Saturday, February 25, 2006

Inspiration: Poetry / Marvin Bell

As a poet and a lover of poetry, of course poetry and other poets are one of my sources of inspiration, a very important one.

Among my favorite poets is Marvin Bell. I first encountered his work in college, when I had a professor who gave us some of his poems to read and had Marvin in to speak to us for about an hour one day. After that I read his poetry as much as I could, but had no further exposure to the man himself - until last year. Last year, he taught a poetry workshop as part of the Haystack program at PSU, a summer arts-at-the-beach program. I had never heard of the program before in my life, but one day at the library I found a flier for it and Marvin Bell was doing a poetry workshop. It was only months away at that time - the lead-up was very short and I felt I needed to make a decision right away lest I miss my window.

I went, of course. And I had an absolute blast. Marvin is, besides being a wonderful poet, witty and wise and very down-to-earth. The other participants in the workshop were wonderful writers and fun people - we were a very very mixed group - it was great!

Anyway, I can't share the workshop - I wish I could somehow share that experience beyond describing it, but it wouldn't be the same. But I can share some poetry and statements about poetry that inspire me. And I mention so much about Marvin Bell because I'd like to start with some of his.

First, his poem "To Dorothy" which is written to his wife. I remember a statement he made back when I was in college, I believe, roughly to the effect that he had not wanted to descend into trite sentiment, and so he started with that first line he uses because he knew that from there he would have to be very creative if he wanted the poem to be appreciated by Dorothy!

Also, the poem "He Had A Good Year" which I include here, rather than linking to, as the only copy I can find already online is embedded in a large page with a number of Marvin's poems. You might enjoy reading them but I did particularly want to recommend this one and with no way to direct link, I'd rather post it.

He Had a Good Year

while he was going blind. Autumnal light
gave to ordinary things the turning
beauty of leaves, rich with their losing.
A shade of yellow, that once stood opaque
in the rainbow of each glitzy morning,
now became translucent, as if the sun
broke against his own window. As for white,
it was now too much of everything,
as the flat deprivations of the color black
moved farther away: echoes of a surface
unseen and misremembered. I must tell you
how he managed as the lights went slowly out
to look inside the top glow of each object
and make in his mind a spectrum of inner
texture, of an essence isolate from the
nervous trembling of things struck by light.
"Ah, if God were only half the man he is,"
he said, "he would see things this way."
If you ever want a book of Marvin Bell's works, I recommend A Marvin Bell Reader or Nightworks, both collections from his previous books - Nightworks is the newer and probably better choice, but the Reader might be available used for less.

While I cannot upload the workshop he gave us (alas!), I can link to some advice he gives - intended for poets, but much either applicable or adaptable to other arts, I think - that is posted on the Copper Canyon Press website. (Copper Canyon is, by the way, an absolutely lovely little northwest poetry press, and I am always intrigued by books that come out under their imprint or poets whose previous books have done so - I don't always like the books, but the mere presence of the imprint is enough to intrigue me and make me want to see if I will like it!)

There are other poets I like - of course! - and I may well post more about others later this week. I feel like this post is already long enough and, truly, this man deserves his own writeup.

No comments: