The Book of the Dead Man

Marvin Bell, Author Copper Canyon Press $22 (80p) ISBN 978-1-55659-062-7
In this prosaic book-length sequence, Bell ( Iris of Creation ), a respected poet, adopts one of the most simplistic formulas: the list poem. Each poem is divided into two sections (``about'' then ``more about'' such things as dreams, pain, government, thunder and sin); most lines begin with ``The dead man,'' and continue with monotonous description. There is no recognizable progression within these 33 poems, no congruous personality. Perhaps intended as some symbolic Everyman, the dead man is alternately a capitalist and a naturalist (Bell calls him a ``material mystic'' in his brief preface). Sensing these discrepancies in his personality, Bell speaks in one poem about the various ``masks'' the dead man uses (ending, of course, with the death mask). But he never shows these disguises in action, letting this weighty primitive concept fall as flat as everything else. The few striking passages, such as the first mask being ``a hand over his mouth'' and a wildly appropriate tribute to Houdini, are quickly swallowed by the surrounding muddle. ``The dead man sees no difference between a line and a sentence,'' Bell says. The same might be said of the poet. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/04/1993
Release date: 01/01/1993
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 80 pages - 978-1-55659-063-4
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