Current City, State, Country
Dan Bellm, a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California, has published five books of poems, including Counting (Finishing Line Press, Georgetown, KY, 2023), Deep Well (Lavender Ink, New Orleans, 2017), and Practice: A Book of Midrash (Sixteen Rivers, San Francisco, 2008), winner of the 2009 California Book Award. Recent translations include Central American Book of the Dead, by Balam Rodrigo (Flower Song Press, McAllen, TX, 2023), Speaking in Song, by Pura López Colomé (Shearsman Books, Bristol, UK, 2017), and The Song of the Dead, by Pierre Reverdy (Black Square Editions, New York, 2016), winner of an Artist’s Fellowship in Translation from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has taught literary translation and poetry in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles, and at Mills College, and he serves as an interpreter for asylum seekers with Centro Legal de la Raza, Oakland, California.
What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?
I might have as many answers to this question as I have poems. In my book Practice, my connection to Judaism is explicit: over a number of years, I worked on poems as midrash, addressing or responding to weekly portions of the Torah by reimagining familiar stories, contemplating their strangeness, telling the untold parts. Most of the poems I wrote over a period of ten years were somehow part of this project, though only a small percentage made their way into the book. And I still write midrash, because there are always new questions. At the “other end of the spectrum,” if there’s a spectrum, two of my books are extended elegies to my non-Jewish parents, and yet I know they’re infused with the spiritual practice and culture I’ve chosen since early adulthood. In my newest book, the title poem, “Counting,” is a kind of essay on prayer, or trying to pray, riffing off a particularly comical (and of course serious) story from the Talmud. The rest of the poems range widely, not bound to a unifying theme, but they are inevitably part of my Jewish culture: remembering and paying homage to such mentors and heroes as Remy Charlip and Grace Paley, or taking up questions of love, justice, coming out, parenthood, sobriety, and working with immigrants, the “strangers” in our midst, as we were once strangers. All of the poems, I can safely say, were written by a Jew.
Counting (Finishing Line Press, 2023)
Deep Well (Lavender Ink, 2017)
Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2008)
Buried Treasure (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1999)
One Hand on the Wheel (Roundhouse Press/Heyday Books, 1999)
Central American Book of the Dead / Libro centroamericano de los muertos, Balam Rodrigo (FlowerSong Press, 2023)
Speaking in Song (hearing and forgetting) / Lieder: Cantos al oído, cantos al olvido, Pura López Colomé (Shearsman Books, 2017)
The Song of the Dead / Le chant des morts, Pierre Reverdy (Black Square Editions, 2016)
Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue / Descripción de un brillo azul cobalto, Jorge Esquinca (Unicorn Press, 2015)
Nostalghia, Jorge Esquinca (La Diéresis, 2015)
Sun on the Ceiling / Au soleil du plafond, Pierre Reverdy (San Francisco Center for the Book, 2011)
Links to Sample Works
University of Michigan