant Allison Harris, the Writers House hosts over 300 such events annually, ranging from readings for authors who need "community space" to open-mike nights for students.