Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing
Feb 27, 2012
Mark Halliday, professor of English, was named the 2011 Distinguished Professor in recognition of his excellence in teaching at Ohio University and his numerous published works.
On March 1, Ohio University will honor Halliday during the Distinguished Professor Reception and Lecture. The event will begin with a reception at 7 p.m. in the Margaret M. Walter Hall Rotunda; followed by the Distinguished Professor Portrait Unveiling at 7: 30 p.m.; and concluding with Halliday's lecture, "The Personal Appeal of the Short Poem," at 8 p.m.
To get to know the newest distinguished professor, Ohio University Compass sat down with Halliday to learn about his process, teaching and what it feels like to be distinguished.
Compass: How does it feel to be named a distinguished professor?
I’m really pleased that they chose someone from the Humanities Department, whereas they did last year. They picked Charles Smith from the theater program in Fine Arts, so that’s two in a row for the arts. That’s a good sign that there’s University wide respect for the arts. A lot of distinguished professors are from the sciences, so it’s nice to have some balance.
What had inspired you to write poetry?
My first girlfriend who I had met in my freshman year of college liked poetry, and I wanted to please her. I also got pretty engaged with poetry as an undergrad, but I just had a vague idea of wanting to be a writer, and the years after college I wrote all kinds of stuff. Everything I could think of.
I wrote stories, I tried to write a novel, and I wrote plays, little plays, book reviews and poems. So I didn’t really focus for a while. It seemed like the appeal of a small space – one or two pages where a speaker is saying something kind of intense and emotional in a focused way - that seemed to be something I wanted to do more of. But really it wasn’t until my late twenties that I focused that way and came to find myself as a poet.
I also had a really good English teacher in 11th grade, Mr. Robert Miles, and I say thank you to him. He was a great English teacher and he stimulated all of us with a lot with poems. He would bring in poems in kind of a surprising, random way and you could tell that he really liked them and cared about them, and that he had the energy for that. That was really good for me.
How did receiving the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006 help to further your career as a poet?
It was wonderful, partly for the money and partly for the prestige of it. Other writers notice if you get that, and it puts you on the map in a way you weren’t before. It gives you a little illusion, at least, that you have some significance or power in the world. Since I’ve received the fellowship, I’ve been asked quite frequently to write letters on behalf of other people who want to get the fellowship, so it feels like a stepping-stone.
Any artist needs to remember that that kind of external award is no guarantee that you’re doing something good and it can come to people for the wrong reasons. Ultimately, you’ve always got to have a reliance on your own sense of what you’re achieving and the opinions of the people who you trust.
What projects are you currently working on?
I have a lot of essays now. Ever since I came to Ohio University, actually, I had devoted some energy to that each year as well. I try to average two essays each year and I have about 30 essays all together. A lot of them are pretty long, so there’s material there for a book of essays about poetry and I’m hopeful that I’ll get that together.
Where do you get your inspiration to create new poetry?
A lot of it comes from fear for a lot of poets and even different kinds of artists. I think the drive to write a poem, or maybe a story too, comes out of a feeling that something is wrong with life, something disturbing or scary about life, and you’re not going to solve that problem. Like the fact that we’re going to die, you know, or bad things might happen to the country or to your children. You’re not going to solve that problem, but you want to get a perspective out of it or come to terms with it. And for people who are really into poetry, putting those feelings in a shape that makes a poem provides a kind of comfort or calmness. So I think that’s the real source - fear, anxiety, distress - but also desire and hopefulness.
Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis and Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit invite the community to join them at the 2012 Distinguished Professor Reception and Lecture.
Click here to view the formal invitation (PDF).