It all started with bugs and poetry. And on Saturday, many years later, Boxelder Bug Days had gone full circle in honor of the poet.
"This is one of Bill's poems from the Boxelder Bug Variations," John Rezmerski said as he began to read on the stage set up near Minneota's Memorial Park.
Photos by Deb Gau
Poet and “How To Talk Minnesotan” author Howard Mohr gets into the poetry as he reads at a tribute to Minneota icon Bill Holm on Saturday.
Rezmerski and a group of Minnesota writers and poetry and music lovers were gathered for a tribute to the late Bill Holm, whose poems inspired the town festival's name and some of its events.
Readings by poets including Howard Mohr and Joe and Nancy Paddock joined piano performances by Dan Rieppel, who had often played with Holm.
Readers said the tribute was like a mini-revival of Poetry Outloud, a touring arts program Holm was a part of in the 1970s. Joe Paddock said he managed to fit back into a vintage Poetry Outloud t-shirt for Saturday's tribute.
Rezmerski said some of Holm's friends had been trying to find an appropriate way to celebrate his memory, when the suggestion of a public reading came up.
"Tom Guttormsson suggested it," Rezmerski said. "It seemed like the right sort of thing to do." Holm was always an advocate for bringing poetry out into the community, he said.
"He had a feeling of poetry as something that could be a form of entertainment for people, instead of just someone alone with a book," Rezmerski said.
Stories and memories of Holm came out on stage as well.
"I think everyone who met Bill has at least one Bill story," said reader Dana Yost. Yost added that Holm inspired him in his own writing.
"We lived next door to Bill for many years," said reader and Minneota resident Gail Perrizo. "We heard a lot of poetry at our kitchen table."
Perrizo shared a poem Holm had written before his death titled "Revenge of the Geese." The poem looked at the "miracle on the Hudson" airplane landing from the perspective of the birds who struck the plane's engines.
A display of photos, artwork and other memorabilia remembering Holm were on display in the Minneota Community Center before the reading. People filing past the display sometimes stopped to reminisce about Holm.
"It's been steady," said Dianne O'konski, who was working at the Icelandic Association booth nearby. "A lot of people knew (Holm) since he was Billy."
Minneota resident Linette Nelson and visiting members of her family came in to look at the display on their way to the tribute.
Nelson said she thought having a tribute to Holm during Boxelder Bug Days was appropriate. "He started things."
Not all of the audience members at the tribute were from Minneota. Phyllis Moberg of Marshall said she had known Holm mostly from his work at Southwest Minnesota State University, but she came to listen to the tribute.
"He was his own person, you could take him or leave him," she said.
Rezmerski and Paddock said Saturday's reading brought back memories, and some of the feeling, of the original Poetry Outloud with Holm.
"Yes. It did for me anyway," Rezmerski said.
"We would often end up at Bill's house" after a tour stop, Paddock said, and party before catching a little sleep.
"Of course Bill, he was so spontaneous, he was like a party all by himself," he said.
In some ways, Mohr, Paddock and Rezmerski said, the outdoor setting in the middle of Minneota's downtown wasn't the ideal place for a poetry reading - there was street and carnival noise, lots of people moving in and out.
But the audience was still responsive, laughing and applauding for poems about rural life, lovelorn pigs and tornadoes.
"That's good," came a comment from one of the picnic tables in front of the stage.