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First poet laureate of Iowa to present reading March 7

February 22, 2013
By cnp
Posted in Community Events

American poet and teacher Marvin Bell, who was the first poet laureate of the state of Iowa, will present a reading of his works on Thursday, March 7, at University of the Ozarks.

The event, which will be held in Rowntree Auditorium in the Walton Fine Arts Center, is a part of the university’s 2012-2013 Walton Arts & Ideas Series. The reading will begin at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

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Poet Marvin Bell will present some of his poetry during a Walton Arts & Ideas Series event on the Ozarks campus at 7 p.m., March 7.

Bell has written more than 20 books of poetry, including "The Book of the Dead Man,"  The Book of the Dead Man, Vol. 2,"  "Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000,"  "Mars Being Red,"  and "Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems."  His first nationally distributed book, "A Probable Volume of Dreams," was awarded the Lamont Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets in 1969. Other honors for his work include Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) fellowships, and Fulbright appointments to Yugoslavia and Australia. In 2000 Bell was appointed the first poet laureate for the state of Iowa.

Bell taught 40 years for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, retiring as the Flannery O’Connor Professor of Letters. He is currently an emeritus faculty member. Over a long career, Bell has held numerous visiting lectureships at universities, including Goddard College, Oregon State University, the University of Hawaii, Wichita State University, Portland State University, and the University of Washington. He currently serves on the faculty of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing program at Pacific University in Oregon.

Raised in Long Island, Bell served in the U. S. Army from 1964 to 1965. He has written poems protesting the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and given readings for Poets Against the War.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Alfred University, his master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His former students include Marilyn Chin, Rita Dove, Norman Dubie, James Galvin, Albert Goldbarth, Jorie Graham, Joy Harjo, Juan Felipe Herrera, Denis Johnson, Larry Levis, David St. John, and James Tate.

William M. Robins in the Dictionary of Literary Biography writes that Bell is "a poet of the family. He writes of his father, his wives, his sons, and himself in a dynamic interaction of love and loss, accomplishment, and fear of alienation. These are subjects that demand maturity and constant evaluation. A complete reading of Bell’s canon shows his ability to understand the durability of the human heart. Equally impressive is his accompanying technical sophistication."  The son of a Ukraine immigrant, Bell has written frequently of distance and reconciliation between people, often touching on his complex relationship to his heritage.

Bell’s use of humor has continued to develop over the years. "Humor in the 15 new poems contained in New and Selected Poems is of the sort that deflates our facile reductions of experience," observed an essayist for Contemporary Poets. "Marvin Bell’s work satisfies a need for every kind of laugh and reminds us that comedy is at least as tough as tragedy. From the outset, however, he has been modulating the balance of amusement and profundity in his poetry. Early on his wit was, by turns, clever and probing, tending at one moment to trivialize his work, at another to deepen it. But over the long haul he has exerted mature control."

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."

Bell and his wife, Dorothy, live in Iowa City and Port Townsend, Wash.