The challenge: Prof. Batty and I were reading this book at about the same time, so we decided to post our reviews simultaneously. Thus the reader can be assured of complete objectivity... ahem.
Who is Bill Holm? He is one of my favorite authors, an educator and seeker of knowledge; an irascible, radical, cranky defender of liberty and justice. You’ll find many references to him in this blog by using the search box in the upper left corner. This is his most recent book—Bill has written or contributed to over a dozen other volumes of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction.
Sveit is a recurring theme in this book. Sveit can be summarized as community, or, perhaps, what connects to your heart.
Who or what is my sveit? According to Bill Holm’s definition, it might be the readers of this blog—people captivated by
Bill Holm’s sveit is grandly large, composed of
As Holm tells it, he had visited Hofsós, in northern
You can imagine the joy I felt visiting Hofsós in 2006, where my family and I met Bill Holm, and experienced first hand the community of Hofsós where he now lives for three months of each year. During our visit with him he told us of his upcoming book: The Windows of Brimnes. In fact, the last chapter of the book, Fog, was written at the time we visited Brimnes, and fog is exactly what we found there.
Holm does not choose seclusion in a remote town in
One chapter focuses on Skagafjörður, the fjörd on which Hofsós, and consequently Holm, find themselves.
Skagafjörður is a fat fjörd with a wide mouth open to all the light it can drink, every last smidgeon it can suck out of the sun, or even an intense winter moon or the northern lights…This is…a laughing Buddha fjörd…a fjörd that embraces the visible world.
Do I anthropomorphize a fjörd too much? Nonsense, I cannot anthropomorphize enough. If people have characters peculiarly their own, why should we deny one to a fjörd?...Your place on this planet…is where (among other things) the light feels right to you.
And, he concludes, “If you wish to observe the Icelandic landscape, you had best like the long view.” Amen for the long view! After you contemplate the long view in Skagafjörður, Holm says, “All you need now is a few lines of properly rhymed Icelandic poetry to mumble to yourself as you begin simultaneously weeping and laughing.” Many is the time, reading Holm, when I have simultaneously laughed and cried.
Being a part-time resident, Holm offers some insights into how Iceland is different in less-than-obvious ways:
The modern Icelander who has not left the island has thus never seen a reptile, nor an amphibian, nor skunk, coyote, muskrat, raccoon, rabbit, gopher, beaver, wolf, bear, cougar, nor any large ungulate like elk, moose, or bison. Neither has the Icelander been tortured by mosquitoes, biting blackflies…nor any of that army of insects pests…
Further, most Icelanders have not experienced thunder on their native shores. Strange to consider!
Throughout the book runs the thread of memory, ancestors, and history. In particular, Holm focuses on the Icelandic emigrant to the
This quote of Holm's reminded me of my husband’s genealogy interests: “Genealogy—the melancholy quotient—offers those who pursue it with care, intelligence, and no wishful thinking both a wedge into one’s personal history and the connection of the history to the larger history of human beings on the planet.” Once again Holm discourses on the meaning of truth: “genealogy casts a skeptical light on those who claim to have corralled truth…One more fact will always turn up just when you least expect it, overturning all your presumed certainties.”
Holm tells many stories of
But for the Icelanders—as for every other immigrant group to this day—the wound to the soul caused by the abrupt amputation of language, culture, history, folklore, landscape, and habits of mind and body was too much, too sudden for instant adjustment, for melting immediately into the new pot. The phantom limb still ached…
Holm thoughtfully considers the Icelandic horse; the nature of silence and contemplation; religion; and formal and informal belief systems. His anthem--consisting of faith, anger and grief over senseless destruction of lives and of nature, impatience with ignorance and false piety, praise of beauty in music, nature, literature, individual human lives--rings as strong and true in Brimnes as in his other books. Talking to Bill Holm is the same as reading him: he has strong feelings and opinions; he remains paradoxically idealistic, despite disillusionment; and he is ready and eager to compel others to think.
I learned that Bill Holm’s birthday is August 25th. This birthdate is shared with my youngest son: another ardent, observant seeker of truth. I hope that my virgo son will find fulfillment, as Holm has, in seeking and telling the truth, as he sees it, throughout his life.
As you can see, my signed copy is back from its trip to Minneota.