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HOLMAN, BOB (1948- ) Bob Holman has been hailed as "Ringmaster of the Spoken Word" and "the dean of the scene" by the New York Times (Richardson B2); he once called himself "Plain White Rapper" (Holman). His commitment to the oral traditions and pleasures of the spoken word have given his work the eclectic feel of hip-hop, dada poets, rap, shamanism, and stand-up comedy all intertwined (see poetry in performance). Bluntly political and uncompromisingly direct, Holman's work challenges notions of poetry as a rarefied commodity of the intellectual community and insists upon the relevance of poetry to lives lived outside of ivory towers. Holman's efforts to encourage the craft and art of the spoken word have resulted in his popularization of poetry slams, his productions of Public Broadcasting System's Words in Your Face and The United States of Poetry, and his cofounding of the poetry record label Mouth Almighty/Mercury Records.
Holman was born in LaFollette, Tennessee. He has taught at Bard College, and he founded the Bowery
Poetry Club in New York City. He is perhaps one of America's most active poets and has traveled the world performing his work and supporting the work of other spoken-word artists. As well as producing seven books, two edited anthologies, and numerous CDs, he has won three Emmy Awards (1988 and 1992), been nominated for a Grammy Award (1999), and hosted several Internet sites dedicated to spoken word performances and poetry.
Holman's poetry is specifically intended to be heard. His insistence upon poetry as a sensory experience, rather than an intellectual one, gives his work an immediacy that changes from one work to the next in an extremely articulate, emotional, and rhythmic stream of consciousness. Holman's oeuvre is not focused on a singular theme, nor can it be argued that it embodies a governing dictum, other than poetry is to be enjoyed, not endured. Indeed "Poem 3/2" (1990), begins, "There's No Big Message except hope you've had a good time while reading this."
"The Death of Poetry I" (1990) starts by lamenting the elevation of poetics to an elitist art form: "It sucked itself into the coffin spasm. ... It was enforced tradition of emptiness"; the poem ends by celebrating the return of a democratic poetic performance accessible to everyone: "Hey, amigos, let's go for it / Right out here in public." Holman's work refuses literary hierarchies, dismisses convoluted metaphors, and erodes notions of what is, and what is not, poetry. There is something of the passion of the streetcorner prophet about Hol-man's work, an insistence that a poet, any poet, is simply someone with something to say and the courage to say it clearly.
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