A Poet Talks Pandemics, with Bob Holman

Episode 221 · May 18th, 2020 · 34 mins 20 secs

About this Episode

My guest is Bob Holman. On December 3, 2019, Bowery Books simultaneously released two new books of poetry by Bob Holman—written 50 years apart. LIFE POEM and THE UNSPOKEN serve not only as bookends to a lifetime immersed in words, performance, and the avant garde, but they also show the evolution of an artist, an art form, and a downtown art scene that’s gone from Allen Ginsberg to Lou Reed to Eileen Myles to Mahogany L. Browne. He's also a New Yorker in the midst of the epicenter of the Corona pandemic.

LIFE POEM is a recently rediscovered book-length poem Holman wrote at age 21, new to poetry and first in its thrall. Filled with “jounce and pounce,” as Gwendolyn Brooks says, it’s a hippy diary full of communes, Vietnam, romance, and a driving love for language that ended up lasting a lifetime. THE UNSPOKEN is a collection of recent works, written by Holman, A WIDOWER in his 70s, still devoted to poetry, but now with decades of experience, memories, and loss to inform it. There are poems of all sorts: personal, confessional, poems set to music, poems that are meant to be shouted or whispered; there are poems addressed to his late wife, the painter Elizabeth Murray, to their children, and to the countless artists and poets he’s encountered over the last half century.

The books show the roots of Holman’s own personal mix of Appalachian storytelling, spoken-word poetry bravado, and New York whimsy and humor. Both poems are a raucous celebration of a life lived as art, and an invitation to the reader to join the party. In the words of poet Naomi Shihab Nye, "His life gusto and poetry voice keep the world turning.”