Listen: Bill Holm update, poet reflects on life and literature

MPR’s John Biewen profiles Minneosta poet Bill Holm after his heart attack. Holm talks about his health, his time in China, writing, and disdain for strict nutrition.

Segment also includes interview with friend and humorist Jim Moore.


(00:00:00) Bill home who will be 50 this summer would rather talk about poetry politics ideas anything but his health or anyone elses, he won't tell you about his heart. If you don't describe your cataract surgery or your gastrointestinal discomforts,

(00:00:15) you should leave that till after you're dead. Actually. It's a good subject to conversation shortly after death. That should be kind of a post-mortem thing so that you know, should there be an eternity you can spend a couple of thousand years sitting around mentioning the Tails,

(00:00:30) even when answering direct questions about his health home ends up talking about things that interest him more. Yes. He had a heart attack a year ago while visiting friends in Wuhan China, but he'd rather talk about China than the attack home taught in China for a year and wrote a widely praised book of essays about the experience called coming home crazy. He says while the Chinese government draws attention for its latest round of free market reforms his friends at the University in Wuhan are as ill-treated and underfunded.

(00:00:59) Ever you do get to China's in a way you turn to the business section you find out about Chinese stock markets at about Chinese consumerism and goods in the department stores in the opening of economic zones and capitalist reforms are afoot and then you go and talk to the Chinese intellectuals in people in universities and writers and teachers and philosophers and artists and filmmakers and you find an enormous sadness and a sense of Despair

(00:01:24) home says he was seething with anger about his friends plight when his heart attack hit last. Ring it was little more than a half hour of chest pain. He says his life was never in danger. He came back to Minnesota not for emergency surgery that never happened but simply to get trustworthy medical advice

(00:01:43) when I got back. I got to use my favorite quotation from Mark Twain rumors of my death have been much exaggerated. I came back to find stories a foot in the papers and on the radio that I was at death's door and I felt perfectly well in all night walk down the street looking at sort of pink and fat and Ruddy and healthy and cranky. People say we thought you were dead and I finally began answering people since I knew no other way to do I say, well I am but you know, I'm feeling amazingly well for someone who's dead. It's amazing how well we did get

(00:02:09) around home says his doctor's advice after his heart attack was to take an aspirin a day and be prudent in his habits home is not known for prudent habits his longtime friend Howard more the humorist from nearby Cottonwood says he worried about homes Health even before the heart

(00:02:26) attack. He does like whiskey and he does smoke. The was smoking about to three packs a day and believes in butter and butter and pork and I guess that's it could be that it was a fluke and that the way he has been living before we'll we'll take him forward. I hope so it would give him great pleasure. I think in a manner of speaking if he could if he could make fun of me at my funeral

(00:02:52) but two homes way of thinking the concern that Americans and minnesotans in particular display for one another's medical conditions. Is unhealthy in the most Politically Incorrect terms, he can find home rails against the Guardians of nutritional and cardiovascular virtue

(00:03:09) in all grown up smelled a little bit of whiskey and tobacco they do they don't smell like what is that god-awful stuff they put in little bowls and set in the window that authorizes our room. potpourri You know grown up smell like cigars and snuff. And Spilled beer and things that's what it means to be an adult in to have a flawed life in a flawed world. It's a lovely world but it is flawed and we all are and we're here so shortly we should enjoy it and be sweeter to one another

(00:03:48) in the end says home what matters about a writer is not the status of his health or anything else for that matter except what he writes home is now working on two collections of essays one about old women who influenced him in his childhood. And another for a picture book about old broken-down things on the landscape without prompting. He reads a new poem a poem about silence that he wrote a couple of weeks ago after a visit to kill Deer Canyon in North Dakota

(00:04:14) on the lip of the killdeer Canyon 500 feet over the tan boots that flanked the little Missouri in the middle of North Dakota in the middle of North America in the middle of the Western Hemisphere on tax day in the middle of April it almost the end of the second millennium. Millennium the universe held its breath for a full minute complete in Violet silence. Not a crow caws odd. Not a frog croaked not a coyote coughed the wind shut its mouth the cars and tractors stopped. The TV's all went dead words failed For No Good Reason clouds scudded but kept quiet about it and everything alive or what is sometimes called not alive. Listen to everything else. Jones Motors crocuses blood pulsing and then the crow caws God that seemed to be the signal and the universe exhaled and everything started again, but for that whole minute we heard what it was really like.


Digitization made possible by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

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