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 adrenaline 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 boychild’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 50s, 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 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.”]