“I think if I was a painter, I would be described as a naïve artist. All that I want is to convey something of what I have experienced or envisioned, to someone who also may be receptive to it.” So says Neil William Holland (aka, soloneili) in an essay from his blog The Poet in the Car. Isn’t that the essence of all art?
What I most appreciate about the poetry of Neil Holland is that your detachment, cynicism, irony, intellectualism, and all the bullshit defenses you’ve created to set yourself apart from the rest of humanity might break down when hearing his poems. Most of his writing can be understood by just about anybody with a brain and eyes and/or ears connected to it. Most of it is in plain English and the subject matter experiences almost all of us have had. That’s not to say his poems are trite, shallow, ignorant, lacking in intelligence, vulgar, clichéd or any other way inferior. If you’re an intellectual snob you might want to believe this about his work, call it sentimental, and turn your back on it.
To be honest, I’ve had that reaction myself. The first poem I heard by him struck me as the sort of thing I really don’t like. Listen for yourself, Words for Peace:
I still don’t like this particular poem. It seems like it’s there to give us hope. It seems to give consolation. It seems like a prayer. (Probably 90% of humanity, maybe more, will think I’m an ass for this. Most people want and need to be comforted and are thankful to those who can give it.) No matter what your experience with poetry, he challenges you to think and feel and ultimately go beneath the surface.
Another thing I like and respect about his poetry is the discipline (perhaps something he developed in his years as a boxer and trainer), his keen perception and judgment of both sense and sound. You hear the music in the syllables, you hear the subtle rhythms and cadences of vowels and consonants. In case you’ve spent your life in a book, this is what poetry is about. This is where it came from music, probably when we were homo but far from sapiens (give Daniel Levitin’s The World in Six Songs a read), before it was sidetracked by the intellect and abstraction. When he speaks you hear the structure, the curves and angles of sound, the sense of sound.
Sound is at the center of Holland’s work. I have long been of the opinion that poetry should always be read aloud, even if you’re reading on a park bench, in a cafeteria, at the beach or a bus stop (does it really matter what others think of you?).
Let me quote Holland’s essay, Thoughts on Poetry (I encourage you to go to his blog and read the whole thing): “The way a poem is laid out visually in print helps to create expectations, sonnets look like sonnets, couplets look like couplets, a haiku looks like a haiku, and these forms help to point the mind to formal pathways. But it can also become a crutch, and if it is taken away, and if we can only listen to a poem, without seeing it, then much of what we perceive about poetry can just fall over. It is interesting to listen to recitals of poems without seeing the typed word. Under these circumstances the layout, the enjambments, the line breaks, the visual cues count for nothing.” It isn’t just the sound itself, it’s the temporal nature of audio poetry. ”What I find interesting about sound, in the absence of the printed word (as on a page visually) , is that it can bring another dimension to the spoken, the uttered, word. I honestly think it’s a sadness to restrict the concept of poetry to that of print on a page. Yes, it is language, and yes, we decode it into patterns, rhythms and images, but on the page we have this incredible ability, this convenience, to skip back and forth over words, phrases, lines and stanzas. We can look at the code of a written poem and linger until we derive something from it. This ability to visually linger makes the written poem unique, we can do things mentally with written words on a page because the relationship between the mind, the eye and the subconscious facilitates so much interaction. The poem is there continually before us, it is not elusive. A sound-only poem is very different.”
What truly endears him to me is his overall love of sound, that there could be more to poetry than just words, written or spoken. “With pure audio poetry, including audio with added sound, I believe the listener should be kept rolling in the bow wave of it. As if the listener is caught in an undertow that keeps them in the current. It’s one of the reasons that I try to make sure the language is simple, even if the image isn’t.” “I tend to think that this process of sound linked with or without words creates atmosphere…”