Marvin (Hartley) Bell 1937–
American poet, essayist, critic, and editor.
Bell is among America's most prestigious contemporary poets. His career has been marked by steady development and his work as an editor, critic, and professor has significantly influenced contemporary American poetry. Bell's early poems reveal his interest in language. They are noted for experimentation with style and structure, extensive use of complicated syntax, and clever wordplay; the predominant tone, as G. E. Murray notes, is "breezy charm and wit." As Bell's writing matured, his language became more simple and direct. According to critics, this development heightened the emotional impact of his poems and fostered greater integration of their content and form.
A Probable Volume of Dreams (1969), Bell's first important collection, contains poems reprinted from Things We Dreamt We Died For (1966) and other publications. This volume presents his thematic concern with loss and displacement. Bell's relationship with his family, especially his deceased father, and the problems unique to his Russian-Jewish heritage form the basis of much of his poetry. The tone of his later verse suggests a sense of reconciliation and acceptance not found in his early work.
Bell's next two major works, The Escape into You (1971) and Residue of Song (1974), reveal his increasing preference for emotional depth over technical virtuosity. With Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See (1977), Bell found what he had sought: "A language that embodies deep feeling and meaningful experience." Bell also discovered a style which enabled him to "write poetry in a way that is accessible to anyone who wants to read it." Of this volume, Bell further stated: "In a very real sense, [this is] my first book." The quiet, graceful tone, the sense of modesty and calm assurance, and the sophisticated maturity of this "first book" have elicited almost unanimous critical approval.
The poem "Trinket" in Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See exemplifies the simplicity and immediacy of emotion which constitute the strengths of this and subsequent volumes. In this poem, the sight of water oozing through a crack in a fern pot acts as a reminder for the speaker that, as David St. John notes, "It is not in grandeur that the self is to be found," but in the domestic particulars of everyday life. In the same volume, "The Self and the Mulberry" begins with the line: "I wanted to see the self, so I looked at the mulberry." Since Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See Bell has produced two volumes of poetry—These Green-Going-to-Yellow (1981) and Segues (1983), a "correspondence in poetry" with William Stafford—and a collection of essays, Old Snow Just Melting (1982).
(See also CLC, Vol. 8; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 5.)