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James Bourey reviews Kendall A. Bell's We Are All Ghosts

We Are All Ghosts (Maverick Duck Press)

Poems by Kendall A. Bell

Some folks like their poetry straightforward, in plain language, emotionally intense and free from slick poetic devices. We Are All Ghosts by Kendall A. Bell will be a satisfying chapbook for those readers. This small collection of twenty poems from Maverick Duck Press, none longer than seventeen lines, is intense and eminently accessible. In fact, it might be just a bit overboard as it explores relationships, loss and physicality.

Each poem uses its first line as a title, except (maybe) the final entry. The pages are not numbered and there is no table of contents, which suggests that this book should be taken as a single poem. But the introductory line/title for each poem is set apart which contradicts the “entity” concept somewhat. There is a definite continuity of repeated images; fire, beds and bed coverings (sheets, blanket, mattress, comforter all make an appearance or two), blood, bandages, breath and so on. It would be tempting to dismiss these poems as the angst driven outpourings of a late teen – early twenty-something individual just discovering that “love hurts”. But there is, fortunately, more to these poems.

There is a more sophisticated voice describing these pictures, these intimate scenes of lust and separation and awareness. Occasional lines like “Secrets buried in stomach lining” or “When desire has packed everything into/a vanilla kitchen trash bag to forget the scent of/me and has fled town” elevate the narratives. But most of the poems are plain-spoken. When read aloud the poems sound quite good, and they should be read aloud. There is a musicality and rhythm that is subtle and dependent on a clear voice, preferably in a dimly lit room. Low lights will add to the ambience of the work.

All of the poems are in a block form except the last poem in the chapbook. Some of them have longer lines but not often more that ten or twelve syllables. There’s not a lot of breathing room in the lines and the tendency is to read them quickly. But if the reader slows down a bit some sound-work magic appears here and there creating shifts in the plainness. And those shifts add to finding (perhaps) the poets intentions.

This collection is not an intellectual exercise. The emotions imparted are universal and we can easily fit into the mood of the poems, revel in their sensuality and empathize with their sense of melancholy and, sometimes, downright despair. It is not overtly subtle work although there are grace notes of fine craft popping up often enough to warrant appreciation from a more critical reader. And spending an hour or so with this collection would not be wasted time.

The final poem, which gives the book its title, is an “Ars Poetica” of sorts, a poet’s plea perhaps, which seems to ask the reader to reconsider all the poems on the pages before this last one. “We are banging on doors,/asking for someone to listen,” and “We are the pieces of torn notes,/ the overturned glass spilling/and staining carpets./We ask for forgiveness,/receive the coldest shoulder.”

Mr. Bell has added a fine chapbook to his previously published body of work. We Are All Ghosts is available at

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