Bill Holm, Gone Ahead These Many Years…

Bill and I and Gene McCarthy would sometimes go poeting together. I was publishing McCarthy’s poetry and when Gene was in Minnesota I would try to work out combined appearances, usually in bookstores, but often in bars and cafes – just about anywhere a venue was open.

Poeting means much more than just reading poems – it’s an entire evening of storytelling… If there was a piano handy Bill would pound out a tune or three to go with whatever versifying came to him. Always improvisational, never scripted. Cafes and bars were actually preferable – because there was always food and drink to be had. Whisky is one of the essential food groups for poets and raconteurs.

Gene was as much (or more) scholar as poet and might take a flight through Austin Clarke and get to Yeats over fifteen minutes or so, and then recite Yeats by the yard before getting on to some of his own. If the house was lively, the night could go on for hours – nobody kept time, except I sometimes ran short of film.

If you’re lucky, if your stars align, some time in your life you may have a singularity moment. I once had one (Gene wouldn’t say) but Bill had an extraordinary one. Bill was all Viking, an Icelander who could trace it all back to first settlement on that volcanic rock. When he finally had the means he bought a farm on the NE coast, then spent time hunting his 1,000 year family. When a farm kid, or anyone who has grown up on a farm, talks about The Home Farm there’s a deeper than apparent meaning to the phrase, because it connotes a connection to the deep time of one’s ancestors. I had a Home Farm – for me there’ll always be a touch of reverence about it. Bill was able to trace his kin to a working farm, still connected to his family, and he paid a visit. The way the farm was run was essentially medieval – wooden tools, leather this n that, not much iron. As he was standing by the barn, a young woman came out, carrying a wooden milk pail, and as she walked out from under the eaves of the barn into the sunlight it struck Bill – and I really do mean STRUCK – that in that moment he was seeing all the generations of his family that had ever been, telescoping from the now back to the misty beginning of everything. A moment of epiphany. A live connection to eternity that’ll jolt you, if you’re lucky enough to experience it. You will not be the same afterward.

So here’s to you Bill Holm. Keep a dram or ten aside for me.