I was saddened to find out, via Jilly Dybka’s Poetry Hut Blog, that Minnesota poet Bill Holm passed away on February 25th at age 65. You can find a lovely article with a haunting photo of the man in his home landscape here.
I’m not as familiar with Holm’s work as I wish I was, even though I’ve enjoyed his collection The Dead Get By with Everything each of the many times I’ve read it. Maybe because he wrote out of an inviolably authentic place within himself, Holm was able to write about almost anything, from politics and landscape to friendships and the process of learning a language. Here’s an example:
THE ICELANDIC LANGUAGE
In this language, no industrial revolution;
no pasteurized milk; no oxygen, no telephone;
only sheep, fish, horses, water falling.
The middle class can hardly speak it.
In this language, no flush toilet; you stumble
through dark and rain with a handful of rags.
The door groans; the old smell comes
up from under the earth to meet you.
But this language believes in ghosts;
chairs rock by themselves under the lamp; horses
neigh inside an empty gully, nothing
at the bottom but moonlight and black rocks.
The woman with marble hands whispers
this language to you in your sleep; faces
come to the window and sing rhymes; old ladies
wind long hair, hum, tat, fold jam inside pancakes.
In this language, you can’t chit-chat
holding a highball in your hand, can’t
even be polite. Once the sentence starts its course,
all your grief and failure come clear at last.
Old inflections move from case to case,
gender to gender, softening consonants, darkening
vowels, till they sound like the sea moving
icebergs back and forth in its mouth.
I’m not quite sure why I didn’t keep up with Holm’s writings, but somehow my telescope got aimed at other regions of the sky. The good news is that Holm authored or co-authored lots of books, most still in print—so we’ll all be able to receive his particular wisdom for a long while yet.