An Appreciation: Marvin Bell’s Dead Man Poems

1.  About the Costs

Here’s something we know about the poems we love that move us most:  The poets who wrote them paid a high price to create them.

Those poems are real things that did not exist until those poets made them. To give them the magic and the power needed to move us, the poets put into them something of themselves that they knew they would never get back. That was the price they paid for going into the dark to bring something back into the light, and it was a price they paid over and over again as they created their body of work.  We honor them not only for their art but also for what it cost them to make it, the price visibly there, nestled into the DNA of things that could not have been made without it.

I’ve been thinking about these issues of cost and creation as I read Marvin Bell’s Dead Man poems. I think that it must have cost him a great deal to make them.  These poems are Bell’s best ever, an aesthetic and psychic break with all his previous work.  They have no discoverable genealogy in the contemporary poetry landscape, because they are not like anything being written today, or for that matter, like anything written in the past half-century or so.