(Address given by Murat Nemet-Nejat at the Memorial Event for Benjamin Hollander at the Poetry Center, San Francisco, on February 5, 2017)
Trying to come up with words to say in this occasion, I realized I simply loved the man. I loved his seamless generosity, which often came unasked and had no ulterior, self-serving motivation behind it.
In a peculiar light filled innocence that was so much Ben, his heart was pure.
Once I told him that to me he represented the best, the essence of the Jew in history. He asked me why. I said because he understood the suffering of others.
Many of his books are about outrage (in a non ego-centric way, circuitous, heteronymic, funny, that was his signature style) about an injustice or unfairness done to others, whether it be the Palestinians or the innocent stiff on the street being bullied by the cop or Charles Olson.
Many of you know he appreciated very much that the French compared his poetry to film noir. Writing on him (on o no me and Levinas and the Police) I called his work film lumière. He asked me why. I said because your darkness is full of light.
Ben explains in Vigilance how he came to the word/sound o no me. One day, in total darkness, blind, he began to scribble some words on a piece of paper on the table. When he turned on the light and looked at what he wrote, it was o no me. “Oh, not me, the responsibility’s not mine! Let others do it.” “Oooh not mee! Others may get cancer, not me! Other countries may be attacked by terrorists, not the United States.” Ben got cancer.
Our last conversation occurred on the phone, just before the last experimental drug was going to be tried on him. “They will give it to me for two weeks. By then they will know if it works or not,” he said. “What if it doesn’t?” “Then, I’m dead.”
May your soul rest in peace, dear friend!