All Part of the Poem Stuff

“The good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff…. Learn the rules, break the rules, make up new rules, break the new rules…. The I in the poem is not you but someone who knows a lot about you…. Every free verse writer must reinvent free verse….

“Prose is prose because of what it includes; poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out…. What they say “there are no words for”–that’s what poetry is for. Poetry uses words to go beyond words….

“A finished poem is also the draft of a later poem.”

~~Marvin Bell on writing poetry

Marvin Bell was the first Poet Laureate of Iowa. He taught for forty years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (The University of Iowa), as well as many other places both before and after. Somewhere along the line, he developed and taught 32 Statements About Writing Poetry (the above quote is an excerpt of my favorites).  (h/t to Musehouse for the link.)

Marvin Bell (via)
Marvin Bell (via)

I’m not familiar with Bell’s poetry (though I confess to being intrigued by his status as the inventor of the “Dead Man poems” poetry genre). As I looked him up online, I came across a few other gems in his thoughts on writing, too lovely not to also share (emphasis added):

“I tend to write only when the pot boils over, but I have learned how to turn up the heat.

“Of course, every age has its glut of B-grade magazine verse, its playing fields of the inept, its links of duffers, its beginners, its amateurs, its dilettantes, its millions of decent people doing what they like the best they can. Shame on good poets who are nasty to lesser poets.”

(As something of a poetry duffer myself, I gotta applaud that last sentiment. Out of self-interest, if nothing else.)

As for Bell’s Dead Man poems, I need to sit and mull with them a bit longer before I’ll be ready to have an opinion. If you’d like to mull with me, here’s some starting point poems About the Beginnings of the Dead Man. And for the more prosaically minded, here’s an interview in which he talks about both the Dead Man and the Resurrected Dead Man, and wonders about the future of the Dead Man’s voice:

“If that voice is to speak further, after the Dead Man and the Resurrected Dead Man, it will have to reemerge before death and resurrection. It will have to be that which has yet to be born, yet knows its beginning and its end. It will have to have new eyes. It will have to be green.”

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