Winner, Vassar Miller Poetry Prize
A Largehearted Boy Favorite Poetry Collection of 2017
University of North Texas Press
To purchase: Signed copy / UNT Press / IndieBound / Bookshop

In this debut collection, Anna Lena Phillips Bell explores the foothills of what is now called the eastern US, and the old-time Appalachian tunes and Piedmont blues she was raised to love. With formal dexterity—in ballads and sonnets, Sapphics and amphibrachs—the poems in Ornament traverse the permeable boundary between the body and the natural world.

“Like the best fiddle and banjo duets, Bell’s poems are both simple and complex, breezy and profound, powerful and authentic. Reading her book gave me the same feeling I get when I hear a modern master—say, John Hermann on the banjo, or Rhys Jones on the fiddle: here is a living artist who, through passion, talent, and caring about craft, is able to take us inside the music.”—Rus Bradburd, the Old-time Herald

“Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s love of old-time music is matched by her love of old-time prosody, and Ornament is, too, a tribute to the music-making forms of our poetry, of which these pages offer an astonishingly rich catalog. If you keep an eye out, as Auden hoped his ideal reader would, for ‘curious prosodic fauna,’ you’ll find ballads and sonnets, blank verse and terza rima, sapphics and amphibrachs, as well as the occasional ghazal, pantoum, sestina, rondeau, and rondelet. And in this picker’s hands, those old tunes all sound gloriously new.” —Geoffrey Brock

Ornament is a stunning book, gossamer and untamed.”—Molly Peacock

Additional reviews of Ornament 

Book Notes playlist, Largehearted Boy

Request an examination copy for course adoption

Smaller Songs

St Brigid Press
To purchase: St Brigid Press [SOLD OUT! Pomegranate Books has a few copies as of Nov. 2022]

What news can a ballad tell? And what news is hidden in the footnotes to a 1957 edition of English and Scottish ballads? Anna Lena Phillips Bell's Smaller Songs carries strange and delightful tidings, in poems made entirely from word and phrase banks transcribed from the footnotes of English and Scottish Ballads, edited by Robert Graves. Glosses on words and phrases from ballads such as “The Golden Vanitie,” “The Demon Lover,” and “The Unquiet Grave” are rendered new in Bell's poems, which upend ideas of gender and power embedded in the originals. By turns epigrammatic, enigmatic, and wryly funny, these smaller songs sing fiercely of wonders within and without.

“Smaller Songs, and indeed they are—short sweet bits of poetry borrowed from old ballads, that instantly paint a picture and strike a familiar note—to be read over and over again. “First, housewifely tasks; then, / much ale” and “Defied book-knowledge— / taught the garden” were two of my favorites among many. The lovely woodcuts by Molly Stouten are a perfect accompaniment to this wonderful little book.” — Alice Gerrard

“The small isles of lyric are stepping stones in a rough and windy world. Come out of the wind and careless language into the shelter of these songs. A tender collection from an exquisite small press.”—Hannah VanderHart, EcoTheo Review

Smaller Songs harvests, disassembles, and re-sows the footnotes of English and Scottish Ballads to grow a wild crop of new poems that are rooted to the past and yearning forward into the present, as all the best folk songs do. Through Bell’s blend of ethnological care and poetic vibrancy, Smaller Songs employs Graves’s words to explore the labors of women, of refugees, and, ultimately, of hope.”—GennaRose Nethercott, Southern Review of Books interview, “Anna Lena Phillips Bell on Making New Songs from Old”

“In both its words and letterpress craftsmanship, Bell’s Smaller Songs is a pocket-sized gift of grace that reminds us to listen for history’s whisper.”—Ned Balbo, Literary Matters

Work in Anthologies

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