Bob Holman Publication Party: ‘Life Poem’ and ‘The Unspoken’
December 6, 2019 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Howl! Happening is pleased to celebrate our friend, Howl! board member, and poet extraordinaire Bob Holman on the occasion of the publication of two new poetry books. Written 50 years apart, Bowery Books will simultaneously release Life Poem and The Unspoken. The books serve not only as bookends to a lifetime immersed in words, performance, and the avant-garde, but they also show the evolution of an artist, an art form, and a downtown art scene that’s gone from Allen Ginsberg to Lou Reed to Eileen Myles to Mahogany L. Browne.
In a New Yorker profile, Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote that Bob Holman has “done more to bring poetry to cafes and bars than anyone since Ferlinghetti.” Holman brought the spoken-word scene and poetry slams to New York City, first as the co-director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, then as the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club. He further democratized poetry through the award-winning PBS documentaries The United States of Poetry and Language Matters, which he produced and hosted. And then there are his 17 published works and thousands of rollicking live performances. Quite a ride for, as Holman calls himself, the son of the only Jew in Harlan, Kentucky.
Life Poem is a recently rediscovered book-length poem Holman wrote at age 21, new to poetry and first in its thrall. Filled with “jounce and pounce,” as Gwendolyn Brooks says, it’s a hippie diary full of communes, Vietnam, romance, and a driving love for language that ended up lasting a lifetime. The Unspoken is a collection of recent works, written by Holman, a widower in his 70s, still devoted to poetry, but now with decades of experience, memories, and loss to inform it. There are poems of all sorts: personal, confessional, poems set to music, poems that are meant to be shouted or whispered. There are poems addressed to his late wife, the painter Elizabeth Murray; to their children; and to the countless artists and poets he’s encountered over the last half century.
The books show the roots of Holman’s own personal mix of Appalachian storytelling, spoken-word poetry bravado, and New York whimsy and humor. Both poems are a raucous celebration of a life lived as art, and an invitation to the reader to join the party. In the words of poet Naomi Shihab Nye, “His life gusto and poetry voice keep the world turning.”
Crowned “Ringmaster of the Spoken Word” by the New York Daily News, Bob Holman has performed his poems with a punk band in Kiev, a griot in Timbuktu, a ballet company in San Francisco. As the original Slam Master of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe; creator of the world’s first spoken-word record label, Mouth Almighty/Mercury; and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club; Holman has played a central role in the spoken-word and slam-poetry movements of the last several decades. He is the author of 17 poetry collections; A Couple of Ways of Doing Something (Aperture, a collaboration with Chuck Close); and has taught at Princeton, Columbia, NYU, Bard, and The New School. A co-founder of the Endangered Language Alliance, Holman’s study of hip-hop and West African oral traditions led to his current work with endangered languages.