Poet and essayist Bill Holm died Wednesday February 26, 2009
February 26, 2009 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Minnesota poet and essayist Bill Holm died on Wednesday. Bill Holm passed away less than a year after receiving some of the recognition he deserved when he was named the 2008 McKnight Distinguished Artist of the Year. He was 65.

Bill Holm lived out much of his life in the same tiny Minnesota town where he grew up, a sort of personal failure (from most perspectives on success) for an ambitious writer that partly inspired his long essay on what success and failure meant in (and to) America, The Music of Failure. The divide between what was considered important and what was truly significant in life was a central theme in his poems and essays.

He was undoubtedly the only person to publish a volume of poems about boxelder bugs, but his experience wasn't limited to the minutia of Minnesota. He was a world traveler who taught (and wrote about) China and had in the last several years been dividing his time between homes in Minnesota and Iceland. I was lucky to know Bill as an person and not just through his writing. He left far too soon and he deserves to be better known.
posted by nanojath (14 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was so saddened when I saw the headline about his death in the on-line Star Tribune. Never was lucky enough to meet him, but I've been an admirer of his writing, and of the persona that comes through in his writing, for many years.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:50 PM on February 26, 2009

Damn. His book, Coming Home Crazy, helped me adjust to life in China, at a time when there was a lot of added problems from the dissolution of a long relationship. It made me laugh, and more importantly, it helped me deal with the things that had frustrated me. I started smiling a lot more after I read that book, and enjoying the opportunities living in China presented. I'll always be grateful.

posted by Ghidorah at 5:15 PM on February 26, 2009

He was a gifted child of the Scandinavian upper midwest.
posted by ragtimepiano at 6:03 PM on February 26, 2009

Every time I see boxelder bugs massing on the sunny side of our house's foundation, I think of Bill Holm. Listening to him with Noah Adams on "Good Evening" in the late 80's was always wonderfully relaxing. Unlike a lot of writers and poets who read their own work on the air, he had a voice that (at least for me) perfectly matched his words.

posted by webhund at 6:22 PM on February 26, 2009

I forgot he had written the Boxelder Bug variations. Cindy from Doris gave me that book to read when I was in high school. I've followed Bill here and there for years, but never made the connection.

Unfortunately, Bill's death was overshadowed by a blizzard that everybody dubbed Snowgeddon. But Bill was an irascible and contrary character, and he might have liked to be blown out by a midwestern storm.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:29 PM on February 26, 2009

We should not be waiting this long to honor our artists.
posted by parmanparman at 6:29 PM on February 26, 2009

Oh hell. This is terrible news.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:36 PM on February 26, 2009

Dang ... I find myself flashing on that line of his about HL Mencken eating a ham sandwich and quietly reading to obituaries of friends who worked out (maybe from "The Dead Get By with Everything"?)

He was always a bright spot on the PHC schedule and seemed to be a part of most my favorite episodes.
posted by RavinDave at 8:57 PM on February 26, 2009

Ahh ... I found the routine I mentioned above (only it was from: "The Heart Can be Filled Anywhere on Earth"). It was a stellar show from November of 1996; featuring The Rankin Family and Susannah McCorkle along with Holm. Might be my favorite single episodes.

--The Guests
--The Schedule
--Bill Holm reading (.RAM)

Later in the show, Holm plays wonderful tune on the piano call "Ragtime Nightingale" and relates a fascinating story about rediscovering it's author.
posted by RavinDave at 9:22 PM on February 26, 2009

I'd been meaning to get Bill a letter for a while, I'd sent an email that bounced (I guess the address was old). I hadn't corresponded with him much since my kid was born (I knew him a little and exchanged letters with him a number of times but he was much more a friend of my father's) and I wanted to tell him how much I'd enjoyed The Windows of Brimnes, his recent book of essays on Iceland, which had been a nice world to escape to as I was dealing with a family medical emergency. Don't put off writing that letter.

This one is kind of getting to me with the delayed reaction, as the day has worn on I've realized its gotten to me more and more (perhaps because I hadn't been in touch recently I wasn't expecting it at all). It's nice to hear some other people's memories, and through RavinDave's link, his voice again. I couldn't get that flash file to work on my Mac, incidentally, at the show's main link there is an embedded flash player of the show.
posted by nanojath at 9:54 PM on February 26, 2009

The first poem I presented at our Poetry Club was Wedding Poem For Schelle and Phil. His work was spare and clean and evocative. He will be missed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:40 AM on February 27, 2009

A better than average obit noted: "Holm died of complications from pneumonia after he was hospitalized when he collapsed in the Sioux Falls airport on a return trip from Arizona."

I suspect he'd turn that into an ironic comment on his love/hate relationship with his hometown. Even Garrison Keilor noted that he did that a lot. But, try as he might, the "love" part kept winning out.

@nanojath I'm a bit under the weather, not able to do much beyond sitting in front of the computer and vegetating. I can't even focus enough to play a simple game of Yahtzee. But I did find a wonderful two-hour respite from my illness, listening to the full PHC episode you linked too. I recall it quite well; it was indeed my very favorite episode (edging out Calvin Trilling by a nose), largely because of Holm.
posted by RavinDave at 8:13 AM on February 27, 2009

Wow. I am a Minnesotan with German, Irish, and Norwegian blood in me, and I've never heard of this guy -- but I love it! I just finished reading "The Music of Failure," above (with all the extra italics!), and I'm blown away. He reminds me of a more-thoughtful, less ironic Bart Sutter. Thank you, thank you, for sharing this.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:21 AM on February 27, 2009

Sorry to hear this. I had been meaning to write him a letter as well, even though I never met the guy, to thank him for his book Eccentric Islands, which I came across remaindered and (after buying it because I live on kind of an eccentric island myself) thoroughly enjoyed. For somebody I would guess most people have never heard of, he seemed remarkably adept and/or interested in a wide variety of things: music, poetry, history, food, language, and the book covers a wide geography of places as well.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:13 PM on February 27, 2009

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