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Deep Well, Dan Bellm’s fourth collection of poems, is an extended homage and elegy for a mother lost to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2010. The sequence is a book of memory and consolation, combining formal precision with plain speech, and interwoven with Bellm’s translations of six related poems from Spanish and French. Poet David St. John writes, “These lyrics of memoriam and these deep songs (in Lorca's sense) of mourning seem almost to etch themselves onto the air. Keep this book at hand; hold its passages close. This is an essential collection of poetry."
Praise for Dan Bellm and Deep Well
With a touch on the keys of language as light as the air we breathe, Dan Bellm traces his mother's death, and abides her continuing presence, as the keeper of "this/ blessing of kindness" which is both hers and his. Deep Well is a book of the purest poetry I have read in a long time. I am grateful for it.
-- Alicia Ostriker, author of Waiting for the Light
Dan Bellm's Deep Well is a breathtaking, constantly astonishing elegiac sequence of poems in honor of his mother. Reflecting upon both the power of her presence in his life and the deepening grief of watching her passage through Alzheimer's, Dan Bellm both celebrates the fierce integrity of this remarkable woman and quietly charts his own poetics of loss. These lyrics of memoriam and these deep songs (in Lorca's sense) of mourning seem almost to etch themselves onto the air. Keep this book at hand; hold its passages close. This is an essential collection of poetry.
-- David St. John, author of The Last Troubadour: New and Selected Poems
Speaking through the wound of grief, Dan Bellm reaches to the most sorrowful depth of first consciousness and clarity, a true infans, a state before words, one that can neither laugh nor cry except in innocentia, the inability to harm. Few humans, even few poets, can preserve such a state. Dan Bellm is one of them. This Deep Well, this wide-ranging metaphor for the one who taught him to love writing, conveys a trust and a faith in sacred words that carry the "undying tremor and draw" Seamus Heaney compared to water far down a well.
-- Pura López Colomé, author of Via Corporis
Wrought in a series of delicately articulated three-line stanzas—as if each stanza is a meditation on the relationship between the mother, the son, and the spirit—Dan Bellm's poems have worked some sort of magic on my heart. Reading Deep Well, I am at once sad and elated, aware of righteous indignation and far-reaching compassion. The poems here are part of a conversation that knows no boundaries. Neither foreign languages nor national borders, not denials nor death, can hinder these urgent and universal utterances. I am grateful to Deep Well for its precise and profound translation of what it means to inherit this lot that our language calls love.
-- Camille T. Dungy, author of Trophic Cascade
In Deep Well, Dan Bellm writes the poems none of us ever wants to have to write, on watching a parent die, and he does it with a sense of beauty and wonder that, in spite of the suffering, leaves the reader in awe of life: “Her voice came/ from the bottom and// returned me to the/ surface; it showed a way back/ to breath.
— Mark Statman, author of That Train Again
Dan Bellm transcends the expected in every poem of Deep Well. Nuanced, lyrical and reaching ever deeper beneath the ground, this collection is Bellm's best yet.
-- Idra Novey, author of Ways to Disappear
for Terrain, with Molly Fisk and Forrest Hamer (1998)
Page after page offers the thrilling lift of revelation—imaginative, sensuous and precise encounters with the real terrain of the human. This is a truly fine collection.
-- Jane Hirshfield
for One Hand on the Wheel (1999)
Courageous and humane poems….A very fine book.
-- Adrienne Rich
Singular, fresh…[Dan Bellm] is an American artist of enormous gifts and discipline.
-- June Jordan
for Buried Treasure (1999)
This stunning book is fiercely alive, and awake to the self as both singular and inextricably part of the whole—to the body as one in a field of yearning and failing human forms. "Delle Avenue" is—and I don't say this lightly—a great poem of city life, of the confluence of memory and history and voice which city streets are. Dan Bellm's genuine authority and his vulnerable, almost physical presence of the page lead us, somehow, to connection with what is larger, more ongoing, than any single person is; he sings the anxious and lovely story of his place and time.
Whether he is looking at a small town, a hip neighborhood or the inner city, Dan Bellm regards American life with honesty, pity, and acceptance. He invokes the spirits of the poet James Schuyler and the composer John Cage, and the blessing they provide him is that, like them, Bellm scorns nothing. He can make poetry out of the ordinary grief of his parents' lives or the unlikely details of a shabby city street. He finds a connection between artistic ambition and the evolutionary stubbornness of quaking aspens. He has not forgotten his childhood, even as he struggles with being a parent. These poems range widely, giving us both the big picture of our time and place and the personal situation carrying on modestly within it. This poet's gift--and I think it is a substantial one--is for heartbreaking accuracy.
-- Mark Jarman
for Practice (2008)
Reading Dan Bellm's poems, I think: This is blessing. I think of Auden saying, "In the deserts of the heart / Let the healing fountain start." I am in awe of how Bellm's poems perform a dance with and against Holy Scripture. And I keep coming back to his lines about "the way the body addresses the soul / lending it shape / lending it comfort and sorrow." Practice is like a long prayer of wonder, gratitude, pain and loss and tenderness.
-- Alicia Ostriker
Something happened to Dan Bellm in this third book that I believe will propel him most deservingly as one of the foremost poets of his generation. Here, speaking the language of the prophets, revising it in a way that is both humble and heartbreakingly playful—remember Yeats's "It is myself that I remake?"—Bellm achieves a quiet grandeur that casts a spell and does not let me be. I love Practice as a book-long sequence of parables, prayers, elegies, and incantations that are traditional and yet utterly contemporary. In assembling this formal collection, Bellm teaches us: We are living in biblical times.
-- Ilya Kaminsky
Cover art: Landscape Abstraction, by Jane Freilicher, oil on linen, 1960. Private collection. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.