Sunday, March 8, 2009

"My Home, My Citizenship, My Burden"

Bill Holm (1943-2009)

Minnesota lost its poet laureate on February 25th. Bill Holm was a literary institution in his home state, as well as in those circles that understand and appreciate a unique subset of American regional poetry: the hardscrabble social radical who takes nourishment from the soil without over-romanticizing those who plow its fields. An imposing figure from Icelandic stock, standing some 6'8", Holm more closely resembled a conquering Viking than a carver of words. While he strode the earth from China to Iceland, he spent most of his writing life sequestered in that part of southwestern Minnesota where Spring fears for its life and Summer waves goodbye from a fast-moving freight train.

Like most great regional writers (a winner of the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award), Holm's thoughts speak a truth far beyond a state's borders. His essay on failure, Uncle Sam-style, should be required reading in every high school classroom that continues to spread saccharin over American studies like a heavy tarp. He who dies with the most toys still dies, and is not any richer for the experience. Holm's poem on the death of Senator Paul Wellstone is a lament for that peace voice cut short while the more sanguinary songstresses continued to bleat out a war beat. For those who have never lived beyond the leaf blower sounds of the urban landscape, his words will feel both foreign and unpretentiously quiet. For those of us who grew up in the cold, flat lands of the Midwest and have drifted away from our roots, his poems and essays are a comforting reminder that those who do go back home again will not find the world so alien after all.

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