By Tom Isham for The Marshall Community AD-VISOR - January 7, 1998.
Translation: (Angela de Hoyos)
In the rolling farm country between Albion and Marshall, one can easily picture a "field of dreams." But ... a "house of poets"? It seems unlikely, but yes one can find La Casa De Los Poetas.
Yes, in the middle of ballplaying, Midwestern, heartland Calhoun County, one can find a house dedicated to the poetic muse. And in Spanish, no less.
"What we do in this house is, we grow dreams," says José M. Oxholm, poet and lover of poetry.
The dreams of both Oxholm and his wife, Alicia, are at the heart of an inspired labor of printing, publishing, correspondence (nearly worldwide) and cultivation of the arts. The emphasis is upon the poetry of South America, Spain, and other areas where the Spanish language is spoken and prized.
"We know hundreds of poets," Oxholm said. "I write to hundreds of poets. Our mail is very interesting."
The vast correspondence with poets, novelists and artists includes letters from Nobel Prize winners such as Camilo José Cela of Spain and other notables. Politicians and other celebrities are also represented.
For 25 years, the Oxholms have published an annual poetry magazine that is distributed throughout the Spanish-speaking world, as well as to addresses in France and Germany. "And also Israel, Greece, Japan, and even Cuba," Mrs. Oxholm said. "We print it on a letter press," Mr. Oxholm noted. "We set the type by hand. It takes four hours per page."
This labor of love is always at least 60 pages in length and features a sail boat print on the cover, designed by Mrs. Oxholm. "Sometimes there are close to 100 poets present in there, Mr. Oxholm said." A dedicated poet himself, he has 15 books of poetry to his credit, and is presently preparing number 16. Two of the books were published in Mexico and the rest at home. "My wife sews the books by hand,"he said. "She taught herself." Mrs. Oxholm also make highly detailed linoleum block cuts to illustrate the books.
Oxholm writes poetry about his homeland, Puerto Rico; about army life (served in the U.S. Army in 1951-52), and about romantic and religious themes. He has also written a series of sonnets about the Sierra Madre, where he and his wife are especially interested in the welfare of the Indian population (for whom they have helped to raise money).
The couple married in 1962. José had corresponded with Alicia, who lived in Mexico, while he was a widower. Altogether they wrote 200 letter to each other.
Four children have been born to the couple, adding to Oxholm's two from his first marriage. The couple is proud to report tha they have raised two lawyers, two medical doctors, a nurse and a administrative assistant. There are six grandchildren.
While Alicia was "raising doctors and lawyers," José was busy with his job as a medical techonologist for the Detroit Health Department. "And I was a fulltime poet at home," he said. Although Oxholm grew up in Puerto Rico, where the family had settled several generations before to work in the sugar cane business, his surname is Swedish. His Swedish forebearers had a some point emigrated to England, and Oxholm remembers that his great grandfather was known in family parlance as "the old Englishman."
More than two decades ago, the Oxholms began looking for land for their dream of a "house of poets." They started looking in rural areas near Detroit but found the land prices discouraging. Finally, through an acquaintance in Albion, they learned of available land in this area. In 1977, they brought 40 acres of property on 24 Mile Road.
The following year, they contracted with Amish craftsmen to build a barn on the property, and in 1980 Amish builders raised the main structure of the house, incluidng a fieldstone fireplace.
"The rock in the center is 800 pounds," Oxholm said. "People ask, how did you put it up there? I answer: with difficulty."
Once the craftmen had done the structural work on the single-story brick home, the Oxholms, along with friends and acquaintances, began the myriad of jobs that still needed doing. "More people worked on this house than you can imagine," Oxholm said. Whether it was soffits or plumbing or electrical work, the couple managed to tap the skills of the people they knew. They themselves learned to hang drywall and Mrs. Oxholm became adept at putting down tile and wood flooring.
"If someone else can do it, I can do it," she thought. She is also skilled at keeping the house in good repair. "I am the fixer-upper," she said.
The couple moved into the house in 1988 and have hosted numerous guests in the years since, ranging from college students (the Oxholms are happy to host local groups) to internationally known poets to artists of reputation. This past summer, they hosted Marta Olson, the painter from Argentina noted for her "magic realism."
The rolling field and woods of their property are ideal when guests arrive. "It is delightful to walk with our guests," Oxholm said. "We see the deer, and fly kites on the hill."
A pond they built near the house draws deer, opossums, foxes, raccoons, geese, and songbirds. Over the years, the couple has been active in planting trees on their land. "We have planted, by hand, thousands of trees," Oxholm said. Many of the trees are named after their poet friends, and appropriately festooned with the name of the poet and a selection of his or her work.
The fireplace in the home also has a personal touch. In addition to the large rocks which make up its basic structure, smaller rocks are inserted here and there in the face of the fireplace. These are rocks which have been sent to them by their poet friends.
"There are not just any rocks," Oxholm said, "but rocks with a story, an anecdote." For instance, one is a volcanic rock from the Canary Islands, the type used by island natives in making knives. Another rock is from a castle in France. Another, of silver, quartz and mercury, is from the president of the city of Linares in Spain.
"We get surprises in the mail," Oxholm said.
The couple's entire house, and way of life, is a surprise, actually. It is a way of life that is inviting to others, and open to sharing the owners' enthusiasms. "We want friendship, to welcome people," Oxholm said. "So this is what we've done."
What nests are in thy peaks? Stairs
to that enchanting sun. What hidden
treasures in thy innermost? What world?
There is no error in the condor's flight.
If thou clear off the golden steeds, the clouds.
(Ah, what strange gorges rise
with veins of copper to thy heights!)
They are thy Indians, thy mines, thy grimaces,
variations on an echoed scene.
heart of a self-same shape.