Anselm Hollo: Seven

Review by Karolina Zapal

(Naropa University/Kavyayantra Press, 2014)

I once asked a friend what the difference was between letting go of yourself and letting yourself go, in a quest brimming with seemingly palindrome-styled questions to extract poetic forethought from busy, yet thought-ridden friends, and he answered, “What would it be like to sleep and never wake up?” + “What would it be like to wake up, having never slept?” The first, of course, is an unfortunate case of memorial memory and reality that takes time off work to really look after the children. The latter, though, inches its meaning into Anselm Hollo’s chapbook Seven, which abides by its name, featuring seven poems by the late poet. The chapbook awakens in its readers a life and literacy, with its critique on the human experience divided between seeking contemplative practice and driving technological innovation, even though most of its readers will never admit to having been eternally asleep. By the same token, it awakens Hollo’s beloved spirit while congratulating him on having been a man who worked, brained, and wrote so intensely and timelessly that he was able to fake a man who never slept.

To shed light on the caterers to these poems, a notebook and digital file both titled “Some Lost Some Found”—the title an effective disclaimer for finder’s keepers or upkeepers or whatever writers choose to call themselves—Hollo lost their origin, as can be acknowledged by the underscore: “Some No Idea Where They Came From,” yet he finds where the words thicken, into a patterned plot of a week-length, not falling short of literary genius. The poems included in the chapbook lose traditional modes of capitalization and punctuation, and through this deliberate freedom and impatience, find and pinpoint cultural details that will travel as literary artifacts through years of occupied sleeplessness.

There’s a claim made that in addition to not knowing where the poems emanated, there had been no specific direction in which they were going. But strength in the belief that the poems were chosen “spontaneously and at random” dwindles the further one reads into the book and takes notice to the order in which the poems appear. The poems speak to each other effortlessly about the conditioning into a new, mechanical century, which means either the random choices for inclusion that have partnered/patterned happened by synchronicity and luck, or every one of the poems contained in “Some Lost Some Found” held a dialogic entrance into this conversation, having been in conference with each other for “some time after Anselm’s death.” Let us consider the poems “She said” and “Crocus;” the order here mimics how they appear in the chapbook. There’s consolation in “She said” about evolution never reaching the border of turning human into machine, yet there’s something about a deer eating a photographed crocus in “Crocus” that undermines that consolation. By highlighting the food chain, the scene showcases evolution in motion, and the human whose camera replaces his hand, confirmed by photographing rather than touching the crocus—already partly evolving—is not immune to its mechanism, and rather is brought closer to one’s mechanics.

If I appoint the latter as correct, that the seven poems are simply excerpts of a work at large, then it can be inferred that Anselm spent a lot of time meditating on the concept of advancing technology and its consequences on biology’s undertaking, time he had saved from the exclusion of a household television—if you can’t beat them, become oppositional + salmon-like, who swim upstream; is that how the saying goes?—and, in his poems, elicits a fear, a critique, and most poignantly, in his poem, “The Way They Pop Up Now,” a warning of the coming herd of antiheroes: “Small children reappear / and now they’re either dead / or alive as film directors / record producers high tech designers.”

If indeed the herd of antiheroes is upon us, it feels necessary to ask: who are the heroes? A point can be made for the one who said in “She said.” I can reproduce the entire poem here, for reference: “Don’t fret   she said / it’s all right / a human / is not a machine.” The “she” in this poem believes in humanity as it remains today and can serve as a necessary role model for stasis. But another question sneaks up just as I am about to congratulate and fall into hope for the future: how does this female character come to that conclusion? Is she instinctual, academic, sturdy in her belief? Or is she naive? And maybe she doesn’t come to the conclusion at all and is simply trying to stir the narrator back to neutrality. Certainly, Anselm thinks the opposite (salmon lineage at work again!). By finding meaning enough in the interaction to have written it down, Hollo must have hooked some hilarity to it as well as an assumption that readers would be able to reach into his intention and extract the same fear; by saying there isn’t reason to fret, there is resonates in the reader’s mind. The urgency of impending humechanics emerges from a seamless line of poems at random.

If I had to come up with another title or at least a catchphrase to pin on this chapbook, it would be exactly that: a seamless line of poems at random. Jane Dalrymple-Hollo, who arranged the chapbook into the lost-and-found that it is, captures Hollo’s mastery of language and style in these seven poems, which query the existence of humanistic humans. In the poem, “The Way They Pop Up Now,” a human is watching a contemplative cat (presumably a human, the narrator), which is watching a non-contemplative squirrel. Hollo brilliantly opens the identity of each of these characters to be confused with one another, and with the poem operating within the context of mechanical overload, confused with technology itself. It appears that the squirrel could be a human, and the cat, which is deemed contemplative by the human, could be technology, performing new age spiritual practice better and to a more watchful degree (of humans) than humans. But with the human contemplating on how technology sees the human, the poem bridges from expression to metacognition. On a stylistic note, the ingenious placement of a single end-parenthesis type in “100-Year-Old Poet” makes the poem feel 100-years-long since the beginning, holder of the original parenthesis, must reside in an invisible hood above the plane of the page.

Even though originality may not be the characteristic that offers the poems their pungency, originality being mute in poetry of the 21st century, according to Anselm Hollo in his lectures, Letters to a New Century.  What does soak the poems in biting remarks is an unforgiving curiosity of the present’s fluctuation with the future. What works explores a curiosity of technology’s authority, of its curiosity. In the aforementioned speech, Hollo declares, “The impulses behind the arts and the sciences are, as you go deep down enough, the same. We do have curiosity. As long as we remain curious, we will discover new relationships in the microcosms, like light. To be able to have stopped light for even just a fraction of time, that’s terrific. I wouldn’t call that original.”

 

This limited edition chapbook was printed in collaboration with Jane Dalrymple-Hollo in conjunction with Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics inaugural [DIS]EMBODIED POETICS Conference, celebrating its 40th anniversary year.