32 Points from Bell on Poetry

Today I came across this list of zen-like thoughts on poetry by Marvin Bell. The way I see it, there should probably also be a thirty-third point that says something like, “Don’t believe everything you read about poetry from lists.” That’s because as much as anything we can ever say might be “true” about poetry (and Bells thoughts strike me as some of the truest), there is also some sense in which, by definition and because of the nature of poetry, it must also be a lie. Yep, I’ll admit — that includes everything I’ve ever said here on my website as well. Which is one of the great things about poetry — that it distorts/evades/transcends truth into much more interesting territory. And, as Bell says in point twenty eight, it’s also, after all, “just poetry.”

3 Traits of the Artist

The most striking feature of Marvin Bell’s craft talk during the Pacific University MFA Winter residency was his closing remark about the three traits of the artist. Here is what I wrote down:

  1. A disregard for convention
  2. A strong inner direction
  3. A love of challenges

I have been meditating on these qualities ever since, seeing where I can, for example, wipe the dust of adoration from my eyes and transcend old lyric devices. Then it occurred to me that our cat, Miranda, exemplifies all three traits in abundance throughout her daily life.

Photo by Valerie Peake
(click to enlarge)

Off to a Howling Start

Rain lashed against the windows all night and wind howled all through the hotel ventilation ducts. So I’m bleary-eyed after a long day getting here and a night full of banshees, but fired up after an awesome panel discussion this morning. Here’s an excerpt from my notes:

In the Q&A portion, Marvin encouraged us to just keep writing more with the intention of knowing ourselves and our work, and Pete Fromm admonished that it’s easier to talk about writing as a kind of social consolation prize than it is to actually do it. Marvin closed out talking about writer’s block, which is not the inability to write but writing bad stuff and then quitting (the latter decision being the only mistake). He brought forward the idea, which I found inspiring, that it might be the “bad” stuff that needs to be amplified and made good, rather than cut out in revision, to make a good poem great.

I’m already loving the no-nonsense vibe.

Unfortunately, the wifi in my room doesn’t work, so I’m writing this from the drafty first-floor laundry room, which is only a hotspot in the digital sense. Time for lunch and to meet the writers in my year.