Final Comments on Anselm Hollo

I finally finished Anselm Hollo’s Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence , and I’ll have to admit that I was a little disappointed as his style of poetry really isn’t quite my cup of tea, though as I’ve also pointed out there are a number of poems I quite liked.

My favorite poems are the simplest ones, ones like

Sunset Caboose

“freight train, freight train
going so fast”
old lights depart

brain’s, heart’s
gregarious troubles
take them out

one by one
to the great compost

but look at the bee
on its way
to what is brought out of light

that rely on clear, relatively simple lines to convey their message. Of course, as usual, personal preferences often dictate whether a poem does or does not resonate with a reader. The fact that I’ve been focusing on “light” in my photographs might actually prejudice me towards this poem, and the “compost” metaphor, as used in Whitman’s “This Compost,” is a metaphor that particularly appeals to me.

Certainly the baggage we carry has becomes more and more obvious as I’ve aged and found much of it meaningless. Emerson’s “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind” comes to mind.

As I’ve said previously, I generally admire Hollo’s sense of humor, a trait in short supply in most of my favorite poets. I think I loved this poem

Big Furry Buddha in Back Yard

it’s a made-up name
his real name is Bailey
all names are made-up

full moon &
our bats are back
bat is flutterer fluttermouse

verbal tea leaves interim moments

loony toon galaxy at bottom of page cup

world symphony much the same
they’ve just added more instruments
place used to be run by two big bunches of liars
now there is only one big bunch

who cares full moon &
our bats are back
bat is flutterer fluttermouse

from the moment I read the title. The first line of the poem merely added to the humor. The non-sensical link to that and the image of the bats, merely added to the overall tone of the poem. Why let the fact that our world is run by “only one big bunch” of liars ruin your day. Revel in the full moon and the bats who celebrate the night.

Didn’t the buddha already tell you that the world is full of sorrow?

Hollo’s “Turn Off the News”

At his best, as in this poem


anxiety gallops through chatter
fading century’s martial insanities
brain struggles to sum up “shut up”
articulation fails
walking shadow slides across faces

dusk over epitaphs
ash hair rusty litanies

dead friends and rain
paradise is an idiot
bones vines cold day
old vulture in airlock

scorpion dust

Anselm Hollo seems like the Kurt Vonnegut of modern poetry, forcing us to see the world in new ways, that is, as it really is rather than as we’ve been told it is.

Our whole lives we’ve been told it’s important to watch the news, that our democracy depends on us doing so.

Hollo tells us, “It ain’t so. Turn it off.”

He’s absolutely right. I can quit feeling guilty about not watching the news. Of course, it might be that Hollo’s simply one more old crotchety guy whose backside starts to ache when he’s forced to sit too long.

It’s not a bad sign that the major network news programs are suffering a major decline in audience. It’s a good sign. Perhaps people realize just how meaningless the evening news has become. (Yeah, I know. That’s a stretch. But if they’re watching The Daily Show instead, it could be true.)

When’s the last time you actually learned something worth learning by watching the evening news on ABC, CBS, or NBC?

If you’re really convinced like the networks seem to be that the only good news is bad news, you probably deserve what you’re watching.

Unfortunately, at his worst Hollo also reminds me of The Daily Show, since it seems like many of his poems must have been written for a different audience than me. That’s probably the danger of any off-beat approach, humorous or not.


I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that I like Hollo’s later poems more than his earlier poems, which is not to say that I’d rank him up there with Roethke or even Robinson Jeffers.

Even when he’s serious, as he is here in


to arrive in front of large video screen,
in pleasantly air-conditioned home with big duck pond in back,
some nice soft drinks by elbow, some good american snacks as well.
at least four hundred grand in the bank, and that’s for checking
an undisclosed amount in investments, and a copacetic evening
watching the latest military techné
wipe out poverty everywhere in the world
in its most obvious form, the poor

he manages to do so without sounding too serious. The truth of his insights, though, can be seen when you notice this poem was published in 1983, and is not just a knee-jerk reaction to the Bush-Cheney cabal. Perhaps its humorous tone makes it all the more effective.

I’m also fond of an even lighter poem,


One day’s
big event was when

the cardboard
box I had set on

top of logs burning
in the grate toppled out

of the fireplace in a lively
state of combustion

perhaps because it reminds me of my own life in retirement where the biggest aggravation of the day is having to wait until 1:00 for UPS to deliver Photoshop CS3, and then being unable to install it without considerable angst.

Perhaps because I’ve been guilty of the same kind of foolishness and become flustered in trying to solve the problem.

Such is my life. Hopefully yours is more exciting, though I’ve had some visitors comment that they come here to get cheered up.

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:


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
. 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.

%d bloggers like this: