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Passings / Bill Holm

Poet, essayist was 'sage of Minnesota'

March 07, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Bill Holm, 65, the poet and essayist whom Garrison Keillor once called "the sage of Minnesota," died Feb. 26 of complications from pneumonia at Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. He had collapsed at the Sioux Falls airport after returning from Arizona.

Called "the polar bear of American literature" by poet Barton Sutter, Holm was a frequent guest on Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show. Some of his poems also were included in Keillor's radio program "Writer's Almanac."

Holm grew up in Minneota, Minn., and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. After earning a master's degree at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, he joined the faculty of Southwest Minnesota State University and taught there for 27 years until he retired last year.

His works include "Boxelder Bug Variations," "Coming Home Crazy" and "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth," a meditation on his hometown of Minneota.

Although his home base remained Minnesota, he traveled widely, teaching English in China and spending a year in Iceland as a Fulbright scholar. He eventually bought a home there, and his last book, "The Windows of Brimnes," recounts his time in his ancestral homeland.

Last May, he was named the 2008 McKnight Distinguished Artist of the Year, an annual prize given to artists who stay in Minnesota and enhance the state's cultural life. The prize comes with a $50,000 grant.

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