Saturday, May 26, 2012

Camouflage Poet | Marvin Bell

On the Fly, Marvin Bell

Many years ago (has it been that long ago?), we organized a non-funded one-day symposium on camouflage, called CAMOUFLAGE: Art, Science and Popular Culture (Saturday, April 22, 2006 at the Kamerick Art Building at the University of Northern Iowa). Although only a few of our colleagues were there from the Department of Art, other scholars came from departments across campus, from around the country, and even from throughout the world, each one speaking sans honorarium, and each one paying completely for his/her own expenses. What an unforgettable day it was. Three of those who spoke that day have since published important books on the subject (Maite Méndez Baiges, Camuflaje: Engano y Ocultación en El Arte Contemporáneo (2007); Henrietta Goodden, Camouflage and Art: Design for Deception in World War 2 (2007); and Ann Elias, Camouflage Australia: Art, Nature, Science and War (2011)), and a poem that was written by American poet Marvin Bell (see online interview above), as a keynote for the conference, has since been reprinted in his recent book, Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems (2011). Soon, it will also be featured online as the poem of the week on Narrative Magazine. Here it is in full—


Marvin Bell (©2006)
from The Book of the Dead Man

                  Live as if you were already dead.
                                             —Zen admonition

1. About the Dead Man and Camouflage

When the dead man wears his camouflage suit, he hides
     in plain sight.
The dead man, in plain sight, disrupts the scene but cannot
     be seen.
His chocolate-chip-cookie shirt mimics the leaves in a breeze.
His frog-skin dress, his bumpy earth nature, leave us lost and
     alone, his mottled apparel sends us in circles.
His displacements distract and disabuse us, he is a
     slick beguiler.
Everything the dead man does is a slight disruption
     of normality.
He is the optical trickster, the optimum space-saver, the one
     to watch for.
He is of a stripe that flusters convention, he is the one
     to watch out for.
That we thought him gone only proves his wily knowledge.
The dead man has lain unseen among the relics of
     embalmed time.
He was always here, always there, right in front of us, timely.
For it was not in the dead man’s future to be preserved.
It was his fate to blend in, to appear in the form of,
     to become...
Now he lives unseen among the lilies, the pines, the
     sweet corn.
It was the dead man’s native desire to appear not to be.

2. More About the Dead Man and Camouflage

The dead man knows that camouflage is all in the mind.
He has seen in the human need for shape the undoing
     of shape.
He has witnessed the displacement of up-and-down, across
     and slantwise.
He has curled the straight lines and unbent the curves, he has
     split the wishbone and painted outside the lines.
The dead man has undone the map by which to get there.
It is not what the dead man looks like, but what
     he no longer resembles.
For he hath reappeared in no disguise but as himself.
Call him disheveled, call him disposed, call him shiftless,
     he is.
For he hath been made and remade in the form of
     his surroundings.
He hath become all things that he looketh like.
Hence, he has been stepped on by those who could not
     see him.
He has been knelt upon by those who looked in vain.
The dead man bestirs in a background that looked inert.
The dead man is the ultimate camouflage.
He is everywhere, but where is he?


Those who attended the conference that day were given, as a memento, a signed broadside of the poem (see below).