Poet Of The Week

Denise Bell

     July 2–8, 2018

denise h bell is a mature published poet. Her work focuses on the disenfranchised and those who are forced to live in the margins. Tinderbox nominated her poem “Bitter Words” for its online poem of the year award in 2017, and the Village Voice has described her writing as “strong, emotional and proud.” This past spring, she was named a Brooklyn Poets Fellow for study in Gregory Crosby’s workshop on The Sonnet. She is currently writing a crown-of-sonnets collection entitled psalms along myrtle.

Author photo by Elizabeth Robinson

remember my name

after i retired
i started a routine
discipline won’t let my mind wander
every morning i buy a paper   coffee
look at obituaries taped on joe’s barbershop window
i like it when their families use photos
pictures make the dead more personal
i walk to my bench
watch workers waiting for their bus
they’re who i used to be
i was a thirty year transit man
i was union
fought for security   dignity
my phone always rang
i was part of the next best thing
retirement made me a used to be
                                    cora’s out saving souls
                                    there’s no sense in me sitting in an empty house
                                    she prays i stop being stubborn and walk in her light
                                    i watch joe open up
                                    i look to see if he taped up new notices
                                    if he do
                                    i get up   read them
while reading i got to thinking
when my when time comes
cora got to put a picture on my obituary
it’ll help people remember who i was
the old man that sat on the bench


Tell us about the making of this poem.

My poem, “remember my name,” was inspired by a man whom I meet and greet during my morning walks in Fort Greene Park.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a crown of sonnets entitled psalms along myrtle.

What’s a good day for you?

A good day for me is being able to walk, listen to conversations and visually take in what’s going on in my community.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

The sense of community, green spaces and Brooklyn’s slower pace.

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I am a proud resident of Fort Greene/Clinton Hill. I’ve lived in my community for eighteen years. I love my neighborhood’s diversity. Gentrification is a major concern of mine. I support my community leaders and groups that fight against residents’ displacement and for truly affordable housing.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

I love Brooklyn’s slower pace and the many neighbors who make courtesy a way of life. For me, my neighborhood is suburban living in a big city.

What does a poetry community mean to you? Have you found that here? Why or why not?

I found a great poetry community here in Brooklyn. I can’t write in isolation, and when I share my work with my poet friends, their critiques are honest and non-competitive.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you?

I admire Audre Lorde’s and Walt Whitman’s work. I love their sense of structure and their fearless honesty.

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

Georgia Douglas Johnson is my spirit guide. Her work is honest, incredible and timely in any era. At times I am angered by the so-called critics who gloss over her work. To me, she is a major, major poet. I am grateful to have workshopped with Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Aafa Michael Weaver, Joel Dias-Porter and Gregory Crosby. Their classes were no-nonsense craft-builders. They helped me to find my voice and the courage to write my truth.

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

I’ve read and reread Terrance Hayes’s American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. I am engrossed by Hayes’s lyricism and structure. I also admire how he uses the sonnet form. His work gives me the courage to write my urban crown of sonnets that focuses on tragedy and loss.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

I promised myself that I will read Carl Sandburg this summer.

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital text? Are you a note-taker?

I usually read books cover to cover. Why? I am interested in the authors’ craft and the techniques used to keep me glued to their books. I prefer physical books. I underline great thoughts, words and structures/plots in a book.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I really want to write a great sestina poem. This summer, Rachelle Parker and I will study, write and exchange sestinas.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I try to get to Poets House at least once a month to read and study. I randomly choose poetry books to read. I usually take a break and walk along the Hudson River. When I return, I read a book that delves into poetic forms. I am fascinated by the tanka.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Cave Canem and Brooklyn Poets workshops are my favorite spaces. They are welcoming, nurturing and I get a real sense of belonging in these spaces.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate words
And what I can do with them for you my reader
For every word I write comes truthfully from me as good writers
     must never dismiss the highly intelligent