Carissa Hansen, left, gave a presentation of the collections of Bill Holm, while her colleague, Kate Hujda, follows along. Boxes of archives and the organized work (left). Large crowd gathered on Saturday to listen to Carissa Hansen speak about the Bill Holm collections.Kate Hujda and Carissa Hansen.

Researchers put Bill Holm’s archive of works in order

One by one the friends, relatives, neighbors, classmates and acquaintances of the late Bill Holm climbed the wood steps leading up to the Opera Hall to see and hear about the collections of his work.

Carissa Hansen and her colleague Kate Hujda from the Upper Midwest Literary Archives of the University of Minnesota Libraries gave a presentation on Saturday afternoon as part of Boxelder Bug Days, the town celebration formerly known as Town & Country Days but was changed over two decades ago in honor of Holm and based on his published “Boxelder Bug Variations” book.

Holm, a native of Minneota, was a well-known poet, author, essayist, musician and teacher.

He rarely threw anything away and when he passed away in 2009, there were hundreds and hundreds of papers, photos, newspaper articles, posters and more left behind.

Archivists from the Upper Midwest Literary Archives have been going through the many boxes they acquired in 2012 from Holm's widow, Marcy Brekken, and organized them as part of a year-long grant project called, “Prairie Poets and Press: Literary Lives of the Upper Midwest,” that is dedicated to exploring the archives of three Minnesota poets and one press.

The archivists have been describing and revealing the literary collections of Holm, Robert Bly, Margaret Hasse and longtime press Milkweed Editions.

Holm had several of his books published through Milkweed Editions. “The information will be available for public use for any research they might be doing,” said Hansen.

“As many as 10 archivists from the Upper Midwest Literary Archives have gone through Bill’s collections that we acquired.” The purpose of the project is to organize and archive the work of the three poets and the press to make references much easier.

A few chairs had been set out in anticipation of the presentation given by Hansen, who also answered questions throughout the day from visitors looking over Holm’s collections.

“I didn't know what to expect as far as how many people would come,” Hansen admitted.

“It was great to see so many come up here.” As the presentation was minutes away from beginning, the people kept coming.

The sounds of heels making contact with the old wooden steps leading to the Opera Hall revealed more people were arriving. With the help of local historian Darren Gislason, additional folding chairs were brought out and set up. And then even more.

Soon, over 50 people had taken a seat.

“How many of Bill’s classmates are here today?” asked Hansen.

Three or four hands went up. Hansen described the process in which they are organizing the many items found in the boxes, read from some of Holm’s papers and letters, and told of some of the items discovered in the boxes.

“We came across all these pigs,” she laughed.

“There were pig stories, letters about pigs, pig buttons, pig pens. We didn’t know what was going on with all these pigs.”

They soon found out that Holm had been working on a book called “Low Down and Coming On: a Feast of Delicious and Dangerous Poems About Pigs”.

“It was something that Bill had started and he had asked people to submit poems for the book. They were sending him all sorts of pig things,” Hansen said.

The book was published by Jim Lenfestev in 2010 after Holm turned the project for a pig poem anthology over to him.

The beginnings of this book are in Holm’s collections. After her presentation, Hansen asked those in attendance to share some stories about Holm.

Several people participated, telling of knowing him from school, that he had been in their wedding, something humorous they remembered him doing, or just about his personality. Hansen kept referring to Holm as “Bill” throughout her talk, as though she knew him well, although she never had the privilege of meeting him.

“After going through all his collections, I feel that I now know him,” she joked.

“I’ve learned so much about him today, too, from the people I’ve talked to. It was great seeing so many people come here.”

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