Review of Anselm Hollo’s Corvus

by Robert Bové

Conversation in a major metropolitan bookstore between a self-described recent Ph.D. in modern lit and myself, a lucky reader:

She: Anselm who? How do you pronounce that?

Me: Presumably like everyone else, with voicebox, tongue, lips and eyes.

She: And diaphragm?

Me: Yes, much.

She: Hands?

Me: Both

She: Heart???

Me: Three: yours, his and everyone else’s.

She: Sorry, I don’t read contemporary poets.

Alright, so the conversation is a fictional re-enactment. How often, though, are we told by so-called poetry lovers that they can’t abide contemporary poetry? And they are among the dwindling public that actually buys literature. Tant pis. It is enough to suggest to those who do read us to rush out and buy Anselm Hollo’s immeasurably delightful new collection, Corvus, brimming with poems at once inspired and inspirational, playful and serious, poems that satisfy on so many levels simultaneously that “masterful” may be too ungenerous a word to describe them. “Lit. Group History” in its entirety:

It was their intention
to gain recognition
as a group. Later,
they would remain friends

but wait to be “cut out of the herd”
by some young
Lit. Crit. hand.

Others have noted--others who enjoy reading a lot of contemporary poetry--that reading Hollo’s poems brings them to a place in themselves, somewhere like “home,” “heart,” “refuge.” This is true, especially if your home sometimes resembles the scarier scenes in Oz. People die, there is war, raccoons attack through the kitchen cat door (“Why There Is a Cat Curfew in Our House”), light is everywhere before everything else, and philosophy, that of the pre-Socratics, helps insofar as it focuses attention to and away from. From the “Some Greeks” section:

each morning we’re born again
of yesterday nothing remains
what’s left began today --
so, old man,
don’t be proud of your years:
what’s past isn’t yours.

Many of the poems in Corvus are achingly lyrical; the opening section, in memory of his sister, is suffused with nightingale, the sharp angles of loss; “your departure sent us out of our patch in the sun / to fly with the ravens” (and, yes, among the many things revealed, explicated and noted, yes, in Hollo’s eminently readable and copious notes is the meaning of the volume’s title).

Yet, and yet, the book bounces, is lively as hell, is a poetic event--a page-turner, a one-nighter (I read through it anticipating how it would feel reading it a second, a third time... ((Rare, the down-to-earth attractiveness of a Hollo in flight, at dusk, from Finnish longitudes to the Rockies, circumnavigating our world.

© 1996 by Robert Bové
Original GRIST On-Line publication.
Corvus © 1995 by Anselm Hollo. ISBN #1-56689-039-X. Trade Paper, $11.95 (Coffee House Press, Consortium Book Sales & Distribution, 1045 Westgate Drive, Saint Paul MN 55114.
GRIST On-Line. February 1996.
Contributing Editor: Robert Bové E-Mail: