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The Music of Failure

2010
Author:

Bill Holm
Foreword by Jim Heynen
Afterword by David Pichaske

The Music of Failure

The 25th anniversary edition of Bill Holm’s influential first book of essays

The Music of Failure is a lyrical and surprising compilation that finds Bill Holm mining the stories and places that captivated him and continue to enthrall his many readers. This collection is Holm at both his early and quintessential best, an inimitable and much-missed writer who illuminates our private and common lives through both our quiet victories and our sublime failures.

We would not be worse as a people if we would always ask: What would Bill Holm think about that?

Einar Már Gudmundsson

“The ground bass is failure; America is the key signature; Pauline Bardal is the lyrical tune that sings at the center; Minneota, Minnesota, is the staff on which the tunes are written.So begins the masterful title piece from Bill Holm’s first book of essays, The Music of Failure. This collection introduced to many the singular vision and voice of literary giant Bill Holm, a writer who had traveled well and widely but came back to his hometown of Minneota—the town of his immigrant Icelandic ancestors—as, in his words, “for all practical purposes a failure.”

What emerges from these pages, and from Holm’s cherished writings over the next two and a half decades, is anything but failure. From his ruminations on life in Minneota, family history, and the “horizontal grandeur” of the Midwestern prairie to a poetry-reading tour of Minnesota nursing homes and an account of a naked man eating lilacs out of his garden, The Music of Failure is a lyrical and surprising compilation that finds Holm mining the stories and places that captivated him and continue to enthrall his many readers.

This 25th anniversary edition includes poignant portraits of Holm and the history of The Music of Failure by Jim Heynen and David Pichaske, along with an essay Holm requested be added to this new edition, “Is Minnesota in America Yet?” With beautiful black-and-white photographs by Tom Guttormsson, The Music of Failure is Bill Holm at both his early and quintessential best, an inimitable and much-missed writer who illuminates our private and common lives through both our quiet victories and our sublime failures.

The Music of Failure

Bill Holm (1943–2009) was a one-of-a-kind poet, essayist, and musician. He wrote several acclaimed books and won the Minnesota Book Award and the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. He lived in Minneota, Minnesota, and spent summers in Iceland, and he taught English for many years at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Jim Heynen has published widely as a writer of poems, novels, nonfiction, and short fiction.

David Pichaske is editor in chief of Spoon River Poetry Press, Ellis Press, and Plains Press.

The Music of Failure

We would not be worse as a people if we would always ask: What would Bill Holm think about that?

Einar Már Gudmundsson

Bill Holm’s essays test the general assumptions of Americans about themselves against the private realities of their lives in a particular place. The place is Minneota, Minnesota, vividly evoked in Tom Guttormsson’s photographs as well as in Holm’s words.

Tobias Wolff

Bill Holm’s essay ‘The Music of Failure’ is worth the price of the whole book. Why will Americans agree to experience so many things, but not failure? The beauty of failure is his theme. A brilliant essay.

Robert Bly

A good book, perhaps even a great book. Holm has found his voice, and he speaks to the ‘hollowness of heart’ words that remind us—and convince us—that the true symbols of fullness of heart exist only in nature and in failures like Pauline, rather than in things that can be charged on credit cards.

St. Paul Pioneer Press