Thursday, October 24, 2013

In Minnesota, I remember Bill Holm

Minnesota is beautiful. While traveling through it last week, I remembered the poet Bill Holm, whose books I found several years ago. He is descended from immigrants who came in the waves of  Icelandic-US immigration at the end of the 19th Century.  Although widely traveled, he spent much of his life in Minnesota, where he was born, and where he taught and wrote. Later in his life he spent summers in a small house in Brimnes, Iceland, with windows overlooking the sea. I was just looking him up in Wikipedia when I chanced upon this small (26 minute) video about him, which I why I am a little late starting to write tonight, since I watched the whole well-put-together thing.

Bill Holm has written the most delightful, original-concept book I know, Boxelder Bug Variations.  I am reminded how much I love it every late summer, when they start to try moving into the house of my daughter in their vast  bug multitudes. Here is a description of this slender, yellow-covered book from a review in Independent Publisher, reprinted on

"We move from poems to meditations, from a conversation with an entomologist to an essay on clavichords and fugues, from musical scores ("Boxelders on Parade," "Bach's Elder Lament," "Boxelder Gavotte") to fables, haiku, and even a bit of family and local history. In short, if it's hard to pin down exactly what this book is, it's not at all hard to be delighted, charmed, even provoked by it. What Holm ultimately reminds us has to do with overlooking the socalled insignificant things, and in so doing overlooking the power of imagination itself. For it is imagination that is the real subject of this book, as in this typically Holm-sian poem with the improbable title "Isak Dinesen, When She Was Old, Dined Only On Oysters, White Grapes, And Champagne. The Boxelder Bug, Too, practices A Parsimonious Though Elegant Diet": "The bug slides/out from behind/the radio dial/where all winter/he lived/eating music." For those of us who have not forgotten that small and unpretentious things are the most durable and surprising subjects for Art, this book is a rare, wonderful, and most welcome gift." 

Tonight I have chosen this poem to share from Holm's Playing the Black Piano, which was reprinted in his The Chain Letter of the Soul; new and selected poems, Milkweed Editions, 2009, page 157. This book would be a good place to see Bill Holm's poetry and pleasing persona.

Icelandic Recycling on a Summer Night

Toward midnight, the sky pinks up/
The low cloud at the bottom of Tindastoll
turns the color of wild grapes.
Inside four women sit around a table,
oblivious to natural phenomena,
folding plastic bags
into neat white triangles,
"Ever so much nicer to store!"
They are performing women's work:
Tidying up the garbage
until it looks like modern sculpture.
They have seen it all before:
midnight sun, revolution, disease, chaos.
Their female wisdom comprehends
there is nothing to be done about chaos,
except bring order and harmony
to plastic bags as if they were
wandering children needing to be tucked
in neatly for the long night.

                           -----Bill Holm

It seems to me that we know so much about war, murders, oppressions of one kind or another, that there is much we can gain by taking a longer view, and by trying to bring order and harmony where we are, and beginning to realize that we cannot cure all the world's ills and foolishness by throwing ourselves into counter-actions, or violent oppositions. I wish I knew how to put this in a better way and maybe even one as short as one haiku,

But that will be a job for tomorrow, and the next day.

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