This Old Poem #15:
Bob Holman’s Storyline
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 8/15/02


  Let me get the conflict of interest out of the way 1st with a full disclosure. I used to know Bob Holman, back in the 1980s, at the Nuyorican Café. I must say I never liked him personally. Not that he was not a nice person. But he was as phony as they come. He has made a career out of ripping Academics & their obsessions with celebrity yet check out this crap gleaned from his own personal poetry website:

Recently dubbed a member of the "Poetry Pantheon" by the New York Times Magazine and featured in a Henry Louis Gates, Jr. profile in The New Yorker, Bob Holman has previously been crowned "Ringmaster of the Spoken Word" (New York Daily News), "Poetry Czar" (Village Voice), "Dean of the Scene" (Seventeen). The series he produced for PBS, The United States of Poetry, features over sixty poets including Derek Walcott, Rita Dove, Czeslaw Milosz, Lou Reed and former President Jimmy Carter, as well as rappers, cowboy poets, American Sign Language poets, and Slammers. USOP lives on as an anthology from Harry Abrams Publishers (in its second printing),a home video from KQED, and soundtrack CD from Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records, a label Holman co-founded. He has appeared widely on TV: "Nightline", "Good Morning America", "ABC News Magazine", MTV's "Spoken Word Unplugged", and "The Charlie Rose Show", among others. The NEA has announced major preproduction support for his new poetry media project, The World of Poetry (, the world’s first digital poetry anthology.
  Holman’s other current activities continue to keep poetry headed straight for the heart’s heart. As chief curator for the biennial People’s Poetry Gathering ( in NYC, he helps bring together oral poetry traditions from Africa (griot), Brazil (cordel), NYC (Braggin Rites), Mexico (decima) with hobo poets (U. Utah Phillips), cowboys (Wally McRae), blues poets (Sterling Plumpp) and rockers (Ani DiFranco) and the proverbial others in a 3-day “populist bacchanal” (Stanley Kunitz) that attracted 10,000 people in April 99.  2001 brought Poet laureate Stanley Kunitz, Patti Smith, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Anne Waldman, Jerry Rothenberg, Cambodian courtship poetry, loggers, and the proverbials. He is guide for Poetry on (, consistently a banner site with 6,000 “Museletter” subscribers and 35,000 hits/week.
  Holman’s first CD, In With The Out Crowd, was produced by needle-drop wizard Hal Willner. Backed by Chris Spedding, Wayne Kramer, and Bobby Neuwirth, the album moves from rock to country to ballad, shot through with urgent humor and what can only be called, “poetry”. Lou Reed says it is “an astonishing achievement.” Holman’s latest collection of poems, The Collect Call of the Wild, from Henry Holt was proclaimed "the first poetic drop-kick into the new millennium" by Next magazine and “Impressive (to say the least)” by Robert Creeley -- it is Holman's fifth book. He is currently collaborating on Praise Poems, a book of poems and photos with Chuck Close. He co-edited Aloud! Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (also from Holt), winner of the American Book Award, having helped reopen the Cafe in 1989, where he ran the infamous Poetry Slams through 1996.
  Bob fronts poetry into daily life by all means: he won three Emmys over six seasons producing Poetry Spots for WNYC-TV, received a Bessie Performance Award, has twice been Featured Artist at the Chicago Poetry Video Festival and won International Public Television Awards for USOP and Words in Your Face, a production of the PBS series "Alive TV.” He produced the reading series rAP mEETS pOETRY with Bill Adler, which resulted in the "Fighting Wordz" intersticials on MTV. Holman, Adler, and Sekou Sundiata created “the world’s first” poetry record label, Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records (1995-8) -- releases included Sekou Sundiata, Flippin the Script: Rap Meets Poetry, Allen Ginsberg’s The Ballad of the Skeletons, with music by Paul McCartney and Philip Glass, young poets Wammo, Michele Serros and Beau Sia; major voices Maggie Estep and The Last Poets and Hal Willner’s Edgar Allan Poe feast, with stories and poems read by Iggy Pop, Dr. John, Christopher Walken and others, and the definitive 4-CD William Burroughs box, nominated for a Grammy.
  Holman was founding editor of the NYC Poetry Calendar in 1977, and has curated reading series at St. Marks Church (he worked at the Poetry Project for seven years), the Whitney Museum, the Public Theater, and  other locales. He has toured the world with his "amazing traveling word show," and is Artistic Director of the touring company Real Live Poetry ( He is a firm believer in the United States of Poetry, with recent stops at National Poetry Slams (he coached the 1997 championship Mouth Almighty team), the Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, and the American Sign Language Literary Conference in Rochester, New York. He has been awarded a NY Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, been funded by the NEA, New York State Council on the Arts and the Lannan Foundation. He recently hosted the International Poets Cabaret at the Frankfurt Book Fair where he also premiered his “SemiCento,” a polyglot poem gathered line-by-line from poets around the world, and he performs regularly with David “Pere Ubu” Thomas in the punk opera, Mirror Man. In January, 2000, he presented his paper, “The Reemergence of the Oral Tradition in the Digital Age” and was a featured performer at the Against All Odds: Pan-African Literature and Languages Conference in Asmara, Eritrea; in September he received Curbstone Press’s “Honored Poet” award. He is currently Visiting Professor of Writing and Integrated Arts at Bard College, where he will be adapting/directing John Ashbery’s book-length poem Girls on the Run in spring, 2001. San Francisco’s Poetry Flash says he is “his generation’s Ezra Pound.” He is proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club, a performance space that is the first step towards his dream of a poetry-technology lab: Bowery Arts & Science.

  See what I mean? The 1st thing mentioned is all he ever wanted- celebrity, not art. Despite years of ripping at the Academic establishment, Bob emulates them in every way. His c.v. dwarfs that of most published poetasters, yet he has really accomplished not a damned thing in the actual art of poetry. In short, he’s a classic carny- not an Ezra Pound, who- despite personal beliefs about his politics- was a genuine artist who propagated good art throughout his lifetime- from Eliot to H.D. to Frost & more. Bob- well, he promotes crap, then really promotes it, then really REALLY promotes it. A better comparison than EP would be to John Moschitta- the motormouth Federal Express pitchman from the 1980s. Like him, Bob feels if he reads his poetry fast enough a listener won’t realize how terrible it is. His early stuff, back when I knew him, was really bad, & the years have not lessened his penchant for cliché, his poor use of punctuation & enjambment, nor his inability to come up with a genuinely clever turn of phrase- much less an interesting poetic idea.
  I won’t delve in to the personal aspects of the man I dislike, save to say that the shallow vaudevillian you see on stage is the same way in his real life dealings with people: oleaginous & self-serving. That said let me easily breeze through his ‘poem’. This is taken straight from his website, & comes after his last book, The Collect Call of the Wild, with a composition date of 1996. [Underlined= cliches, ***=bad line break]



Listen. Listen close
What do you think it is, Hiroshima?
It is snow. Landing on earth
Flake after monstrous flake
Pounding the refrain with its beauty
And what is it saying?
Listen. Listen close
It's not saying a thing
It's covering the terrain
It's layering drifts, creating a new land above the land
That refers to the land but is not the land


That's where you come in, you and your suitcase
It's twelve o'clock midnight
Or noon as the case may be
Sweat across your forehead and a ton of burning thoughts
You, the busy one, with important things all lined up
Each of your thoughts opens a brand-new book
Machetes its own path through the brush
Lifts the big black boot and scoots through the snow covering what once was city, now is desert
What do you think it is, Hiroshima?


What would you say if someone told you they all existed
All your thoughts made real, world after world
Thoughts become soldiers and maids, parking lot attendants and risk arbitrageurs
Politicos and every day joes and josies, doers and don'ters,
That you and your suitcase are just one story twisting like a morning glory
Vine towards the sun (hold that sun), each story
Equal and democratic, erratic and filled with chance, water streaming
Through an intricate network of silver pipes, finding its way
Into the balloon of choice, the balloon of chance,
Filling the balloon like a parent at a birthday party, all eyes on you


You step into the line that has suddenly, effortlessly materialized before you,
A line drawn by a painter who forgot to go to sleep and painted a dream for you
A land of cups and brushes
Orange dingbats on a page of breeze
Filigrees of fancy light and heavy earth tones grinding your toes into topsoil
The body you wish you had you do, spread before you like a map
Everybody needs a body, a home base memory creation
The palette of love makes touch possible to set down your suitcase
And strip back all your thought lives into this tree bed where everything goes
Sudden blank dark


Listen, listen close

What do you think it is, Hiroshima?
The land itself is cracking under the relentless weight of its occupiers
As your thoughts arise from their dreams to replenish the storylines
The inventors struggling to keeping pace with the needs of the thieves who hustle grab Product from beneath the sleeping collector grasp of the citizenry

Needs springboarding advertisers keep their jobs because***
The lawyers are all lined up to liberate you from the iron choke of your daily responsibility chart
And your children, all 1500 of them, counting past lives and onenight stands
Are sitting there with that hunger look and the snow piles sand and***
Here's where the sun comes in, glowing gas and heat, a caldera in a universal volcano
And here's where the sun steps out, your dancing partner, your collar, your grandparents' last breath, the never-ending night of slight breeze


The story divides and twists back, the line curls and lays out in front of you a prescient shadow
Listen. Listen close.
What do you think it is, Hiroshima?
Yet the moonlight on the snow, and your suitcase getting heavier,
Will lead you back to the Land of Cups and Brushes, trust it,
Where you kiss each vegetable before you peel it and the stove is presteaming, hear honk,
Race after car, learn to ride bicycle, get driver's license, diploma
Call in to telephone repair service discover they haven't invented
The telephone yet. History sits in a corner reading a book
About how people used to sing together round the campfire at night
Form bands of homemade instruments, and the players become the music,
Their beings speak right through the instruments weaving storylines
Pushing music out like an orange dingbat slivered by a filigree of light
A moment of understanding clarity, things falling up into place, remarkable love vents
Then too many paths blocked by the soldiers as you turn back
Suitcase so heavy you can barely lift it
Your last child, emerging out of nowhere like a ghost, picks up the suitcase
And asks where you've been, what's wrong with you that you can't remember
Then you remember that it's not that you don't remember
It's the language that is different, you've got the facts you recall it all so clearly
Each of the stories and their inevitability and their dingbat filigree
If you could only speak the language of your children what you could tell them
The sun so bright and brilliant it must be midnight, and why doesn't the snow melt
Swirling all around the land heaving up like lava, exploding the eye of the sun
The eternal noon of Hiroshima on this day when the body you always return to isn't there
The expectant look on the face of your child carrying your suitcase
The body home disappeared, dematerialized like the invisible line that divides the world
Day from night, east from west and the ash that drifts like snow
Listen how the word silence breaks silence
Listen. Listen close.


  Let’s give Bob credit. Only 2 really egregious line breaks, but clichés up the ass, no punctuation that rocks or makes the lines & sentences have tension with each other. Then, again, we are ‘reading’ this poem. Bob believes poetry MUST be spoken- so who needs punctuation? & who needs poetry?- after all, this really is just prose chopped in to lines. Where’s the music? Where’s the rime, alliteration, etc.? Then, again, he’s gonna read this as fast as he can so that, if lucky, only 20% of this horror will stick with you. 91 lines of this horror show, this pale imitation of the already puffy John Ashbery. My version is whittled down by about 70%- to 26 lines. The title, which is so readily explicated in Bob’s version, is now better, & more mysterious in my rewrite. Read on:


It is snow. Landing on earth
Its layering drifts, creating a land above the land
That refers to the land but is not the land.


What would you say if someone told you
All your thoughts made real, world after world,
Become soldiers, maids, parking lot attendants, and risk arbitrageurs,
Politicos and every day joes and josies, doers and don'ters,
That you and your suitcase are just one story twisting
Equal and democratic, erratic with chance,
Through an intricate network finding its way
Into the balloon of choice, the balloon of chance.


As your thoughts rise from their dreams to replenish storylines
The inventors struggle to keep pace
The lawyers are all lined up to liberate you
And your children are sitting there with that hunger look.
Here's where the sun comes in, glowing gas and heat,
And lays out in front of you a prescient shadow.


Yet the moonlight on the snow, and your suitcase get heavier,
Pushing music out like an orange filigree of light
A moment of understanding, things falling up into place,
Suitcase so heavy you can barely lift it.
Your last child picks up the suitcase
And asks where you've been, what's wrong.


  Most of the clichés have been banished. The whole tired Hiroshima trope- & the snow/ash trope? AT LEAST DO SOMETHING WITH IT, BOB! C’mon. Also the whole tired theme of listening & the silence. Instead of a bad overwrought political poem my version leaves a sleeker, true ‘poem’- although still on the prosaic, not prosetic side. I could try to end the poem with some of my own ideas but I left his line as an end. I don’t seek to ‘Schneiderize’ poems- merely heighten what’s already there. Which is not much, but a passable poem that may be about a parent/child relationship, or that relationship projected out into the philosophical world. The lack of the predictable political drivel also helps. Snow, Hiroshima, the silence….ugh. So, is this a good poem, now? No. But at least it will keep you a little bit awake without needing Bob’s spittle flying at you from off the stage!


Final Score: (1-100):

Bob Holman’s Storyline: 50
TOP’s Storyline: 67

Return to TOP

Bookmark and Share