Saturday, February 09, 2013

You say HOLLO. God says GOODBYE. "Lyricist" Anselm Hollo

My favorite living poet is no longer alive.

He was the author of dozens of acclaimed poetry books, and also a professor (you can't make a living off poems). The finish line for Finnish-born "beat poet" Anselm Hollo loomed this past summer when he underwent brain surgery. He died of pneumonia January 29, at 78.

Like Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Rexroth, Hollo's early work was spiked with varied amounts of hip and frank language and a sense of humor. With these American wiseguys leading the charge (inspired by such groundbreaking older crackpots as Vachel Lindsay and e.e. cummings), Hollo, migrating to England, joined a bunch of like-minded Brit "beats" in re-defining poetry. This included readings at the "International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall" in June of 1965 (before Dylan outraged anyone there). I got to know Hollo's work via a college poetry course that required the purchase of the Penguin paperback "Children of Albion: Poetry of the Underground in Britain."

The book, first published in 1969, was dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, whom Hollo translated into German (Hollo translated a lot of writers into a lot of other languages, with a popular anthology "Red Cats" giving Russian poets some exposure in English). Anselm was greatly admired by his peers, including Ted Berrigan who named his son after him (no, not Hollo Berrigan…). Yes, I am very proud of my autographed copy of "Howl," with its drawing and personalization from Allen, but I equally treasure the autograph Mr. Hollo gave me on "Pomology," a poem I felt should be printed out on high quality paper and framed. Especially with the poet's signature at the bottom.

In the poem, Hollo says you can eat an apple a day, or write a poem a day. And…"Any doctor will tell you it is easier to eat an apple than to make a poem. It is also easier to eat a poem than to make an apple but only just…" You can hunt around on your own to find the beginning and end of that one. The "Albion" book has it, as well as "A warrant is out for the arrest of Henry Miller" which was originally published in 1962 when "smelling of garlic & good fucks" was NOT the kind of line that Poetry Magazine would publish. They eventually did publish some of Hollo's more sedate works. "Any News from Alpha Centauri," published in Poetry in January 1969 had no tired allusions to mythos. A few lines dropped culture references far more modern, including The Mothers (of Invention). Not that it's easy to decipher why:

"in the bar there was a photo of Albert Eintein, a photo of Franz Kafka in the rented room/Louisiana Man by Bobbie Gentry in the bar/Mozart and The Mothers in the rented room/eyes and voices screens of solitude/he remembered the touch of a pair of hands…"

Actually I was always more attracted to Hollo's humble and conversational pieces, curios that didn't require a Rubik's Cube brain to figure out, ones which could hit you more like an Edward Hopper painting and give you an emotion right away. Some of his best poems were about the disconnected individual. Hollo's short "hello" poem for example:

"The phone rings. I lift the receiver. I say Hello to some utter stranger. he says Hello I am I. he told me to phone you whenever I get here. & so I did I did get here I'm phoning you now. this is a phone & I'm talking."

In the poem "& i heard a man, telling the sky," a mild man begins to roil with rage: "I have spoken kindly without causing offense I have spoken kindly, politely to customs officials…to policemen lifting me out of the rain into the shelter of well-built cells to presidents, ministers, headwaiters & whores all wanting to sell me what I never asked for…." The man plots his revenge but in the guise of "a peaceful Chirico puppet receding into the calm perspectives of the city pushing a red wheelbarrow full of plastic explosives crossing borders unnoticed in the guise of a walking egg…" (Pardon for not breaking the lines up the way they originally are on the page).

Hollo eventually came to America, found his refuge in Academia, contributed to poetry magazines and anthologized his works, and along with his second wife lived in a damn nice big home near the University of Colorado at Boulder. He also taught at the colorfully named Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, at Naropa University. Some of his lectures are over at the site for free download. In 2001 he was "elected" (by the POETICS bunch) as "anti-laureate," in response to the sappy, pretentious and dusty dopes who, thanks to politics and favoritism, would be appointed "Poet Laureate" to deliver some embarrassingly trite "official poem" for an inauguration or Library of Congress fete.

OK. This is a music blog…happily, Anselm Hollo joins it thanks to modern jazz composer Frank Carlberg (born in Finland). For his concept album "The Crazy Woman," Frank turned a set of modern poems into "lyrics," mated to the kind of music that, well, most "music loving" bloggers just can't deal with. "Dark Side of the Moon" or Zappa, yeah, but anything just a little wilder than Hendrix doing the fucking "Star Spangled Banner," uh, no, man. So you haven't found Carlberg's album in some forum, or stolen from a forum and posted to a blog with the password Fukhof. It has not been labeled "not to be missed" by some Swedish meatball stuck in the year 1968 and re-upping the Strawberry Alarm Clock. And it languishes at Amazon where you might get a 30 second sample, and Carlberg might get a nickel for every .99 cent download.

Not TOO far from the world of Zappa, or Yma Sumac, is "modern jazz" or "avant-garde jazz" or "annoying jazz" as most would call it, with vocals by Christine Correa. She has the task of keeping the words relevant under the smatters, smears and stutters of a jazz band clearly bent on doing something, anything, but Gershwin, Waller or even Miles or Brubeck.

The poems on the concept album include, among others, "Life is Sick" and "I Clearly Saw" from Jack Kerouac, "Veins" from Marina Tsvetayeva ("my veins slashed open…my life gushes forth….") "The Snow Man" by Wallace Stevens, "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, and "The Crazy Woman" by Anna Akhmatova. Anselm has 3 poems, most of any writer Carlberg chose. The CD opens ("Godlike") and closes ("No Way & Now) with Hollo (you get these below) and there's a third poem in the middle, "Frogman." All the "lyrics" are very short. "Godlike" is only a few lines, so they are repeated three different times: "When you suddenly/feel like talking/about the times/in your life when you were/a total idiot asshole you resist/the impulse/&just sit there/at the head of the table/beaming."

"No way & Now" is even briefer. There's a death rattle in it, especially listening now that Mr. Hollo is gone: "…still cold& worse & gone & colder tonight & no way no…"

Let's end this obit-with-music by quoting the first two lines of a poem by Frances Horovitz, who naturally was chosen to be included in the Michael Horovitz "Albion" anthology where I first encountered Hollo. The poem is called "love poem" and the opening lines are:

your total absence

rehearsal of my death.

Thus does an obit point a bony finger at the reader's own mortality.

Goodbye, Hollo. Your works are still on the page. Where are you?

Christine Correa Two Songs with Poem-Lyrics by Anselm Hollo

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