SHE STILL HAUNTS GREENWICH VILLAGE . . . AND OUR IMAGINATION
A little on-line anthology of poems by Brett Rutherford, Shirley Powell, Dan Wilcox, and D.H. Melhem. Additional contributions are welcome. These poems are included in the 2020 publication, The Barbara Holland Reader (see catalog page for details.) See below also for information about an 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
"B.H." by Marjorie DeFazio
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.
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.
by Dan Wilcox
"I used your absence up; no day of it was wasted"
Gray, like the smell of Gomorrahs 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.
for Barbara Holland
There is no use deceiving her. Her hooded eyes, in shadow, see each shade and its dim penumbra. Drinking lapsang souchong tea at my Sixth Avenue loft, she spies the nightshade, the wolfbane, purpling the herbal window sill. At pre-dawn hour when all others slumber, she skulks by, just when my illegal pet happens to dangle a tangible limb out and then down the fire escape, three floors. No one was meant to see that tentacle as it lowered trash to the waiting can! When she joins in my poetry circle, my Siamese cat athwart her lap-book, her balletic toe lifts up the carpet, revealing last night’s chalked-in Pentagram. “Really!” she chides. “Demons don’t answer calls that easily, and I should know.” From sidewalk she called, “Are you on fire, or what?” that night my more musty conjurations failed to clear the chimney top and gasped out every window of my loft. “Nothing to see!” I shouted down at her, “A meatloaf did not survive the oven!” Somehow one shard of carbon-clot detached and followed her, and stayed — I let it, to punish her being so much in the way of learning my business. Yet she is obstinate. My tea and talk are just too much to her liking, so back she comes, her raccoon-collar coat turned up against the cloud that hovers there, on my command. Week after week, that black and personal drizzle hounds her Monday walks through Chelsea streets. Umbrellas are of no avail; they leak into her mouse-brown hair. Wind blows the rain sideways at her as she hurls herself among bus shelters and doorway awnings. There is no waiting out the storm. The manual of sorcery explains: it is easier to start bad weather, than to stop it.
for Barbara A. Holland
Figure of speech this is not: the black monolith before your door — so tight a visitor or the timid mailman can just squeeze past it into your vestibule — is real, and solid. This object, taller now than a double-decker bus, 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! What is it made of? List all the known black stones: basalt, ebony, onyx, obsidian, lava, jet, or hematite. No match. Nor is it coal, charcoal, or carborundum. It is more like a cenotaph carved out of frozen shadows. Who knows where it gets its strength? (Taproots in powerlines, perhaps, or steampipes, or gas and water mains?) Does moonlight feed its blackness? It festers there, absorbing sunlight like a cubist tarantula, its height advancing in bamboo stealth to the edge of your curtains, an anxious bird-perch that finally shoots to rooftop, five stories now! Five, and it does not topple! Up there, your morning view must be night, now — a blank night 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 computer dims out, that manual typewriter from your student days refuses a carriage return, your fountain pen is clogged, pencils worn to useless stumps, as a parallel mountain of crumpled paper accumulates. Your poems germinate in beansprout lines, but the stanzas coagulate into thought-clot, as useless as a castaway scab. 2 This state of things will never do! I know a consulting shaman adept at elementals. He begs for quarters at the corner of Morton where it meets Hudson Street. If you but ask, he’ll circle your house with Indian maize (to the delight of pigeons), hang a dented silver spoon on your fireplace mantel. Then, after a swig of a sassafras philtre, his gap-tooth mouth will eject dandelion puffs and the scent of burnt sage; on fire, he’ll pull the tail of the Wendigo, enraging his northern eminence until its four crossed winds, its burning feet of fire converge at the pinch point, galing down the Hudson River, huffing from the piers to your doorstep, pounding that monolith flat as a paving stone. Like melting ice it will merge with the sidewalk. He’s done this for others — but something is always left behind: that’s why, at certain corners, dust devils harry pedestrians tornado leaves and paper scraps, raise skirts and strip the skins off frail umbrellas. The shaman’s fee for poets, since we have less than he has, is but a cup of coffee and the promise of an epigraph. Some lingering vectors of anarchic wind are but a small aftermath of old-fashioned magic. Lady, the bum’s coffee at the corner diner is but a paltry ransom, for imprisoned sunlight, fettered typing, and a hostage pen. 1980s, Revised and expanded March 2019.
In Memoriam Barbara A. Holland* September 21, 1988
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 shed 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!
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!)
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 readers humor.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Why don’t you wash
The dirt is on your face
It lies in rings about your neck
You are a poet
Some say a great one
Yet you stump around in scruffy shoes
Unwashed dress and wrinkled coat
Intelligence shines from your face
wit so sharply honed
sparkles in your eyes
Your hair needs water, soap and comb
How do I square that with the pride
so evident in the straightness of your back
and thrust of head
as you declaim a poem
Why don’t you wash
I’d like to ask
but it might hurt you
And you’ve no need for more
So I’ll keep silent
And hope to know you well
Enough to know and understand