The Tortoise of History
Anselm Hollo
(Coffee Hoouse)
When I pick up a book of poems and run into John Cage, William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Richard Burton, Thelonious Monk, Ted Berrigan, Rilke & Yeats & Brecht . . . well, I know I've found my Muse. Because many of these are not only lost in the mist of time, but are, perhaps, disappeared by the mean time meanies.

Anselm Hollo is near to my own age, so he gets to quote Billie Holiday in one poem "I ain't got no future but Lord, Lord, what a past" . . . and then Tom Lehrer in the next:

    no no says the Doge of Dogs
    no no says the Caesar of Cats

    no   to quote your great singer Tom Lehrer
    "We'll all go together when we go"

Hollo was born in Helsinki about the time that his country was to be invaded by the Soviets. He fled to England, worked for the BBC for ten years. He was one of those people who could speak too many languages - - - Finnish, German, Swedish, French, English and probably Urdu and Gullah. Which suggests to us that his terrific twisty poetry may be caused by his growing into his native-born language which is, they say - - - next to Catalan and Japanese - - - the most devilish language for us to learn, although the Catalans probably say the same thing about English. And Finnish. And even Gullah.

Hollo's poems are a terrific hidden soul-links journey, at least those found in The Tortoise of History. The title poem should give you an appropriate taste of (and possibly for) his way with words:

    The tortoise of history
    keeps stomping along

    it carries
    on its back

    all the prophets.
    "great men"

    It is almost blind

    but its legs still work.

Hollo carries his knowledge lightly, and during the course of these sixty-seven poems slips in Modigliani, Shiva, Dr. Faustus and (mercy me!) Wyndham Lewis . . . all while we're not quite looking. In Noir

    Dream dreams dream
    dream dreams a samba perennial

    you me him her
    "Staples beginning to rust in otherwise fine copy"

    the back to the electric fan's head
    looks like a Wyndham Lewis

    but "God" does not look like a Wyndham Lewis
    "God" does not look like anything at all

                                            & dog

    Hunter Thompson said he was a
    "road man for the Lord of Karma"

    "He stomped Terra" said his son

    Oh it makes an ill musick la vida
    and only lasts a pissing-while

This stuff is gold-mine for those of us who like our poetry packed in a weenie portmanteau, enfolding dozens of half-obscure images into those apparent simple phrases with
  • dada nonsense - - - "god & dog don't vote;"

  • 60's in-jokes: Hunter Thompson "a road man" ("on the road");

  • puns - - - "Dream dreams dream;" "Wyndham" = wind ham; "makes an ill" mu-sick . . . with

  • reflexive references (Oh it makes an ill-Wynd); complete with

  • casual poetic music inner rhyme: "dreams a samba perennial;"

  • jammed with in-group beat humor ("Lords of Karma") from Lord Buckley's "The Nazz:"

      So The Nazz look at this little cat with the bent frame and he say, "Watsamatta wit' chew, baby?"

      Little cat with the bent frame he said, "My frame is bent, Nazz."
      Say, "It's been bent from in front."

      So The Nazz look at the little cat with a bent frame
      and he put the Golden Eyes of Love on this here little kittie
      and he look right down into the window of the little cat's soul
      and he say to the little cat ... he say, "STRAIGHTEN!"

      Rooom - Boom!

      Unbent that little cat like an arrow.

§   §   §

After I got through The Tortoise of History I immediately framed a letter to Hollo, saying that I was in love with him and his verse and wanted to visit him immediately there at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder so I could tell him that what he wrote was my god and my shield against all those dreadful East Coast Poets who want us to be serious about the flowers and bowers and gondole in the sunset in Venice tra-la . . .

. . . so I look in the bowels of the internet to find his address and then and there learn that he is now himself a Disembodied Poetic and that no matter how hard I might try to un-disembody him it probably wouldn't work at all because not only dogs and gods don't vote but my main man with his turtles, Lords, including the Caesar of Cats are sad because he is not among those who think that we are not all at all disembodied.

In a word, god, my man Hollo is no longer stomping along, in that place where the legs no longer work.

--- L. W. Milam
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