Thursday, February 26, 2009

Salud, Camerado

The poet/writer Bill Holm died yesterday in South Dakota, at 65. (Holm sent Paul Wellstone into the mists with the Whitmanism in today's title.)

Holm was a sentimental, deracinated Icelandic American, a Luddite and a pianist. (He didn't own a television and by god he was going to make sure you knew he didn't own a television.) Feeling isolated and rejected by America's mammon obsession and imperialism, Holm eventually purchases a tiny dwelling in Hofsós, Iceland. (His exile had to be in Iceland's remote hinterlands, as Reykjavík is itself polluted by commercialism, technology, fashion and urban leering.)

In The Windows of Brimnes, Holm idealizes rural Icelandic life, though a complaint or two arises when his neighbors noise-pollute the pristine fjord, gullibly seduced by that odious emblem of slutty American suburbia, the weed whacker. Holm is isolated, bitter, obsessed with America's failings large and small--and uninterested in pursuing any program for fixing it. Instead he seeks happy irrelevance far from America's invasive tintinnabulations. (He's not playing citizen-of-the-world in Hofsós--he's there playing honorary Icelander.)

In Brimnes, Holm doesn't come close to integrating into Iceland's social life or mastering Icelandic; his alienation follows him. His internationalism is thin; he poses as the 19th century's final heroic defender to a world that doesn't care. Obituarists have been holding him beside Walt Whitman, but Holm's modest artistic gift does not merit comparison with the Good Gray Poet--and Whitman's obsession with the penultimate century had an authenticity not matched in Holm's escapist preciosity.

Holm's self-perception eventually became so 'exotic' he started speaking of himself in the third person. His lifestyle (dividing his time between Marshall and Hofsós) would have been impossible had his ruralist cultural fantasy carried the day. Though often called a polemicist, I haven't yet come across an interesting or original attempt at political analysis or persuasion within the versifier's oeuvre. (Have you?) Holm's solution to the anxiety that comes with modernity justly persuades no one; his impact is least evident upon the young, who view him as a mildly uninteresting, self-exoticizing hothouse flower.

Adieu, fellow Muzak hater. Salud, Camerado.

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