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Readers remember Bill Holm

March 7, 2009
Marshall Independent

'An incredible gift'

I first met Bill Holm in the late 70s or early 80s when I was lucky enough to ride shotgun in Bill's vehicle on a tour of the area he knew and loved. He left the college parking lot and made stops at Ghent and Minneota. Visited "Daren's Garden" north of Minneota and on the Yellow Medicine River. Bill was in his element and not only did we see where he grew up, but several churches, cemeteries and "favorite spots" leading to Wilno and Ivanhoe. It was an incredible journey. I could never find many of those places today, or remember what Bill said, but like all great teachers you would "never forget" Bill himself. What an incredible gift to southwest Minnesota.

Bill later came down to Lake Shetek State Park where I worked many summers, to do a "gig." He told stories, read poetry and played the piano we had placed in the box of a park pickup. No one camping at Shetek could miss Bill and visitors from Tracy, Westbrook, Currie, Walnut Grove and Slayton areas also attended. Every summer for years people would ask, "When are you going to get Bill back?" I did one more time.

At an Elderhostel session at the Lake Shetek Lutheran Ministries an instructor from Gustavus who had had Bill in class decided to call him to see if he would drive down to help out with a 10:30-11:45 a.m. session the following day. Bill was there at 10 a.m., was an absolute sensation to approximately 25 participants (few from Minnesota) and he ended up spending the day with us leaving around 7 that evening following dinner. A sidelight to this surprise visit was that one of the participants was a cousin of Bill's from Michigan who hadn't seen Bill in more than 25 years.

No doubt hundreds of people could share "Bill Holm moments." They are as unforgettable as Bill's presence and his writings. When he stopped into our "Heritage of the Prairie" course at SMSU he "lit up the room." What a loss, but also what a memory.

Bill Bolin

Lake Sarah


Bill Holm and I

sat talking at a table

in a bar, drinking

with some friends.

As he talked, I drew

a tiny sketch

on a matchbook, or

a tiny scrap of paper.

His Icelandic eyes

intrigued me as much as

his words and laughter.

Occasionally he glanced in

my direction and I would

add something to the


James E. Dahl


Treasured notebooks

As a non-traditional student at SMSU I enjoyed a different relationship with Bill than most of his students. Toward the end of my first semester with Bill, he sauntered up to me at a university social function and loudly proclaimed "Mr. Lucker, I just want to say it is a great pleasure having you as another old fart in my classroom!" Even though I was 16 years his junior, he repeated that sentiment often (in public and in private) during my three years on campus, evoking odd looks from others and smiles from me.

There were a few other non-trads in the SMSU writing program, but I never heard him call them "old farts" in public. I've always taken special pride in that.I still have the notebooks from each writing class I took with Bill.I enjoy leafing through them once in a while as his comments on my writing are every bit as entertaining as anything he wrote for publication; brutally honest, richly detailed, biting, laugh out loud funny - you can find it all in the margins. I treasure those battered ring binders.

Mark Lucker

SMSU class of '06

Poet, teacher

New Orleans, La.

'A great wordsmith'

My experiences in knowing Bill Holm while trying to assist him in his health care were likely more valuable to me than to Bill. Although a man of his own direction, he cared dearly for his family, friends, fellow poets, writers, and musicians. I found him to be a great wordsmith in describing his rural roots, thoughts, and experiences, especially those impressions concerning the ethos of Minneota and the prairies...and Iceland. His most recent comment to me was an insightful one: "The only good thing about a recession is that people might read more..."

C. Paul Martin, M.D.


Minneota's ambassador

Minneota has lost a wonderful ambassador for its local community. Bill, or Billy, as many of his friends called him, always remembered and acknowledged his place of birth. Regardless if it was accepting local, regional, state, or national recognition, he always mentioned his home town of Minneota, Minnesota.

Rick Merritt


Three short blips about Bill

(1) Literally and figuratively, Bill was a true giant of a man who cherished his Minneota roots. His sweeping popularity gave Minneota a positive source of recognition that money can't buy. People in our state and throughout the nation knew of Minneota, Minnesota, vicariously through Bill Holm.

(2) Bill had an eye for the ordinary. After Minneota remodeled its city hall, Bill proclaimed it to be simply the "Gray Box." He was fond of saying that the bland, gray, steel-sided, flat roof structure was functional, but clearly not your typical government edifice. To Bill, the Gray Box was a practical tribute to the frugality of our pioneering ancestors. I viewed that as his personal stamp of approval.

(3) Bill was an unabashed liberal who proudly wore the label on the sleeve of his Icelandic wool sweater. The day after John Kerry was defeated in the 2004 election I spotted Bill having lunch in the Wooden Nickel. He waved me over, hung his head and muttered, "Not a good day to be a Democrat!" Four years later he jubilantly approached me while chanting, "OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA!" An OBAMA lawn sign still stands today in front of his Minneota residence as a testament to his zeal and commitment to his unwavering beliefs.

Paul Larson

Mayor of Minneota

Live your life

Ending a brief story in "The Music of Failure" about a befuddled old man's reaction to a poetry reading in a Canby nursing home, Bill Holm looks back at one of the inmates "wondering what revelation I missed that would do me any good at ninety."

This is the question Bill has left us with.

Bill Holm taught us a lot of lessons.

(1) Yes, you can make literature out of your own crumby little southwestern Minnesota place.

(2) You can make literature out of own experience whatever, wherever it is.

(3) But while you keep one place firmly planted in your place, reach out with the other foot into the world of music, of ideas, of other people and places. Good writers are not solipsistic.

(4) And no matter what, never compromise.

That's Holm's most important lesson: live your life on your own terms, even in the face of forces more powerful than you. If the state wants to see your papers, tell them, "I'm an American; I do not carry papers." If signs warn, "Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health," step outside and light up. If your publishers favor electronic files, give them hand-written manuscripts on yellow tablet paper. If Mr. Death looks you in the eye and says, "You have to change your life style," tell him, "I live my life on my own terms."

Even if you're old. Especially if you're old. This jibes with Yeats's advice in a poem Bill knew and quoted: "and louder sing for every tatter in [your] mortal dress." It jibes with advice Bill's mentor Robert Bly was passing out a few years ago, when he wondered aloud why nobody was protesting the Iraq War, "not even the old. And why not? What have we got to lose?"

Bill knew where he's been headed these last few years, and he chose to keep on living life on his own terms. Why not?

I learned of Bill's death Thursday night, after visiting my 92-year-old father in the "personal care" unit of a home similar to the one Bill described in "The Music of Failure." Those places are not a pretty sight, and dad's reaction to the call for supper was a resigned "oh, hell. . . ." I got the message - the same message, perhaps, that Bill heard in Canby. Was that why he looked Mr. Death in the eye and said, "I live my life on my own terms." Is that his message to us? What have we got to lose?

David Pichaske

Granite Falls

Holm Haiku

Bill, warm and wild, was

suited to a wide expanse.

The wind blows colder.

Janet Timmerman

Lake Wilson

Man of many passions

I heard about Bill's death just after spending a night in an airport being forced to listened to piped in Muzak while trying to sleep on a bench.

I think Bill's idea of Hell would be listening to piped in Muzak for all eternity. In Bill's Heaven, you can be sure there's Bach.

We all - Minnesota, SMSU, the community of writers - were lucky to have Bill. I consider it a privilege not just to have known him but to have been able to work with him at the college in Marshall. I'd say his essence was his energetic and creative intelligence, which was a spur for every one of us.

Bill was passionate about many things - music, good food and drink, justice, books, the list is long - but about nothing more than language. That's why his poem "The Icelandic Language" tells us a lot about Bill. He lived in language. It was his primary home. And it is now where we can find him.

Bill's renunciation of television and computers and sports-mania was one of the many reasons he inspired the love he did in so many people. He was larger than life, one of a kind, the man for whom the phrase "seize the day" could have been invented.

His capacity for friendship must be mentioned - for both creating friendships and loyally maintaining them. He had a genius for many things, including one for friendship.

Phil Dacey

New York

Cafe visits

Bill's visits to the cafe were a performance every time! He was our big teddy bear, great friend and loyal customer. We'll never forget him.

The M&M gang from Ghent



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