On October 19th, I had the great pleasure of attending poet Josh Bell’s reading at the Perrine Gallery in Stewart Memorial Library. Bell is the author of two books of poetry: No Planets Strike and Alamo Theory. Fellow poet Jillian Weise also read at this event on Coe College’s campus. A Briggs-Copeland Lecturer on English at Harvard, Bell is a quirky poet, using self-deprecating humor and a keen sense of the bizarre in Alamo Theory as means to explore and critique American culture, masculinity, identity, and isolation. Many of the poems use the former frontman of Motley Crue, Vince Neil, as a vehicle of expression, ridicule, and an appreciative sense of humor.
The following is a transcript of questions asked by the audience or myself in the Q&A portion of the reading.
Q: Why Vince Neil? What drew you to using him in your poetry?
Josh Bell: I was between my first and second book. I was feeling like one book and done, oh no. [Concerned about becoming a] has-been poet. Vince Neil once had fame, but no longer does. Yet, he still acts, to me, like he does. I hope you feel in those poems that I’m making fun of him, but still feel like he’s a hero, in the way that I want him to be a hero. He sort of sails off. I see him as an epic hero, but, you know, on a boat like Odysseus. [Neil] sitting on a houseboat, in a fixed position. I don’t know why. Motley Crue was one of first bands I saw in the 80s.
Q: What is your favorite writing environment? Noise, silence, public, private, etc
JB: I can’t listen to music I like too much. I can’t watch a movie, but I need voices in the background or it feels lonely. I’ll watch something terrible like NCIS or bad TV from six years ago on Netflix. I need to have the energy of voice, that weird, warm TV sound. Otherwise, it’s an imitation of the sound or I get pulled into movies.
Q: Who or what inspires you?
JB: I’m afraid to tell the truth [laughter]. I suppose probably the reading I’ve done particularly, you know, in the Old Testament. I’m not a religious person. Neither were my parents. They were atheists who made fun of religious people. I listen to preachers on the radio, the largeness of the voice.
Q: Who do you read to?
JB: My feelings are too easily hurt. the first time people will see them is when I’ll finally send them out to be published.
Q: What does your process of revision look like?
JB: It’s changed over time. I use a laptop always, slowly and constantly in one document. Sometimes I use notebooks for smaller sections, almost like collaging. I don’t know ‘til much later what I’m talking about. But the language knows before I do. Revision happens ongoingly. Notebook, draft, later cut a lot. Hatred of the period [of revision]. Learn where I’m bullshitting.
Alamo Theory can be purchased on Copper Canyon Press’ website at coppercanyonpress.org
interview by Skyl0r Andrews