I’ve never met Rachel Bell, and I’ve read only this one poetry chapbook of her writing, but from what I can tell, both the writer and the writing can be described similarly: weird, wonderful, broken, brilliant, transgressive, wounded, mighty. I will be seeking out more of her work.
Bell’s poems in Welcome to Your New Life with You Being Happy are certainly, at points, happy, which is refreshing. The first half of the chapbook tells about her relationship with her boyfriend, Ben, in language that is unapologetically giddy. We so rarely get permission to be absolute in our affections–or, at least, in the written expression of our affections. We must be circumspect, show remove, not be too caught up. Fuck that. Bell dives in head first both to the relationship and to telling us about it in all its unrestrained delight.
After eating your eyebrows and kissing you like lizards, I
remember an anecdote you once told me but can’t
remember all of the details.
“How long was the fan fiction screenplay about Harry
Potter that you wrote freshman year of college?”
“And how long will you love me?”
“Forever. Until we die.”
Later, when she’s imagining their future life–and death–together, she gives quite possibly the most perfect epitaph since Royal Tenenbaum’s:
We are buried next to each other. Your tombstone reads,
“He had toned fucking quads and the ability to love very
The second half of the book takes a darker tone. Bell starts by telling us about her junior high years spent at a Catholic school with a cruel and narrow-minded Pro-Life teacher. As I am rather familiar with years spent in a damaging religious school, this hit close to home. She tells us about her rapes, and the unusual–and some would say troubling–ways she processed those in the years that followed.
At one point, she talks about almost choking to death on a tortilla in a Taco Bell bathroom, and tells us she thought, “if I die in Indiana I will kill myself.” Having been born there, I can confirm this is fair. The collection concludes with a series of brief vignettes, just short glimpses of events from her life, some happy, some not, some neither. It’s a curious way to end, but when we realize how uninhibited Bell has been with us throughout the book, maybe it’s fitting she concludes with some bare honesty that isn’t so consequential, stories she tells us about because they are mostly inconsequential, or at least their consequences cannot be spied from the pages.
I loved this chapbook, and I’ll be seeking out more from this strange and talented writer very soon.