Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Anselm Hollo passed today and will be greatly missed by many who knew him, or just knew his poetry. Originally from Finland, he made his mark in England and later the USA as an English language poet.
The first book of his I discovered was a City Lights pocket book of his translations of some Russian poets back in the 1950s called RED CATS. When I met Anselm in early 1968, I still had that book and told him what an impact it had on me. But he seemed dismissive of it, having changed his mind about it, at least in that moment. Or maybe it was a reaction to my radical politics which at the time caused me to be a little enamored with aspects of the Russian experience.
This occurred at the party for my first child's, Caitlin, Baptism party in a funky little apartment in "downtown" Iowa City. Anselm came to the fest with an offering to my then wife Lee, also a poet, of a bouquet of flowers he had pulled up from the lawn in front of an official building. Lee fell in love with him, as did many of the ladies present, with his exotic Finnish accent and eyes so light blue they seemed to illuminate the space around him, not to mention his grown up poet's style and facial hair.
I did too, in my way, because despite my initial disappointment at his dismissal of my love of RED CATS, he instantly included me into his circle of engagement with poetry and all things creative, including his family with his lovely wife Josie, who I had an instant crush on. And I included him into mine.
I remember at that party Lee and I passed out kitchen pots and whatever musical instruments we had and everyone contributed to a cacophony of percussion and squeaks and rattles and guitar chords and penny whistle melodies for a unique serenade for our new daughter, which Anselm joined on a tin pot, adding that great laugh of his to the symphony.
Another fond memory is of visiting Anselm and Josie in their house in Iowa City, and after inducing the proper mood for listening to music in 1968 (or it may have been '69 just before Lee and I and our daughter split for DC) he sat me down in a chair (was it Anselm that had the barber's chair in his place, or was that someone else in Iowa City) and put ear phones on me after asking me to tell him what I thought I was listening to.
The sounds were so pure and primal, with a sense of water in their reverb, that I guessed it was an infant in the womb, but it turned out to be that first recording of whales communicating with each other or simply singing. An amazing experience for which I had Anselm to thank. And there were many like it, whether his turning me on to various poets and other writers, or arguing and discussing our sometimes different tastes in music and other arts, or politics. But I remember all these encounters as always being filled with a kind of love and appreciation unlike any other person I've ever known.
I saw Anselm again periodically over the years after we both moved on from Iowa City (where he taught in the Poetry workshop and I was a grad student), in DC and later New York in the years I was living there or after I had returned to Jersey [and with the love of his later years, Jane, another amazing woman he was fortunate to have as a mate]. As often happens with me, and may for you too, I didn't keep in touch as much as I intended to. But fortunately, when it comes to writers we can always keep in some kind of touch by reading their recent work, which I did.
But as an example of Anselm's approach to the poem, I'd like to leave you with one he wrote back in the Iowa City days. His best friend there and for life was the poet Ted Berrigan, who was also teaching in the Poetry Workshop, and who also treated me as an equal rather than a student, maybe because I was older than most of the other students, having spent over four years in the service, and I had a family, and in Ted's case I also came from Irish-American working-class East Coast roots similar to his.
in 1969 to celebrate their friendship, Ted and Anselm had one poem each, written in Iowa City, published by a local fine small press publisher, Tom Miller, as a beautiful little book. Well, not so "little" in shape, it was eleven inches by four-and-a-half, but just four pages, which with the two poems had a very lightly printed photo of each poet that folded in, so that while you read each poem you could also look at the faded photo of its author with their signature above it.
Here's Anselm's (with a tiny reference to Lord Buckley in one choice of words that only those of us from those times may get):
He She Because How
and she has been sleeping
is still asleep
didn't marry him 'only to sleep'
but does now
because she's tired because
he's been unkind? because
feeling her bones through her sleep
on the floor in their other room
because she's her kind of woman
because he's his kind of man
and because she is sleeping
moving a few of his smaller bones
words like love and hurt
kindness unkindness blindness
ecstasy jealousy anger
sweetness of making it with you
how do those words hang together
how does his hand move the pen
how do he (plus) she (equals) it hang together
on their still beautiful
(though in this case
slightly bent) frames?
two a.m. questions
now make him sleepy too
he'll go wake her up
they won't feel the same