The voice of Bill Holm

bill_holm_apc.jpg Bill Holm, whose death we learned about today, was a frequent voice on Minnesota Public Radio and has left plenty behind to listen to.

It appears the last time he was on, however, was Christmas 2007, with the Holiday Stage Session. Unfortunately these archived shows are in RealAudio.

A few months before that, he was Garrison Keillor’s guest on A Prairie Home Companion.

In 2004, during an appearance at the College of St. Benedict, he read from many of his essays.

His poem, “Wedding Poem for Schele and Phil” was read on Writer’s Almanac in May 2003.

The University of Washington hosts the Bill Holm Center. Several lectures are available on its Web site.

The MPR books site also has extensive links surrounding the 2000 Milkweed Editions reissue of The Heart Can be Filled Anywhere on Earth.

Update 12:07 p.m. – MPR’s Marianne Combs will have a look at the life of Bill Holm tonight on All Things Considered. We’re also trying to get some of the digitized audio encoded to a Flash player.

Update 12:36 p.m. — MPR’s Michael Wells has found this 1987 appearance on the old MPR Morning Show:

Update 1:13 p.m. – Garrison Keillor has released this statement:

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.

4:34 p.m. – David Doody’s tribute.

7:15 p.m. – This video has just been posted on YouTube, from Holm’s tribute to Paul Wellstone.

  • Colleen

    Bob, the Bill Holm Center at the U of Washington is named after a different guy altogether.

    And do you suppose somebody on the MPR Web team might address the unfortunate “TIME IS RUNNING OUT!” banner directly above the news item about Bill Holm’s death on the MPR home page?

  • Bob Collins

    Thanks, Colleen. I’ve sent a message over to the propers.

  • Colleen

    Thanks for that. It’s a sad day — Holm was a big presence, a marvelous writer, a dear soul, and a great ranter who had no patience for B.S. in any form. I had been looking forward to reading what he’d write in his retirement.

  • Bill Holm and I had first jobs together at Hampton University’s English department. My vivid memory from that time (1969 at a historically Black University} Bill would shout at young African American’s , “Icelandic Power’s gonna get your Momma.” They, like nearly everyone who met him worried he was crazy and loved him anyway

    Bill had encyclopedic reading and excellent mind, but what distinguishes writing, his teaching, and his person was deeply felt and openly expressed passion, Vitriolic when he thought it necessary; warm and loving at other times. He was passionate about music, about poetry, about life it self.

    These passions gave him such pleasure he wanted to share them with all. He never really grasped that other people didn’t need Bach or Whitman to live. He just thought they didn’t know it yet and he would teach them that they did.

    Bill and I are the same age, So I know he died too young, but I also take heart from the fact that there were in his life very few unlived moments. He was alive to the world, to people, and to art. We have his writing so he can still live for us.

  • Robbie

    I got to know Bill just this past summer in Iceland, his other home. He spent his summers in a little fishing village, writing his beautiful essays and visiting with friends. He was a remarkable man for his brilliance, fierce yet tender prose, and caustic wit. He was also an excellent piano player, and entertained us over scotch. He will be missed.

  • lydia holsten

    my heart goes out to Marcy and all who loved this great Minnesota writer!! His “playing the black piano” – and last line “play your own song. now” has been my tribute to life for a long time. How I will miss this gentle giant’s wisdom. Lydia Holsten

  • Emily Louise Dockendorf

    I personally knew Bill Holm as he was an English Professor of mine at Southwest State University during my freshmen year- 1997+1998- 11+12 years ago now. I took a Global Studies Cluster Class with him- as a select group of students was picked to travel to Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark- it was the best trip of my entire life and I still say that after 12 years now. The Cluster Class focused on Scandinavian Writings, Essays, a Social Work and Welfare Class with Dr. Eric Markusen- who sadly passed away also in January of 2007- he also taught with Bill- and traveled with on this amazing trip. I remember reading Beawolf, literature about Scandinavia, meeting the President of Iceland- when Bill Holm presented the President with gifts from Minnesota, traveling on the ferry between Sweden and Denmark, participating in Journal Entries, Discussion, and this trip/experience has impacted me for the rest of my life- and it continues to do so. This news today, came ironically as the snow is falling down hard here by the shores of Lake Superior and Duluth- I guess, I even had a few tears in my eyes, when the MPR radio announcer announced it- sometimes, things just hit you too personally. I can only hope that he is at peace now and that his works of literature, his stories, teachings, poems, will inspire others- he will be greatly missed. I am grateful for all the memories I have and the travels as well. A sad day for Minnesota- we lost a true, great poet. May he be in peace.

    In tears,

    Emily Louise Dockendorf- Duluth, Minnesota

  • Lucie

    I had intended to go to his Iceland writers’ retreat one of these years, but of course put it off.

  • Jay Peterson

    The first time I met Bill Holm was long before I was re-introduced to him via the early days of A Prairie Home Companion, where his poetry occasionally graced the airwaves of that show’s first few golden, local years. I was hitchiking , without my parents blessing, to Sioux Falls to visit friends, and one late night in July, wound up staying in a town park in Minneota, after a “this is as far as I go” farewell from a farmer who’d picked me up in Mankato. As I prepared to roll out my sleeping bag in a secluded spot away from the town cop’s eyes, I heard extraordinary piano music coming from a block away, so I went over, and found it was this giant red headed man playing for a few hangers-on at the Legion or VFW, following a benefit of some sort. Bill played Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and Bach, and ended the night playing, on a dare, a version of Great Balls of Fire, “the way Chopin would have played it”, as I remember Bill prefacing the tune. I had no idea I would be hearing this same man 5 years later on the radio, and had no idea in 1969 that he was the literary giant he was. Giant, that sums up Bill Holm. He walks the eternal Prairie now with the likes of Bach, Fred Manfred, and Scott Joplin.

  • Iris Surma

    I spent a week in Iceland with Bill and friends in 2006. So happy I did. Bill was a one man band and what vigor and conviction he put into playing his life out. His power was enough to pull us onlookers along, nodding and clapping accompaniment. Did a black haired girl, like the one in his poem with a lovely trained soprano voice appear one evening in Hofsos, a most unlikely place for beatiful black haired girls? And did she sing heartbreakeningly while Bill accompanied her on the piano in his tiny house on the fjord? And was the water sparkling outside across the fjord and were our senses sparkling inside, fueled by drinks and the sheer unlikeliness of the occasion? Only to be expected where Bill was involved. Somehow he shambled through this world so shabby, worn, and disappointing at times, and made us see that along with the sheep manure there was always, always, another poem, view, music piece, emotion, relationship to be celebrated!

  • Maria Arthur

    Never met Bill Holm but heard him in an Interview with Rick Steves about Iceland. I will make sure to read all of his books here in Des Moines, Iowa, to honor such a fine poet who was my age. What a voice, he echoes the prairie from when he came and to which he returned. Sure wish I had known him. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.