The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“To No One in Particular” is a poem in free verse. The title functions much like the “To Whom It May Concern” salutation of a letter that carries a message to anyone that can make use of it. It is written from a first-person perspective with nothing to indicate that the poet is speaking through a persona (a character distinctly different from the poet who functions as the narrator of the poem). Both the voice and the ideas expressed in the poem are consistent with those in many other poems by Marvin Bell, so it seems reasonable to assume that there is no philosophical difference between the “I” of the poem and the poet himself. With no stanza breaks and no extra spacings or peculiar formatting, the poem’s fifty-five lines appear on the page like one long, narrow paragraph; however, there are some easily distinguishable sections of the poem.

The first two lines of the poem, “Whether you sing or scream/ the process is the same,” prepare the reader, like the thesis statement in an academic essay, for an exploration of “the process” behind human vocalizations. The next eight lines act as an introduction to a comparative analysis of two very different types of human speech—learned and instinctive. They also point out crude aspects of the actual vocal instrument—“spittle and phlegm.”

In lines 11 through 22 the poet speculates that if one were to grab someone by the throat and beat him, someone else would almost...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Marvin Bell is well known for creating free verse that has the deceptive appearance of prose broken into lines; however, a keen ear or eye soon recognizes that his work is pure poetry. He uses very few quickly discernable devices in this poem. The most obvious of these are juxtaposition and anaphora. The poem begins with the juxtaposition of two human sounds—singing and screaming. He states that the “process” of creating these two sounds is essentially the same and that both of them use “spittle and phlegm.” The difference stems from fear causing the throat to constrict. The juxtaposition of “consonants” and “vowels” is so prevalent that it becomes a theme of the poem.

Anaphora is the practice of repeating the same word or phrase at the beginning of lines, clauses, sentences, or stanzas. Bell makes back-to-back uses of this device in the last half of the poem. Beginning at line 35 he starts three consecutive sentences with “Even though,” and immediately begins the next four with “Who will.” Probably the single most famous use of anaphora in the English language is the Beatitudes of the Bible, nine statements attributed to Christ, each of which begins with “Blessed are.” Although Bell’s reasons for using this device may differ from the biblical author’s, the effect is essentially the same; it establishes a strong tone of authority, a voice that simply will not be ignored. Unlike the biblical use of the device as an...

(The entire section is 444 words.)