Anselm Hollo’s Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence

I’ve finished the first 100 pages of Anselm Hollo’s Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence, a collection of his poems written from 1965-2000. So far, I’m trying to remember exactly why I bought this collection. I guess it was because I like the selection of his poems found in Postmodern Poetry.

I looked back at what I wrote then, and I still liked the two poems that I wrote about, so I’m waiting for some subtle shifts in the poems as I get further along in the collection.

Probably the best, and the worst, thing about reading his poetry is that it has managed to drop my resting heart rate to a record low of 55, the slowest I’ve ever seen it, and that’s after two hours of rigorous exercise this morning.

It’s clear why he is sometimes associated with the Beat Poets. Even the poems I like best suggest some similarities to their work, like this one:

DEDICATION: A TOKE FOR LI PO

born in pa-hsi province
of szechwan
lived muchos años
at the court of the emperor

ming huang, but was banished
as a result of falling
in disfavor? with the empress
kao li-shih, & wandered about china thereafter

only occasionally attached to a patron
leading a “dissolute” life, addicted? to drink
writing the poems about the joys of that life

notably wine, & woman, & all the rest
& agitation of the sensational universe

came to his death by falling
out of a boat & drowning
in an attempt to have intimate intercourse
with the moon

one of those of
whom it is said:

“he took the charge well”

Despite the fact that I’ve never toked anything, Li Po was the first Chinese poet I ever read (in Pound’s rather poor translation, if you’re to believe this) . That encounter led me to take a Chinese literature course in grad school, which, in turn, led in so many directions that I’m unable to trace them all, but remember nearly all of them fondly.

I’ve been more addicted to poems than other forms of intoxication, so it’s not hard for me to identify with the stanza

came to his death by falling
out of a boat & drowning
in an attempt to have intimate intercourse
with the moon

My love of poetry hasn’t caused my death, obviously, but, beginning with college, it certainly had a dramatic effect on my life, mostly in positive ways, but certainly at the cost of other possibilities that I never explored.

6 thoughts on “Anselm Hollo’s Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence

  1. very interesting reconfiguration of the death of Li Po, who was deeply influenced by Daoism. therefore, the moon, as well as water, might mean the Great Mother for him. so, the death will be the Yang man dissolves in the Yin moon-water.

  2. Thanks for the interesting insight, noel.

    In western literature, the moon often represents (poetic) inspiration or lunacy, which may not be too different depending on your perspective.

  3. My copy of the Norton Post-Modern Anthology is permanently creased at Hollos’ selections. “Shed the Fear” and “Godlike”, two of my favorites. I’m going to have to look for a copy of Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence. For Li Po, I discoverd the master on a rainy Spring night a year after I graduated with my English BA, directionless, without a clue where to go, but developing something I always want have in the back of my life, no matter how hectic and absurd the next 30 years of middle age might get.

  4. How rare to find someone writing about the joys of the life of an addict. Wonder what was meant by He took the charge well, a line given prominence in this poem. My dictionary defines charge as to give instruction to or command authoritatively. One reading might be that he took the charge of the empress well by attaining banishment (my quick google search of Kao li-shih turned up a eunuch but no empress). Another, probably more likely, is that the poet is saying Li Po took the charge of his own desire well by giving in to it, ultimately and probably inevitably to his own death. Maybe the point isn’t in Li Po’s submission to appetite, but his living a true life according to his nature. What do you think?

  5. Pretty tough to sort out what Anselm meant by his interpretation of Li Po’s life. The legend, and I suspect it’s little more than that, was that he tried “to embrace” the moon, which isn’t quite the same as having “intimate intercourse” in my mind. As Noel points out, the moon is a Daoist symbol and Li Po was known for the Taoist elements in his poetry.

    The editors of Sunflower Splendor suggest that Li Po’s lifestyle is “actually a reflection of High T’ang cultural milieu and is shared by many of his contemporaries…” I doubt that a true alcoholic could have attained the political status he did and write the number of poems he did, much less be ranked as one of the greatest premodern Chinese poets.

    I still think that Hollo, as suggested by phrases like “lived muchos años,” is purposely keeping the tone “light” or “comical,” which is not to deny that the Beat poets seem to like to flout their “addictions” in the face of middle Americans.

  6. as far as i understand, the addiction is more of a gesture/stance than a sympton (as it is understood nowadays). Li Po’s addiction was obviously not a pyschological dependence on alcohol (or moon). As Loren’s quote suggests, the addiction is a lifestyle or a pretense of a lifestyle. a later poet said to his friends: if i got drunk and fell asleep, you may go without any leave-taking. all this will-to-drunkness is a way to show the “freedom” from social protocals, or a “poetic license” of being a poet. for those serving in an imperial court, what else can be employed as an excuse but being a drunk poet? Maybe this is also what Hollo tries to say in “lived muchos años”.

What do you think?