Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bill Holm

Bill Holm, the wonderful Icelandic-Minnesotan poet and essayist, died yesterday. I knew him slightly through my friend John Rezmerski, who had been friends with Bill since graduate school. It's hard to describe Bill. Garrison Keillor did pretty well. This is what Keillor wrote:

Bill Holm was a great man and unlike most great men he really looked like one. Six-foot-eight, big frame, and a big white beard and a shock of white hair, a booming voice, so he loomed over you like a prophet and a preacher which is what he was. He was an only child, adored by his mother, and she protected him from bullies and he grew up free to follow his own bent, and become the sage of Minneota, a colleague of Whitman though born a hundred years too late, a champion of Mozart and Bach, playing his harpsichord on summer nights, telling stories about the Icelanders, and thundering about how the young have lost their way and abandoned learning and culture in favor of grease and noise.

He thundered with the best of them though he had a gentle heart. He was an English prof who really loved literature and he could buttonhole you and tell you he'd just finished reading Dickens again and how wonderful it was. He got himself into print pretty well and anyone picking up his "Windows of Brimnes" or "The Music of Failure" or "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth" will get the real Holm.

He hated Minnesota winters and maybe that's what killed him, flying back from beautiful Patagonia to the wind-swept tundra and thinking about having to shovel out his house in Minneota.

I'm glad he got to see Barack elected, which restored some of his faith in his countrymen. I wish I'd been there to catch him as he fell. I hope his Icelandic ancestors are waiting to welcome him to their rocky corner of heaven. I hope his piano goes to someone who will love it as much as he did. I hope that people all across Minnesota will pick up one of his books and see what the man had to say.


An amazing guy. The first time I went to Iceland, it was to take a writing workshop led by Bill and the very fine Icelandic-Canadian writer David Arnason. The second time I went, John Rezmerski and I ran a science fiction writing workshop in northern Iceland, near where Bill had his summer home; and our workshop visited Bill and his workshop in Hofsos. I keep planning to go back to Iceland. I expected to vist Bill in Hofsos.These have not been good times for Icelanders lately, either the ones in the homeland or us in the west.

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