Marvin Bell is gray haired and bearded. The 70 year old is Iowa's first Poet Laureate. In the mid 1960's Bell was an army officer so it is perhaps not at all surprising that he has written on the subject of war extensively. Of his 17 published books of poetry, many deal with war.
In a recent Des Moines Register interview I was particularly struck by his response to the question, "What is the role of art in war time?" Bell's response seems particularly relevant to writing in a broader prospective about any social concern, not just war. He said, "Poets talk about current events, just as everyone does, but some of us also embed it in our art. Poetry doesn't change minds. However, it becomes part of the consensus. It finds words for what it feels like during wartime. That said, there is no one way to write and no right way to write. A poet is perfectly within his or her right to graph the inner life without reference to outer events."
It seems that poets have long been charged with defining moments in the use of language. It is the utilization of individual words and phrases that bring "feeling" into better focus. This not only gives greater clarity to the feelings but the words themselves. I've had times and I am sure I am not alone, when I have felt some way that I was not able to adequately describe. That ability to graph the inner life is one measure of exceptionally good poetry.