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.

Bagram, Afghanistan, 2002

Marvin Bell, 1937
The interrogation celebrated spikes and cuffs,
the inky blue that invades a blackened eye,
the eyeball that bulges like a radish,
that incarnadine only blood can create.
They asked the young taxi driver questions
he could not answer, and they beat his legs
until he could no longer kneel on their command.
They chained him by the wrists to the ceiling.
They may have admired the human form then,
stretched out, for the soldiers were also athletes
trained to shout in unison and be buddies.
By the time his legs had stiffened, a blood clot
was already tracing a vein into his heart.
They said he was dead when they cut him down,
but he was dead the day they arrested him.
Are they feeding the prisoners gravel now?
To make them skillful orators as they confess?
Here stands Demosthenes in the military court,
unable to form the words “my country.” What
shall we do, we who are at war but are asked
to pretend we are not? Do we need another
naive apologist to crown us with clichés
that would turn the grass brown above a grave?
They called the carcass Mr. Dilawar. They 
believed he was innocent. Their orders were
to step on the necks of the prisoners, to
break their will, to make them say something
in a sleep-deprived delirium of fractures,
rising to the occasion, or, like Mr. Dilawar,
leaving his few possessions and his body.

From Mars Being Red by Marvin Bell. Copyright © 2007 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

From Mars Being Red by Marvin Bell. Copyright © 2007 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted by 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
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
poem
We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane's wing, and a worn bed of 
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after
poem
Live as if you were already dead.  – Zen admonition



1. About the Dead Man and Fungi

The dead man has changed his mind about moss and mold.
About mildew and yeast.
About rust and smut, about soot and ash.
Whereas once he turned from the sour and the decomposed, now he breathes deeply in the underbelly