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Release: April 16, 2002

Iowa Poet Laureate Marvin Bell reappointed for second term

Marvin Bell, Iowa's Poet Laureate and the Flannery O'Connor Professor of Letters at the University of Iowa, has been appointed to a second term by Gov. Tom Vilsack and Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson. Bell received official notification in a joint letter signed by Vilsack and Pederson on March 29. His second term will run from April 2002 trough March 2004.

"It was our firm belief two years ago that our state, with so many poetic voices, needed to hold forth an example, both to fellow Iowans and to the nation, that we are a people inspired by the imagery of words. We thank you for your body of work and your service to our state as poet laureate," the governor and lieutenant governor said in announcing the reappointment. "You have been a tremendous asset to our great state. Your poetic voice is unique -- universally lyrical in quality yet distinctly Iowan in tone. On behalf of the people of Iowa, we thank you."

"I am pleased to have been appointed to a second term to represent Iowa and its poets," Bell said on learning of his reappointment. "Iowa has a long history of recognizing the importance of the arts, poetry included, whether in times of comfort or need. The imagination is a survival skill."

Bell was appointed Iowa's first poet laureate in March 2000, following his unanimous recommendation to the governor by a committee of six poetry experts from around the state. His appointment "set into motion an active agenda that emphasized the importance of poetry in everyday life," according to Christopher Rossi, director of Humanities Iowa, the state's affiliate to the National Endowment for the Humanities. "But there's also a transcendent quality to his poetic voice, making his words both familiar to Iowans, among whom he's lived for 40 some years, and to those 'extra-terrestrials,' for whom he claims he sometimes writes."

Bell's poems have had a variety of influences on the state and nation. Several were used as the basis for dances by the Travelers troupe in a three-night theatrical piece in February titled "Breathing Between the Lines." The composer, David Gompper, is setting Bell's 9/11 poem "Sounds of the Resurrected Dead Man's Footsteps" to music for an event at the University of Northern Iowa on Sept. 11, 2002. In late April, Bell will participate in a celebration of the world famous University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, where he teaches, at the Los Angeles County Art Museum. He has participated in a variety of public workshops and benefits to celebrate local institutions, making poetry more accessible to seniors and students.

In May, Bell will participate in an outreach program at the Newton, Iowa, prison and also will serve on a panel at the UI for the Wallace Symposium on Talent Development sponsored by the UI's Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. Currently, Bell is adviser for American Scores, an urban after-school program combining poetry and soccer for middle-school children. The project includes expanding workshops for public school teachers on methods to improve language skills and class attendance. Bell has also met with writers visiting the UI's International Writing Program and with a delegation of Vietnamese writers. Recently, he published a brief essay about living in Iowa, "Positively Iowa," in The Iowa Alumni Magazine, appeared on public radio and local access cable television and participated in a public library online poetry event, which featured some poems of his.

Meanwhile, Bell has maintained throughout this year a national presence, with appearances at the University of Southern California, readings at the Getty Museum, the L.A. Book Festival, the Northern Arizona Book Festival in Flagstaff, the Passaic Community College Poetry Center in Paterson, N.J., and Los Angeles and additional readings in Oregon, Washington State, Montana, Louisiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin and teaching workshops in Prague and Paris. He is also scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Alfred University, his alma mater, and will represent Iowa at a conference of poets laureate in New Hampshire and on a poet laureate panel at the Associated Writing Programs Annual Meeting in Baltimore.

Humanities Iowa is a private, non-profit state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose mission is to enhance the civic life, culture, and identity of Iowans. Drawing on history, literature, philosophy, law, and other humanities fields, it fosters life-long learning, critical thinking, and community connections.

The Humanities Iowa board is composed of Jane Bell, head of government relations for Ameristar Casino, Council Bluffs; Jose Amaya, professor of English, Iowa State University; Elaine Baxter, former Secretary of State of Iowa, Burlington; Gladys Buffalo, elder of the Meskwaki Tribe; Wes Boldt (treasurer), CO2 Technologies, West Des Moines; Bill Boyd, attorney, West Des Moines; Bruce Ellingson, associate dean, Buena Vista University; John Fitzpatrick, administrator, Cedar Rapids School District; Madeleine Henry (secretary), professor of classics, Iowa State; Harv Klevar, professor of anthropology, Luther College; John M. Lewis (president), JML Inc., West Des Moines; Casey D. Mahon, former senior vice president, McLeod Corp., Iowa City; Madelyn Mayberry, art teacher, Marshalltown; Lorenzo Sandoval, Iowa Public Television and Interfaith Alliance of Iowa, Des Moines; Bob Schnucker, professor of religion, University of Northern Iowa; Jay Semel, director, Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the UI; JaneAnn Stout, Iowa State Extension; Michelle Venable-Ridley, professor of religious studies, Morningside College, Sioux City; David Vikturek (past president), jeweler, Mason City.