Finnish-born US-resident, international treasure, poet and translator, Anselm Hollo turns 78 today. One of Allen’s earliest and most accomplished translators, his rendition of “America” (“Amerikka”) was published in the Finnish journal Parnasso in 1959 (the same journal published, two years later, his pioneering translations of “Howl” (“Huuto“), and “Kuolema Van Gohjin Korvalle!” (“Death To Van Gogh’s Ear!”)).
Censorship concerns were expressed, however, by Allen to his Finnish publishers (Arno Hormia and Pentii Kapari) in this April 1963 letter (from India), regarding a proposed book-length edition of his poems.
Allen notes (dated April 29): “…I received a letter from Mr Hollo saying that you wrote to him to inform him that you would have to alter the book as planned to exclude certain poems (including “Howl”) for reasons of “obscenity” – tho’ the details are not clear. I am familiar with the problem since the U.S. government and the San Francisco municipal government at one time tried to prohibit the circulation of these poems – that was almost ten years ago. Some reactionary bureaucrats, mostly Catholics, intruded into the literary field. We took them to court. The judge declared the poems to be NOT obscene, and we have had no further trouble since then. The poems have been printed in various languages without difficulty, most countries being less neurotically Puritanical than the U.S.A. Therefore I was surprised to hear that there was some hesitation (at this late date) in of all places the civilized land of Finland. I had always heard that Finnish people were less tied up in an adolescent approach to sex and literature than my own country America, which has been notorious for its prudery earlier in the century..”. He goes on: “In any case you will understand that I do not wish, and cannot be expected to allow you, to publish a book of my writings in Finnish if the writings are censored or if the most important poem of the set, namely “Howl”, is to be excluded for reasons of censorship, particularly on the grounds of what they call “obscenity”. It is too old and tired and silly an issue to waste time on any more..” Allen is explicit – “In other words DO NOT PUBLISH my book if you have to castrate it in the way that you propose..” – He concludes – “I’ll send a copy of this letter to Mr Hollo, and I leave it up to his discretion to make any further decisions, if the publishing situation in Finland becomes more reasonable in the future. He seems to know what he is doing [sic], and was kind enough to offer to deal with the problem for me, since I am so far away and speak no Finnish. Whatever he decides, I will back him up…”
“Huuto Ja Muita Runoia” appeared (uncensored) in 1963 featuring Anselm’s translations of “Ignu” (“Ignu‘) and “Magic Psalm” (“Maaginen Psalmi“), as well as “Howl”. A subsequent volume appeared that same year, “Kuolema Van Goghin Korvalle“, with translations of “Poem Rocket” (“Runoraketti“) and “At Apollinaire’s Grave” (“Apollinairen Haudalla“), as well as the aforementioned title poem.
Anselm (from a piece written for Jacket magazine):
“And – to indulge for a moment in a little more “looking back”- some forty years ago as I was walking down London’s Charing Cross Road on my way home from Bush House (my place of employment with the British Broadcasting Corporation) and browsing the windows of my favorite bookshops, I had the good fortune to pick up copies of two small poetry volumes published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books: Gasoline by Gregory Corso and Howl by Allen Ginsberg. Not long after, I interviewed Allen for the BBC’s European Services and Gregory became a neighbor for a while (and my daughter Kaarina’s godfather). After twenty-odd years as a “visiting dude” in various “English” departments in the U.S., always championing the poetries first presented by Donald M Allen in his groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, I was happy to join the year-round faculty of the Kerouac School (the NAROPA Institute, later NAROPA University) in 1989 [Editorial note – 2012 -Anselm continues as a member of the faculty].
Prior to his US domicile, he’d become a significant figure in London. Bill Morgan, in his biography of Allen, notes that when he (Allen) was famously expelled from Czechoslovakia in 1965, and flown straight to London, it was to Anselm’s apartment that he headed, for the first night, (treating Anselm to a rendition of the first draft of his hastily-composed new poem, “Kral Majales”).
Anselm was alongside Allen at the legendary Albert Hall event in 1965 (as attested by this photo by John Hopkins (“Hoppy”). That’s him in the back row, next to Adrian Mitchell (in shades) and behind one of the original organizers, Alex Trocchi.
Here‘s a July 1980 class at NAROPA, “The Optical Illusion of Reality” in three parts – here, here and here. (“Hollo spends the majority of the class speaking about language use in contemporary culture, touching on such topics as humor, translation, politics, regionalism and craft”, a note informs us – in the second class, he and the class “discuss various translators, poems in translation, and issues around translation..” – in a third, “the series concludes with Hollo and class informally discussing politics and translation.”)
Anselm is the author of over thirty wonderful books of poems, most notably, Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence: New and Selected Poems 1965-2000 (which, as it’s customary to remark, received the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award for 2001). He was also graced with the honorary position, that same year, of “Anti-Laureate”!
Should you be anywhere near London this coming April 18, do not hesitate to catch this, Anselm reading in the company of Gunnar Harding, Andrei Codrescu and Tom Raworth – “A Summit of Joyful Old Savages”.