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Marvin Bell's apparently modest, personal little poems are full of tricks and irritations--somewhat like a male, midwestern version of the narrative voice in Renata Adler's novel Speedboat. He lights with the same swiftness on a phrase, a thought, or a moment, and then spurns it for another. And his casual manner covers even the most serious affairs: ""One man held the huge pig down/and the other stuck an icepick/into the jugular, which is when/we started to pay attention."" But every so often, one of these provocations comes off. ""A Shrug"" is ostensibly about a statue of Balzac in Paris, but more a kind of combative dialectic designed to engage and then disengage the reader. After referring to the rain in passing as ""red,"" the poet stops and demands ""You don't believe the rain is red? Go and look."" And the poem ends: ""Rodin's Balzac was thought too rough, obscene,/ and of course it was intended that way,/ as if to keep something from you/ until you want it,/ and then to give it all to you with a shrug./ What's the matter?/ You don't believe the rain in Paris is red?"" At such moments a sneaky charm breaks through the prevailing affectation.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum