Dan Bellm has a rich career in writing—not only as a poet but as a translator of poems and fiction from French and Spanish, a translator of children’s books from Spanish, and a freelance writer in the field of early childhood education and social services. His expertise and life experience bleed through in his poems. The reader is rewarded with the warmth, self-reflection and honesty that the poems bring to issues such as reconciling difficult relationships, the complexity of being a gay man, and the frustration of being at odds with government actions.
Dan Bellm’s collection One Hand on the Wheel reflects his charged relationship with his father—at once intimate and controlled—and the grief of losing him. The poems are more than a telling; they invite us to be beside the speaker in that struggle.
Practice, his most recent book of poems is inspired by Midrash, a practice of studying and interpreting the Torah. One need not know the Torah intimately to connect with the great longing and questioning expressed in this collection. In a sense, Dan Bellm translates these ancient texts—he gives us a new way of experiencing these tales and teachings. The following passage from “Before Words” gives us a new perspective on a passage from the book of Genesis, in which God creates the world.
A baby is singing in the morning
before anyone is up in the house
Before he has decided
which of all the languages he will speak
he is trying the sounds of his voice
in the first light…
The body wants to be useful
and the soul is open so wide
This is the way we awaken
He remembers he is alone
and cries for us.
Bellm’s poems often reflect the perspective of a child or youth, which should be of no surprise given his experience in early childhood education. In “Milk” we see a young boy’s friendship with the milkman, whom the boy imagines is the president. “His name was Ike,/and he would wink at me, / as if caught in a secret…” But the tone of the poem shifts from that innocence. “…the President got up before dawn/ and visited me,/ going door to door/ to make himself of use.” That sardonic twist is one of Dan Bellm’s gifts—to comment on dissatisfaction while bringing delight and humor. A passionate and humane poet, we look forward to welcoming him to the Festival.
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