Seth takes up my challenge and talks up what he admires in Josh Bell's book.
If I understand him correctly, the feature of Bell's work he prizes most is the tension between Bell's wariness of the behavior of individuals and his tendency to seek a happy resolution in community.
He admires Bell's tone and especially how Bell avoids glibness. When Bell pursues a purely literary device, such as the love of a mortal for an ancient divinity, Bell imbues the scene with a refreshing modernity, for example with a phrase that is direct and not cheap.
He perceives some qualities of Whitman's work in Bell's, particularly in Bell's prosody and his preoccupation with matters of the spirit and the sublime.
I appreciate Seth's time. I'll reread Bell's book.
My block on it the first time -- and some time later, when my colleague Ray reviewed it -- was that Bell's language doesn't have much of what I go to poetry for: a freshness of perception and emotional fluency. I was put off then by the poetry in-jokiness and the flatness of phrases such as "the poem that ends with the line “and that’s the thing/ that really cracks me up/ about chaos theory.”"
Bell's casual insistence on concepts of disease and disrepair could have worked for me -- I can get by them in the work of Gabe Gudding, for example, and the messiness of flarf has reconciled me with dark comedy in poetry -- but with Bell the incidental comparisons seemed gratuitous, or rather, not gratuitous enough -- they add insufficiently to an atmosphere of dread and insecurity to push the whole affair into an altogether liberating caricature. Seth's mention of Dean Young in this regard struck me as totally on the money -- but with Dean's work the constant undertone of human frailty, vulnerability, somehow underwrites the perpetual semi-Kochean frivolity.
Anyway. I'll get back and see whether I see Bell better this time. Thanks again to Seth for taking my request seriously.
Jordan - #