In the latest Ampersand Interview, Assistant Managing Editor, Kelsie Doran, spoke with Roy Bentley about Ohio, Greek mythology, and his upcoming books, Hillbilly Guilt and Beautiful Plenty. You can read his poems in Issue 42 of Arts & Letters.
Kelsie Doran: We have published two of your poems, “The United States of America in the Summertime” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Were these poems were written around the same time?
Roy Bentley: To be honest, I don’t recall when either poem was written. They returned to my attention with acceptance by your magazine. I’m not saying that to be a smartass, either. I write a lot—or did during the Trump Years—as a means of escaping the Senselessness.
KD: Ohio obviously has influence in both these poems and as I am a native Clevelander myself I am curious as to why Ohio has produced fodder for your writing?
RB: I love Ohio. It really imbues me—the oxygenated-by-inequality rural-Ohio air I have to breathe to live, the killing-me-softly water no one wants to indict for what it accomplishes quietly, daily—and yet I want so much for Ohio to want to be better. I want to be better; I know what it is to need to get to work on parts of your identity, to strive to be a better person. I mean, I write. Which to me means introspection as a discipline. And introspection is, I think, the first step to Awareness. If honestly applied…
KD: You mention Greek mythology in “The United States of America in the Summertime,” would you say the Greek myths have had an influence in most of your writing?
RB: I took a couple of courses in mythology early on as an undergraduate and got hooked. I have a bound version of The Aeneid within reach at all times!
KD: Where do you write most often? Do you like to have a specific writing space
RB: I do. My wife Gloria has a she-shed. I have the smallest bedroom of a three-bedroom house converted to an office. I write most evenings from around 9pm until 2 or 3am. Every evening, as a rule. If not writing, then sending out submissions or answering the occasional acceptance.
KD: What/who inspires you most as a poet?
RB: Bob Dylan leads a list of songwriters who have taught me about Writing—songwriters have taught me as much as academics. On the academic side: Mary Oliver, Philip Levine—big Philip Levine fan! And I definitely worship at the altar of Robert Frost—he won four Pulitzers, for godssakes, and you hear little discussion of his work.
KD: When did you first consider yourself a poet?
RB: The first time I heard Dylan Thomas read his poems, on a record in a high-school English class in Ohio, I knew what I was—and would thereafter strive to become, if that makes any sense. Fifty years later, ten books of poems to my credit, the name poet fits. I’m comfortable with that. Sure. But, oddly, I like writer more.
KD: What is next for your writing? Is there anything you can share about forthcoming projects or poems?
RB: I have two books coming out this year: Hillbilly Guilt won the Hidden River / Willow Run Poetry Book Award and is due out any day—Main Street Rag is bringing out Beautiful Plenty. (Both sets of galleys done and approved!)
Roy Bentley is a finalist for the Miller Williams prize for Walking with Eve in the Loved City, has published eight books; including American Loneliness from Lost Horse Press, who recently issued a new & selected collection entitled My Mother’s Red Ford. Roy is the recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs and Ohio Arts Council. Poems have appeared in Evening Street Review, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, and Shenandoah among others. Hillbilly Guilt, his newest, won the 2019 Hidden River Arts / Willow Run Poetry Book Award.