Invitation to the Voyage

Poems by Peter Marshall Bell

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Publisher Description

Poems from 1981 to 1994, the last year of the author's life, embrace irony, anguish, tenderness, humor and love in a journey of discovery by a beloved history teacher and passionate traveler.

    Fiction & Literature
    August 17
    Raymond L Boyington
    Raymond L Boyington

    Customer Reviews

    Jackson1948Fla ,

    An Enduring Legacy

    An Enduring Legacy
    A review, by Jack A. Urquhart

    "Invitation to the Voyage," by Peter Marshall Bell, who died of AIDS in 1994, is both a celebration of, and a memorial to Bell's extraordinary gifts—and his ongoing vitality. Lovingly edited and presented by Raymond L. Boyington, Bell’s former spouse—with the assistance and encouragement of Bell’s surviving friends—the revised iBook edition contains two previously unpublished works in addition to the original twenty-one poems.

    The revised, augmented collection features many of the conventional poetic forms—free verse, dramatic monologues, narratives, biography, romanticism, and even an occasional ballad. In fact, in a few cases, elements of several forms appear within a single poem. I mention this because Bell was not a trained poet—and neither is this reviewer. Thus, I make no attempt to critique his work in any traditional sense. Rather, in undertaking this informal "review," I rely for guidance on no less than William Wordsworth, who famously defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings..." adding that poetry "takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility." I believe that Bell's poems underpin this broad, accessible definition—often beautifully.

    By way of example, I offer Bell's poem, "Valentine's Day" which explores in rhyming free verse the often self-sabotaging gamesmanship of modern-day courtship, albeit between gay men in this case.

    It's the dance of hesitation
    here in the wild west,
    so choose your partners, gentlemen,
    and see whose ego's best.

    The question to be sought? to seek?
    is many ages old,
    and far too often a man's pride
    has quenched the lovelight cold.

    Here Bell seems to be poking sad fun at the quest for intimacy in an all too competitive world—a world where raw ego and the fear of losing the upper hand have doomed many a potential love affair. The poem's final stanza drives home the point:

    So change your partners, gentlemen,
    and mind your egos well
    so if you loved your partner,
    he couldn't ever tell.

    How sad, and true, and self-defeating those final lines.

    Bell's mastery of several languages is on display in the poem, "L'autre ne dït rien" ("The other says nothing"), which appears in the original French alongside an English translation. One of the more enigmatic poems in the collection, L'autre mingles free verse with the repeated refrain of a traditional ballad. Whether the poem's ignored narrator is addressing an earthly (deceased?) lover or an indifferent God is a matter of reader choice. But there is nothing ambiguous about the narrator's tone—which alternates between plaintive resignation and outright anger.

    "I am corrupt," he said.
    The other said nothing.
    "I burned all my bridges," he said,
    "there is no way out."
    The other said nothing.
    "I exaggerate everything," he admitted.
    The other smiled.
    "But all the same, it's over," he declared.
    The other said nothing.
    For a moment silence reigned alone, then
    he said, "You remember, don't you? No?"
    The other said nothing.
    "But where were you then," he cried out
    "when everything fell apart, when I
    got lost?"
    The other stared at the line of trees on the horizon
    and kept his silence.

    A poignant addition to the iBook revision is a new poem by Véronique Berry. One of the poet’s closest friends, Berry relocated from France to assume Bell’s position at San Francisco’s French American School in 1994 when he became too ill to continue his teaching duties, and, along with Raymond Boyington, served as live-in companion and care giver during the last months of Bell’s life. Her poem, “Le silence crie,” captures something of the pain—and the beauty—shared by dear friends during those difficult last months.

    Un jour tu souris
    Un autre nous pleurons
    C’est cela être amis
    Oh qu’il est dur d’aimer
    Quand on ne sait ne sait ne sait
    Le silence respire autour de nous.

    [One day you smile
    Another we cry
    That's be friends
    Oh it is hard to love
    When no one knows no one knows no one knows
    Silence breathes around us.]

    Bell wrote the collection's final poem a mere six weeks before his death. Entitled "Silent Vigil" (by the editor; several of Bell's poems were untitled), the poem is steeped in the traditions of romanticism. I count it the most moving and the most transcendent of the lot.

    My soul will want to linger in your
    It will take a place quietly near you
    As you read at night or in the morning
    As you rise to start another day.
    Watching over you, my soul will delight
    In the love we have shared on this Earth;
    And even as it keeps its silent vigil
    In a little corner wherever you are
    My soul will thrive in my love for you.
    And with this love, sustain itself for eternity.

    As a writer, I like to think that the reason the poem resonates is that it leapfrogs grim reality—the cold, hard fact that none of us lasts forever (which Peter anticipates for himself in the poem's first few lines)—to provide a glimmer of hope. That hope is nothing less than love's enduring legacy, a message—Bell's message, in this case—so durable, so generic (in the best sense of that word) that as long as there is language and human beings to appreciate it, will comfort and sustain as well a thousand years from now as it does today.

    And if Wordsworth, who held that the poet is charged with recollecting the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, can be believed, then a part of Bell must endure as well. A part of him alive and well in a little corner somewhere—invisible, and in time, even nameless (as we all shall be)—wherever we human beings exist. And whenever one of us recollects Bell's message of love.

    Jack A. Urquhart is the author of several works of fiction, including So They Say Collected Stories.

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