Sunday, March 8, 2009

In Memory of Bill Holm

Minnesota writer Bill Holm died on Wednesday, February 25th, at the age of 65. Today there will be a service for him at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 414 E. Lyon Street, Minneota, MN, at 2:30 p.m. Poet Phebe Hanson will serve as an honorary pallbearer. I think the rest of us should take up that role, too, from wherever we happen to be: joining together to honor this big man, collectively bearing the burden of his loss.

I remember Bill – big exuberant, Icelandic enthusiast Bill – coming into Marly Rusoff & Co. Booksellers in Dinkytown, near the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis, back in the mid-70s when The Loft was in its infancy, a series of crowded gatherings upstairs. He was booming, beaming, instantly and always already friendly: a gregarious person comfortable in his own animal skin. Bill didn't seem to bother with neuroses: he moved right ahead to apprehend the world and then give it right back, with the help of Whitman-esque wisdom, salty common sense, leaping poetic northern lights, courage, curiosity, and Icelandic vodka.

Bill played the piano and had this to say about that: “I’ve started another project that pianists shouldn’t avoid for too long, and that is trying to play Chopin decently. I used to make fun of Chopin, but now, the more I play him, the better he gets.”

In the 80s he went to teach in China, then wrote a book called Coming Home Crazy: An Alphabet of China Essays. It's time to revisit that, and to explore Holm's many other books.

Here is an obit from Minnesota Public Radio, and a link to the Bill Holm website. Garrison Keillor once called Bill "the tallest radical humorist in the Midwest," which means something, coming from Garrison.

It seems uncanny that Bill died the week before Ian Parker's Letter from Reykjavík, "Lost," appeared in The New Yorker, in the March 9th 2009 issue. The article is about the recent economic crash in Iceland, the kreppa, or crisis resulting from extraordinary speculation on the part of a handful of bankers. We can only imagine what Bill must have thought about that.

There are many other tributes to Bill accumulating on the web, with the ripple effects of his departure from our small world of box elder bugs and black pianos, boats against an ice blue sky. You can see a short video of him reading a poem to school children about the death of Paul Wellstone, here at Mike Hazard's website for The Center for International Education. I wish I could be at Bill's service today, directly marking the passage of his great, generous soul.

1 comment:

Joyce said...

Elena, thank you for your beautiful tribute to Bill Holm.

We homestead in our bodies too,
a few years, and then go back
in a circle
faster than the speed of light.

from A Circle of Pitchforks
Bill Holm