Skip to main content

Mark Halliday

My friendship with Martin has very often involved enjoying our disagreements.  We bonded initially in our shared admiration for Kenneth Koch;  but before long we realized we loved different aspects of Koch's work.  For Martin, Koch's genius is in the insouciant unpredictable quick-shifting comedy;  whereas my favorite poems by Koch are (while partly humorous) discursive / argumentative / coherently narrative.

When Martin and I have co-written short plays, usually I am trying to hold together some sort of plot continuity while Martin is trying to explode it all with digressions or contradictions or swerves.  I love this energy in him -- as also in Koch, and in Dean Young -- even if I've often tried to "push back" on it.
One of my favorite Stannard poems is a satire of poetry textbooks, with their busy-bee swarms of "Points for Discussion and Writing".   I've never wanted to write such a textbook, but I'm probably much more sympathetic to the effort in creating such a textbook than Martin is.  His poem pretends to guide teachers who will be teaching a poem that refers to an imaginary painting of naval warfare:  "As They Lay Battering of Her With Their Ordnance".  Teachers are invited to ask students such questions as "Does this poem have a beginning, middle, and end?"  "What if the title had been 'Water Buffalo'? / Would it have been more beautiful?"

In the last ten lines Stannard provides the teachers with background facts about the imaginary poem and its author;  these facts apparently will enable the teachers to seem supremely knowledgeable to the students:

    "The title of this poem has a complicated history.
     It is based on Loussain's painting 'They Durst Not Board Her'
     in which the principal and greatest of four Spanish galliases
     is assaulted by divers English pinnaces, hoys, and drumblers.
     At the time of the writing of the poem,
     the poet was living alone, estranged from his wife and,
     in his own words, 'unable to find someone to be my bed-mate.'
     The overheard speech is that of Portuguese sailors.
     Ask students to discuss the poem
     before you reveal this information."

I love that passage.  It makes you reconsider how you yourself may have "taught" pretentiously allusive poems in pretentiously unclear ways.  And it makes you want to hear Stannard explain the difference between a hoy and a drumbler.




Copyright © Mark Halliday, 2022





Popular posts from this blog

David Belbin

There's nothing like getting it wrong . MARTIN STANNARD AT SEVENTY I first encountered Martin through his poems in 1987, when Wide Skirt Press published The Flat of the Land . The title poem, which also opened the collection, was a revelation. The style owed a lot to the New York Poets, who I had recently discovered, but also felt fresh, funny and self deprecating in a very English way. Two years later, John Harvey's Slow Dancer press published a new and selected called The Gracing of Days , then Wide Skirt press published Denying England . I loved both collections: the voice, Martin's laconic yet romantic view of the world, the string of humour tightly laced throughout. I dragged a bunch of my A level students to a Slow Dancer reading in the basement of Nottingham's Old Vic pub. Martin was appearing alongside a young whippersnapper called Simon Armitage, who John had also published a pamphlet by. I primed the students for the reading with a sheet of poems by b

Introduction by Ian McMillan

Sometime in the very early 1980’s I was doing a reading for Martin Stannard somewhere in Ipswich and I was staying over at Martin’s house. On the way back from the gig his car broke down spectacularly, gasping and wheezing, then clanking and sighing, then moaning and complaining, then dying. The night was clear and Martin and I stood outside the car waiting for the RAC and gazing at the stars and I realised, not for the first time and not for the last, that I was living in a Martin Stannard poem and that it was an exciting place to live. When I first read Martin’s poems and started subscribing to his wonderful magazine Joe Soap’s Canoe I was excited that he took his influences from absolutely everywhere. At the time a number of us were writing in the shadow of Ted Hughes and The Mersey Poets and our lenses were crowded with our visceral reactions to Thatcherism’s vicious flowering but Martin seemed to look wider than the rest of us; he took in John Ashbery and surrealism, a kind of cra

Alan Baker

I came to Martin Stannard's poetry relatively late, when, at a book fair, I picked up a pamphlet entitled "Easter" (published 1994). The easy, familiar tone and the quick wit drew me in to what was at first just a pleasant read. Then, imperceptibly, the poetry took me to to a zone of wonder and disorientation that was exhilirating. Fast forward twenty-six years and, by 2020, I had the honour of being Martin's publisher, when the third title of his that I published, "Reading Moby Dick and Other Matters", was released. It's a beautiful object (I can say that as the book design was all Martin's). And the title poem, "Reading Moby Dick" has all the features I'd been struck by in "Easter" but with an added sophistication that the intervening years of poetic practice had brought to it. It opens with a knowing dodgy joke - "Call me optimistic..." which sets the tone of irreverence and tongue-in-cheek meandering