cover image Vertigo


Marvin Bell. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-1-55659-376-5

In his 18th book of poems, the beloved Bell continues to develop his signature form, the "Dead Man" poem, each of which is actually a pair of linked poems (such as "About the Dead Man's Health" and "More About the Dead Man's Health"). The titular Dead Man is an alter-ego, a wayfarer lost in everyday life, rendered with Bell's combination of deep images, surreal details, and banal experiences. He is simultaneously tough ("the dead man's scars are like bandages") and touchingly vulnerable ("The dead man remembers being an immortal child"); more than anything, the Dead Man speaks out against injustices: "It is the dead man's place to call them out." The Dead Man takes on everything from the nostalgic past ("The dead man remembers the eleven horses cresting the hill as he walked toward them through the buffalo sod) to, and perhaps especially, the burning political and social issues of our moment: "The dead man and the dead woman have had words with our senators./ %C2%A0The dead man is not up to refusing you health care, he is different." Cast in limpid, Whitmanic long lines, these poems are strange, oracular, grumpy, alive, surprising, and, quite often, very beautiful. (July)