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POEMS FOR AND ABOUT BARBARA A. HOLLAND

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SHE STILL HAUNTS GREENWICH VILLAGE . . . AND OUR IMAGINATION

Holland ProfileA little on-line anthology of poems by Brett Rutherford, Shirley Powell, Dan Wilcox, and D.H. Melhem. Additional contributions are welcome.
See below also for information about a new orchestral work based on an elegy about Barbara Holland.

"Cassandra for Barbara," by Vincent Spina.

"Barbara Holland," by Dan Wilcox.

"The Sorcerer's Complaint," by Brett Rutherford

"Writer's Block," by Brett Rutherford

"Ashes and Equinox, Mars in Conjunction," by Brett Rutherford

"About Barbara," by Shirley Powell

"Real Poet," by Shirley Powell

"Barbara A. Holland," by D.H. Melhem

 


Vincent Spina sends us this poem about Barbara Holland:

 

CASSANDRA FOR BARBARA

At first soft things happened.  The High
Romance boys had found their sarcophagi
settled in the gloaming.  My City asleep
at the flanks of the brown god became a pink
mirror in the night sky.  What bodies lay

buried in her rubble had long since
spread their oleum of resignation
throughout the streets — no more blood left to struggle;

here and there a pink flower or single
rose petal bloomed near the entrance to
a brownstone, its graven oak door locked,
weighed down with a wreathe.  What season it was

didn’t matter.  In the nearby valleys
the childless children had heard the news;
a chronic ache was coming to terms with
itself —so each one played his/her new game
for keeps, making things find their true shape
in which to live, make love and find new fruit.

And the softness blessed what good was in what was,
while the shopping bag poet stood still, her pen
slim and black, cocked and ready — anything sensed
then at that level could be, years later,
the right shot in the dark to resurrect
the compromised and lonely reams of paper
if only... and she stopped there... as if...

By then the old crustaceans, never seen by
men, were leaving their claw prints in the mud.
No matter the waves, they would return
fossilizing, etching their season into
the eternal.  And she, reeking of old
loves and acquaintances whom she carried
like a diminutive Atlas in a sack

would follow,  scratching the persistent names
of things along side old crustacean tracks.



Dan Wilcox writes:

I stumbled on your cyberspace reprint of "Crises of Rejuvenation" the old-fashioned way, thru an ad for the New York Writers Cafe in "Home Planet News". Thanks for putting those poems out there. I also enjoyed the tribute site.

Below is my tribute to Barbara Holland. It was published in Contact II in 1990 (without the last 2 lines) & I perform it occasionally with “3 Guys from Albany,” a poetry performance group. Please share it with others if you wish.

Thanks for what you do for “all our gone poets.”

BARBARA HOLLAND

by Dan Wilcox

Gray, like the smell of Gomorrah’s apples
sweet, musty apples on the lawn
growing older, grayer in the smoke of autumn
their round faces wrinkling in the collapse of seasons
her words on the dusty pages
ring of the tinkling of cymbals, or
the voices of René Magritte, or Bradbury.

The weight of the odor of wet lilies
in the gray smoke of cigarettes, or dust
shaken from a frayed hem. I see threads
separated from the satin lining of her tweed coat
a faded peach-colored lining, like her cheeks
in Sagittarius, or in crises of rejuvenation.

Her words sounded as thick in her mouth as
experience and were memorized like the shape
of the Flatiron Building on Sundays or the
leap years of Russian painters and gone French poets.

I watched her certain quaintness in the haunted church
sliding gaunt and gray into a pew on the Gospel side.
Later, as a visiting poet in Westchester
surrounded by books, she took requests.

Then, as all poets must, she
passed into the autumn smoke
and the smell of apples, her hem gone
the gray all that remains --
the black edges of her words, smelling damp like earth
becomes gray lace on the pages of her books.
The church aisle is empty now and sad.

Listen America, like all your gone poets
she still speaks to you from out there.


THE SORCERER'S COMPLAINT

for Barbara Holland

No use deceiving her:
she spies the nightshade in my herbal;
skulks by when my illegal pet
happens to dangle a tangible limb
out and down the fire escape, three floors;
swift-toed, she lifts the carpet up,
reads last night's chalked-in Pentagram;
turns in a fire alarm in jest
when my more musty conjurations
won't clear the chimney tops and gasp
out every window of my loft.
She's obstinate, turns up her furs
against the cloud that hovers there
on my command, that black
and personal drizzle that hounds
her Monday walks.

Brett Rutherford


WRITER’S BLOCK

for Barbara A. Holland

This object is clearly out of hand:
just when the charcoal monolith
popped up in the gutter
like fungus
is not so important as how
it grew at curbside,
consuming a parking space,
a bus stop,
cracking the plexiglas shelter
until the smooth black slab
jostled a tree
and warped the sidewalk,
flush to the bottom step
of your brownstone front!

It festered there,
absorbing sunlight
like a vampire bat,
its height advancing
in bamboo stealth
to the edge of your curtains,
an anxious bird perch
that finally shot
to rooftop. 

Your morning view is night, now--
starless black basalt
without a hint of aurora.
Your darkened rooms
hunch in resentment.
The potted palm
yellows and dries,
your windowsill
a hecatomb of withered flowers. 

And all the while
your typewriter jams,
pens clog,
as a parallel mountain
of crumpled paper
accumulates.
Poems germinate
in beansprout lines,

but the stanzas coagulate
into thought-clot,
abandoned verse
as useless as
a castaway scab.

This state of things
will never do!
If the Mayor refuses
to move the impediment,
I know a consulting shaman
adept at elementals.
He'll circle your house
with Indian maize
(to the delight of pigeons),
hang silver spoons
on your mantel.
Then he’ll pull the tail
of theWendigo,
enraging his northern eminence
until its four crossed winds,
its burning feet of fire
converge at the pinch point, 

galing down Hudson,
huffing from the piers
to your doorstep,
pounding that monolith
flat as a paving stone.

He’s done this for others —
that’s why,
at certain corners,
dust devils harry pedestrians
on windless days,
tornado leaves and paper scraps,
raise skirts and strip
the skins of frail umbrellas. 

The shaman’s fee
and these lingering vectors
of anarchic wind
are but a small price to pay,
lady, a paltry ransom
for imprisoned sunlight,
fettered typing,
and a hostage pen.

—Brett Rutherford


ASHES AND EQUINOX, MARS IN CONJUNCTION

In Memoriam Barbara A. Holland*
September 21, 1988

1

What manner of wind brings news of you—
of your last talon snatch at life—
but a fitting one, a hot ash current,
the burnt-pyre smells of Yellowstone
hustled by schizophrenic winds to choke us.
For days the soot flakes peppered us.
Again and again we lifted the pen
to ask someone, “What's burning?”

Who could have guessed that Adrasteia
(she whom the shivering Greeks
named “Unavoidable”)
took up the cudgel from her cousin Mars,
ran down the tinder slopes with torch,
tossing hot coals from her tresses, 

or that she’d tramp the parched plains eastward,
stirring up tempests in the Mexican Gulf,
riding some Greyhound in baglady pride,
bearing your death in a tight brown bundle,
timing her stormdrop to the very equinox. 

Earth shakes, sloughs off a life.
Pale threads of you ride up
to join the auroras,
a boreal ripple like wind
in the nap of your raccoon coat. 

The clouds make way,
open a blue door with a streak of cirrus.
Something in space, some presence as vast
and drear as a forgotten god,
as real as that bond between things
and the words which distinguish them,
something shudders in welcome and joy,
sings to its brethren, “A poet is coming!”

2

Even Mars leans jealously near,
hoping for one last chance to catch her.
They need a Sibyl and a female bard,
word-knitter to ever-shifting beats.
Chanting they watch the earth star's orbit,

thirst in their salt-sand necropolis
not for a transfer of water or warmth,
a trout or an apple or a flying cow.
Nothing practical is called for at all —

let her come purblind and limping and ragged
if she but come with those words on her tongue!
They watch the flare of coronal light
burn from New York into stratosphere.
They hold webbed hands and watch the meteor,
tektite incarnate with olivine eyes,
leaping through Martian air in overshot
toward the all-embracing arms of Jupiter. 

(She called him Wotan, Wanderer,
cried out as she saw his great red eye,
his overweening gravity
His captive moons cry out in chorus
“At last, at last — a poet is coming!”)

3

Yet these are only words and whimsies.
Nothing goes up. Nothing continues.
Animate defies inanimate
year after year and then a day too many.
We are left with clay like any other clay.
And yet, like earth,
with its million secret gemstones,
these fragile leaves are crystallized thought.
The words remain. The poems are children
locked in a Gorgon glance in their perfect moment.
Life ends. It is such a brittle thing,
brain walking on vein and synapse
tightroped over nothingness.
Yet mind and hand
conspire against mortality,
make life a book relived again
at every reader’s humor.

4

A poet is dead. How then
can this city have a hundred turnings
where I can hear her lines?
My fire escape once woven with tentacles—
that warehouse transformed to Venetian palace —
the garbage can upon whose lip
the limp banana lily languished —
the Village streets astride with crutches
and flying fish —
the whimsies spun
from Magritte canvases —
If there be gates to a life unending
the only ones I know are books.
Open the covers! Turn the pages!
Sing out, “Listen! A poet is coming!”

—Brett Rutherford

_______

Barbara A. Holland died in New York on the equinox of 1988, with planet Mars in its closest conjunction in many decades, while fires raging in Yellowstone filled Manhattan's skies with eye-burning ashes. Talk about omens! This poem was published in Home Planet News.


Symphonic Poem Based on Rutherford/Holland Poem

The above poem inspired a work of art in another medium. Pennsylvania composer William Alexander has composed an orchestral tone-poem titled Ashes & Equinox. It was premiered and recorded on CD by the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic (Zlin), conducted by Kirk Trevor. The recording was made September 23, 2001. While it is common for poets to write poems based on works of visual art, or even on works of abstract music, it is more unusual for composers to set purely orchestral works based on poems. Divorced from the text, a "symphonic poem" can only evoke atmosphere, mood and perhaps the chain of events (if any) narrated in the poem. The listener's imagination is tested as he considers whether the music is representing the events of the poem literally or merely in an atmospheric way.

For information about ordering the Ashes and Equinox CD, contact Dr. William Alexander, 116 Terrace Drive, Edinboro, PA 16412 or e-mail at walexander@edinboro.edu


ABOUT BARBARA

No copy I,
as she once thought;
nor copy she, it's true.

She was like me,
and I, like her;
but we were different, too.

She stared the moon
full in its face
and never could withdraw,

while I,
more tender of my needs,
lived ravenous and raw.

We both saw monsters
clearly, fondling them
like snakes.

She, bitten first, subsided
while I invent
escapes

—Shirley Powell


REAL POET

On the death of Barbara Holland

My eyes hurt.
I think of hers,
so blurred she learned
to speak the lines
without seeing them

She burned all messages,
leaving only the poems
alive.

Even she, the marvel-maker,
drifts now
and her words go out,
sparkles beyond my fingers
to touch, my mouth
to try.

—Shirley Powell


BARBARA A. HOLLAND

by D.H. Melhem

Images
the wild roots of them
the rocky saxifrage of them
the Janis Joplin of their intransigent
syllables, images that refused
to sip tea in the parlor
and would not be asked to,
that were banished to a kitchen stool
or an attic corner
where you mused,
oddball grab bag of a divinity
whose visions leaped into phrases
as easily as they could
shinny up a tree into a cloud
or slip into four-inch heels
on Gansevoort Pier,
easily as chemises
that shimmied and shook barefoot
about the floorboards,
that scaled the grand piano
and sat on the best sofa
in the parlor,
that fluttered their silk
through ceilings of sensibility,
whispered intimately
then wrapped around timbers
and loosed the bricks and raised
the roof until a flock of mallards
flew past the china cups
and spun them off the mantel
as the andirons danced
and the house growled
while you smiled attentively,
knowing that you had groomed your miracles
wisely, and that your secret beauty
was free at last.

 

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