About this poet

Marvin Bell was born in New York City on August 3, 1937, and grew up in Center Moriches, on the south shore of eastern Long Island. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Alfred University, a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa.

Bell’s debut collection of poems, Things We Dreamt We Died For, was published in 1966 by the Stone Wall Press, following two years of service in the U.S. Army. His following two collections were A Probable Volume of Dreams (Atheneum, 1969), a Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See (1977), which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Since then, Bell has published numerous books of prose and poetry, most recently 7 Poets, 4 Days, 1 Book (Trinity University Press, 2009), a collaboration with six other poets, including Tomaz Salamun, Dean Young, and Christopher Merrill, and Mars Being Red (Copper Canyon Press, 2007) , which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

Bell’s other collections include Rampant (2004); Nightworks: Poems, 1962-2000 (2000); Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Volume 2 (1997); A Marvin Bell Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose (Middlebury College Press, 1994); The Book of the Dead Man (Copper Canyon Press, 1994); Iris of Creation (1990); New and Selected Poems ( Atheneum, 1987);

He has also published Old Snow Just Melting: Essays and Interviews ( University of Michigan Press, 1983) , as well as Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry with William Stafford (Godine, 1983).

About his early work, the poet Anthony Hecht said, "Marvin Bell is wonderfully versatile, with a strange, dislocating inventiveness. Capable of an unflinching regard of the painful, the poignant and the tragic; but also given to hilarity, high-spirits and comic delight; and often enough wedding and blending these spiritual antipodes into a new world. It must be the sort of bifocal vision Socrates recommended to his drunken friends if they were to become true poets."

Later in his career, Bell created the poetic form known as the "Dead Man poem," about which the critic Judith Kitchen has written: "Bell has redefined poetry as it is being practiced today."

Beginning in 2000, he served two terms as Iowa's first Poet Laureate. His other honors include awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The American Poetry Review , fellowships from the Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts, and Senior Fulbright appointments to Yugoslavia and Australia.

Bell taught for forty years for the Iowa Writers' Workshop, retiring in 2005 as Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters. For five years, he designed and led an annual Urban Teachers Workshop for America SCORES. Currently he serves on the faculty of Pacific University's low-residency MFA program. He has also taught at Goddard College, the University of Hawaii, the University of Washington and Portland State University.

Bell has influenced generations of poets, many of which were his students, including Michael Burkard, Marilyn Chin, Rita Dove, Norman Dubie, Albert Goldbarth. Robert Grenier, Joy Harjo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Mark Jarman, Denis Johnson, Larry Levis, David St. John, and James Tate.

Marvin Bell also frequently performs with the bassist, Glen Moore, of the jazz group, Oregon. He and his wife, Dorothy, live in Iowa City and Port Townsend, Washington.

The Book of the Dead Man (Food)

Marvin Bell, 1937
Live as if you were already dead.
                          Zen admonition
1. About the Dead Man and Food

The dead man likes chocolate, dark chocolate.
The dead man remembers custard as it was, spumoni as it was, shave
          ice as it was.
The dead man talks food with an active tongue, licks his fingers, takes
          seconds, but has moved on to salads.
It's the cheese, it's the crunch of the crunchy, it's the vinegar in the oil
          that makes a salad more than grass.
The dead man has a grassy disposition but no cow stomach for flappy
          leaves and diced croutons.
The dead man remembers oysterettes as they were.
He recalls good water and metal-free fish.
Headlights from the dock drew in blue claw crabs by the bucketful.
A flashlight showed them where the net lay.
If they looked bigger in the water than in the pail, they grew back on the
          stove.
It was like that, before salads.
The dead man, at the age he is, has redefined mealtime.
It being the quantum fact that the dead man does not believe in time, but
          in mealtime.

2. More About the Dead Man and Food

The dead man's happiness may seem unseemly.
By land or by sea, aloft or alit, happiness befalls us.
Were mankind less transfixed by its own importance, it would be harder
          to be happy.
Were the poets less obsessed with the illusion of the self, it would be
          more difficult to sing.
It would be crisscross, it would be askew, it would be zigzag, it would be
          awry, it would be cockeyed in any context of thought.
The dead man has felt the sensation of living.
He has felt the orgasmic, the restful, the ambiguous, the nearly-falling-over,
           the equilibrium, the lightning-in-the-bottle and the bottle in shards.
You cannot make the dead man write what you want.
The dead man offers quick approval but seeks none in return.
Chocolate is the more existential, it has the requisite absurdity, it loosens
          the gland.
The dead man must choose what he ingests, it cannot be anything goes
          in the world the world made.
So we come back to chocolate, which frees the dead man's tongue.
The dead man is every emotion at once, every heartbreak, every falling-
          down laugh riot, every fishhook that caught a finger.

Copyright © 2011 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted from Vertigo with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Copyright © 2011 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted from Vertigo with the permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Marvin Bell

Marvin Bell

Marvin Bell is the author of several poetry collections, including A Probable Volume of Dreams (Atheneum, 1969), winner of the Lamont Poetry Prize given by the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
and a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
of a windy night, it brushes the wall
and sweeps away the day till we sleep.

A child said it, and it seemed true:
"Things that are lost are all
poem
Live as if you were already dead.  – Zen admonition



1. About the Dead Man and Nothing

The dead man knows nothing.
He is powerless to stop the battles, he has no way to reattach the arms and legs.
He cannot stuff the fallen soldier's insides back inside.
He has no expertise in the matter of civilian
poem

The coffee was cold so I said so. I said,
my coffee is cold, and then I repeated it
but with a variation, something like, my
coffee is cold and I said so, and then, I
said I am glad my coffee is cold because
I get to say so, and I said my coffee is cold
like the Sahara at night, and I