To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Anselm Hollo: “The Dada Letter,” from Collected Poems, in progress

      One afternoon in northern Europe, probably in the year 1939, a boychild one now sees wearing a blue velvet Little Lord Fauntleroy suit with lace collar and cuffs, is walking down a chiaroscuro corridor in a haut-bourgeois six-story apartment building —

     What Dadaists are still alive are dealing with their life-movies in various ways, suggested by other labels:




            within the increasingly hallucinatory public film, Herr Adolf Hitler’s

             “millennial epic” BOY FROM AUSTRIAN BOONIES MAKES GOOD —

     The boychild’s parents, who met in the Twenties in the capital of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, never were Dadaists, although they did have the works of Hugo Ball on their shelves —

     There really had been no Viennese Dada, the way there was a

            Berlin Dada a

            Zurich Dada a

            Cologne Dada a

            Paris Dada a

            New York Dada and a

            Hannover MERZ

     Vienna and London had their Neo-Dadas many years later, after another World War, and the boychild would have some first-hand experience of those —

     Speaking of hands, that boychild (one afternoon probably in 1939) is, in his right hand, carrying a glass plate with a doughnut on it —

     When one says “doughnut” here, one is referring to the European kind without a hole, just a ball of fried dough covered in refined white sugar, known in some Teuton-speaking lands as a “Berliner” —whence the essentially Dadaist delight of the inhabitants of Berlin at a Post-Dada United States President’s enthusiastic confession that he, too, was just a ball of fried white dough —

     This, too, was later — now in ‘39, the boychild’s left hand is most likely engaged in picking his nose or trying to detach the pretty lace collar from his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit —


      Young Post-Dada Krissie from next door just called to say that there is an Amnesty International special on Channel 2, on women prisoners of conscience — she is a member of Amnesty International, as are Jane and I, and a mover and shaker in the local (Salt Lake City) high school cadres of that organization — a bright sweet blonde young thing who reminds me of my daughters at her age — and that seems like an eternity ago — her fellow Amnestyites, on the other hand, affect Modified Punk, that Post- or Neo-Dada marriage of S & M Biker Chic with Seven Nations tonsorial fashions, first consummated in London —where those daughters were born, in the era of Love and Beatles —

     I tell her that it is good of her to point this out but that we don’t have a television set, as both Jane and I are somewhat afraid of having attention spans totally destroyed and adrenalin levels artificially but permanently raised by daily exposure to that ‘medium of the day’ — she says that I’m welcome to come over and watch the program on women prisoners of conscience, or prisoners of conscience who are also women — and then I have to tell her thank you but I am at this very moment struggling to get some kind of fix on this lecture I am supposed to give at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado, in about two weeks’ time, on



            and Post-Dada - ridiculous idea, I say, isn’t it — don’t know what possessed me, it wasn’t the money — and am tempted to quote the pertinent line from Allen Ginsberg’s still-reverberating HOWL: “who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism” — but don’t — but say that maybe she can tell me later about the program — then feel like a prick, sigh, and return to the keyboard of composition to stare at the words “pretty lace collar of his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit” —

     I notice that I have typed “worlds” instead of “words” — this makes me think of Gertrude Stein, without a doubt the great Dadaist in the American language — I need to quote a poem of hers — but back to that moment one afternoon probably in 1939 when the boychild, walking down a chiaroscuro corridor in a haut-bourgeois six-story apartment building, executes, with his right hand, a gesture somewhat similar to the Fascist salute — one cannot say why but one remembers that he is or now rather was in his right hand carrying a glass plate with a doughnut on it—

     When one says “doughnut” here — OK you heard that one already — CUT to Grand Pre-Dada Marcel Proust eating a doughnut —

     “now rather was,” since the Berliner is now launched on a trajectory through the slightly stale but pleasantly lavender-smelling or is it lily-of-the-valley (the boy child’s mother’s favorite perfume) air of the corridor —


      While on a recent expedition to my study or office to get Volume Six of the Yale Edition of the Unpublished Writings of Gertrude Stein, I noted that the indoor temperature had dropped to 79 degrees, thanks to judicious use of the window fan, and also that the radio was playing one of those south-of-the-border classics about living out the Twilight of Empire in a sun-drenched tequila coma — and instantly thought of David Bromige, because of his lines in Red Hats, a recent work:

     “For those who learned to drink in the 50’s, vibraphones will inevitably bring on a slight stagger. Down the steep steps he slipped with many abrasions, only to find the Club Serendipitee, where caught some GREAT sounds being improv’d [This is probably a typo for improvis’d, should we leave it alone?] by those cats. Then this chick, see …”

     — the book Red Hats is so tightly bound, “perfect-bound” I suppose, that I have to type with one hand while the other holds the book open —

     As the doughnut is now flying through that lily-of-the-valley and/or lavender air, the boychild is left holding

            only the glass plate

            which he stops to contemplate

     — and how is that for rime riche — the doughnut meanwhile vanishing into the chiaroscuro with what Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton might have described as an inaudible thud —

     The Pope just called — he wanted to know if there was any substance to rumors that his invisible guru — whom he referred to as Our Lord — would prefer Salt Lake City to Rome for his Second Coming —

     I of course pooh-poohed said rumors and told the dear Vicar that his boss had told me, at a recent poetry and rock’n’roll conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, which he was attending incognito in the guise of a pale and sweating Finnish blues singer, that he was no longer interested in religion of the paternalistic sort —

     After a brief pause, the pontiff drily remarked that I must have been reading that dear but over-educated Ernesto Cardenal again — I said, no no, I had actually been reading David Bromige, the wonderfully erudite North American poet and bon-vivant saint of eiron

     “The eiron, or ironical man, is a man who professes that he does not have, or has in less measure than the world supposes, the good qualities which he does in fact possess” —

     Yes, yes, that’s from Aristotle, says the Vicar, a mite impatiently — well have a nice day, one gathers it is quite hot out there —

            eiron = semper dada

     I say well have a good one too — don’t let the population figures get you down —


      The doughnut has come to rest in a corner of the corridor and the boychild in the blue velvet suit is left holding the glass plate — momentarily at a loss as to what should be his further course of action — possibly even right action, a concept that’s been looming on his psychic horizon for some time now, being often discussed by his parents — who have Hugo Ball’s works on their shelf —

     Hugo Ball, saint of Zurich Dada, and later ascetic mystic who performed his sound poems in a costume made out of big cardboard tubes- looking a bit like the Pope drawn by Wyndham Lewis — spouting things like “jolifanto bambla ô falli bambla” — and

            “hej tatta gorem

            anlogo bung

            blago bung” — and also said “spit out words, the dreary, lame, empty language of society” — rousing stuff SEMPER DADA! —from Ball’s Russian soul brother Velemir Khlebnikov — to beast-language Post-Dada American Michael McClure — and yet

     one has gone back to replacing the zaum words with the other kind — those shared with the dreary lame empty language of society — hasn’t one — ah, a vast flood of nostalgia washed o’er me — as the indoor temperature resumed its relentless climb — what “one” needed right then was an ecologically sound air conditioner — and maybe a videotape of Post-Dada Tom Stoppard’s snotty little “Travesties” — T. Tzara’s and V. I. Lenin’s café chess playing days in Zurich —

     on the other hand, this would have set one back an hour or two in the task of composing the lecture one had in some weak moment consented to give — to this really hip audience of fellow poets just about ready to launch the potato salad —

     one paused briefly to correct the spelling of “doughnut” by means of “Word Search and Change,” a “feature” of one’s writing implement — ah, there — one is now old enough to comfortably enjoy being a little old-fashioned —

     then one is captivated by the thought that one could change the word “doughnut” to let’s see, how about “Stinger missile” —

     “as the Stinger missile is now flying through that lily-of — the-valley air” — well it probably is, somewhere on this semper dada globe —

     where was one —

            “the doughnut has come to rest

            some corner of blue velvet hall

            in his left the glass a loss

            expatiating parents loom” — yes, the old scramble — proto L=A= N = c = u =A= G = E strategy — how one wrote some of one’s poems in 1969 Neo-Dada Iowa City-in the good company — semper dada! amigos Actualistas! — even though twenty years later, it is still “venceremos” only in the future tense -vis-à-vis or should one say versus The Big Smirk

            o jolifanto bambla —

one does stare at the words —


      The word INTERMISSION — written when one got up from the writing of this piece three days ago — at a loss what else to say—

     during this grand intermission — when all of us seem at a loss as to what should be the further course of action — “possibly right action” —

     during the intermission at the phantom opera that occasionally haunts this city by the dead inland sea —

     I go to the “rest room” in my grey CIA suit — then re-emerge into chandelier chatter — thinking, Dada is dead but Opera lives — ah wistful wistful —

     smile politely at the one Michael Jackson look-alike — among all the Burl Ives and Deborah Kerr look-alikes navigating around and saying things —

     who is that tall beauty standing there all by herself — my heart leaps up as I behold — the gentle, intelligent curve of her neck and silver-streaked hair — and know it is Jane — once

again thank the gods we’re permitted this time — in the great intermission —

     in a place where only a few have to disappear before their time — although some of the best have done so — still few, compared to other places one might name — ruled by the grim Anti- or Idi Amin Dada of los desaparecidos — now back to our movie:

     having raised his hand in a vehement gesture — who knows why- on his way from the kitchen and mother — who is power — to father in his study (or office) — who is culture —

     with the doughnut on the glass plate — perhaps to ward off some phantom of a five-year-old imagination —

     and thus having caused the doughnut to disappear from the plate — the boychild of 1939 decides that right action is no longer possible in this particular case — and so —

            lets the plate, too, go

            into the chiaroscuro —

     it is an act of Proto-Dada devil-may-care despair- and is (luckily) found amusing by both mother power and father culture — as power and culture had found amusing the paper wars between Dadas and Surrealists — now amply documented and catalogued — analyzed and deconstructed — by numerous degree candidates in American institutions of well they say learning —

            anlogo bung

            blago bung

     so, Dad didn’t get his doughnut — the plate, miraculously, did not break —

     so the boychild grew up and out of those corridors — and once he’d outgrown Buffalo Bill and Jean-Jacques Rousseau — discovered Kurt Schwitters and Marcel Duchamp — the heroes of Dada — and lived through a heady period of Neo-Dada-when it seemed like John Cage and Jasper Johns — to mention but two — would lead the world — into art forever — but no, you can’t stop here —

 From Outlying Districts

 [Note: The Collected Poems referred to above is being edited by Yasamin Ghiasi and John Bloomberg-Rissman and will be published by Hollo’s long-time publisher Coffee House Press. As one of the editors notes, “Anselm has been a great companion during this covid mess.”]



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