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

one a.m.
              and she has been sleeping
two hours
                       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
                                          he's writing
moving a few of his smaller bones

words like love and hurt
kindness unkindness blindness
ecstasy jealousy anger
                that too
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


Robert Berner said...

Lal--Red Cats was our fist intro to poets like Yevtushenko and Voznesensky, and I was eternally grateful to Anselm Hollo for that. And in the early 60s Hollo's own work was a lively counter to the almost desperate last gasps of the formalists, fugitives, and agrarian reactionaries.
Bob B.

Lally said...

You got that right Bob, on both counts.

tpw said...

Thanks for including that poem in the post. He was a natural, incredibly talented, and not even writing in his mother tongue. We crossed paths only a few times, but his keen intelligence & contagious exuberance were hard to miss.

tom said...

Always enjoyed his poetry -

Lucian Stryk passed away last week, another good poet and translator.

Lally said...

"keen intelligence and contagious exuberance" is a perfect description of Anselm tpw. And tom, I didn't know Stryk but knew of him and his work, and may he rest in poetry as well.

richard lopez said...

I didn't know Stryk passed away either. had just reread stryk's intro to a volume of Ikkyu this weekend. a fine poet, a wonderful translator.

Hollo's work i love for its jubilance and keen intelligence. first discovered him in an anthology of poets' journals. then later bought in a used bookstore SOJOURNER MICROCOSMS which has become a sort of bible to me over the years.

he's a great poet. i never knew him in the flesh but i know him through his poems.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked... I never expected to find this news tonight. What an elegant man he was, and Josie was so friendly and charming...a terrific hostess.
Anselm took an interest in Arnold, when Arnold lived in Iowa City one semester. Thank you for posting this...I will let Harry and others know.


Lally said...

I hear you Richard.
And Suzanne, thanks for letting Harry and others know. It's amazing to me that Anselm, Ted and Arnold are all gone now, at least in the flesh, but their work lives on and that too is amazing to me.

Bob said...

Sad to hear of Hollo's passing. Oddly, on my nightstand, I have 2 of is chapbooks I've been reading (borrowed from Nick Muska): Lingering Tangos, and Isadora and Other Poems.

I've always loved his poetry and think he's one of the most original of poets - always fresh and surprising.

Also wasn't aware of Stryk's passing. Thanks for keeping the poetry community informed, even if it's bad news.

Lally said...

Nick! How's he doing Bob?

Robert Berner said...

Dear Lal--By now we should be getting used to it: our classmates, colleagues, and contemporaries are dying. From our own time in the Iowa Workshop, we've already lost Morton Marcus, Frank Polite,Steve Orlen, and Mike Culross, not to mention teachers like George Starbuck and Don Justice. So be well. And keep your weather-eye pealed--the Reaper is lurking around every corner.
Bob B.

Lally said...

You forgot Steve Shrader.

Robert Berner said...

So I did. Sorry. By now there are probably others. Bob B.

Robert Slater said...

Anselm was always extremely nice to me and used to make it to Kansas City to see me and read where I teach. Eric Torgerson had it right when he said everyone in Iowa City loved Josie. I still hear from her now and then. I have very fond memories of that great time we had at Wabash College in 1973 with Anselm, Etheridge Knight, and Ray DiPalma. We met Nick Muska there too, and I heard he just spent the month of January in Negril. Every time I had a student who was struggling with line breaks, I would refer them to Anselm's work. I haven't seen him in many years.

Bob said...

Michael - Nick Muska's doing fine as is his wife Susan. Nick has a collection coming out of poems he's written from his yearly winter trips to Jamaica. Good stuff.

That reminds me of the first Hollo poem I ever read - a recipe poem called Good Stuff Cookies.

Bob Phillips