Ten Big Things to Know About Roy Bentley: A Review of My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems, 1986-2020  By Mike James

Ten Big Things to Know About Roy Bentley:

A Review of

My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems, 1986-2020 

By Mike James

 

 

1.

Roy Bentley started out as a poet concerned with his own life and his Appalachian and Ohio upbringing. In those early poems about his fire-lipped mama buying a car and an uncle who joined the navy when his wife sent him out to purchase bread, he wrote like a great and natural conversationalist. Those early poems are handled with subtlety, humor, and clear-eyed toughness.

 

2.

At some point, Bentley decided he could write about anything. As the book progresses from the earliest work, Bentley’s subjects broaden while he deepens his skill. He has poems about Jim Morrison, Robert E. Lee, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He has a poem about losing his virginity in a whorehouse and a poem about listening to a boxing match on the radio. Whenever he is writing about a subject he fully occupies it. He’s not a poet who believes in sprinkling. He is a poet of submersion.

 

3.

Roy Bentley knows how to end a poem. Here are a few random last lines. “The only rising we do is out of the body.” “That awful need to believe in God or nothing at all.” “The hardest part is living without hope.” “Something a boy says to no one in the night.” “Even shadows want to leave here.” (It’s good to be able to quote lines which speak for themselves and need neither footnotes nor back stories.)

 

4.

His last lines can wallop or kiss, but he never takes short cuts to get there. Bentley might be a good guy to play cards with because he doesn’t seem to know how to cheat.

 

5.

He is an Ohio poet. There must be something good in the Ohio water. Other Ohio poets include Kenneth Patchen, Rita Dove, Larry Smith, James Wright, Sherwood Anderson, Jeff Gundy, Hart Crane, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mary Oliver, Paul Zimmer, and George Starbuck. That’s a partial list. There must be something in the Ohio water.

 

6.

This is poetry without pose. His beer poems and pharmaceutical poems are matter-of-fact. He follows the poem wherever it takes him. He never sounds like anyone other than himself. His voice is distinct and only muddied when he is gargling with river water.

 

7.

Filmmaker genius/artist/raconteur Jack Smith once wrote, “The title is 50% of the work.”

Based on that, Bentley’s poems are half-way successful at the start since he never provides boring or lazy titles. Some invoke curiosity about happenings, such as “Why William Earl “Bill” Hagerman Carried the Casket” or “Coal Town Saturday Night.”  Some place the reader in a landscape, such as “Body of a Deer by a Creek in Summer.” Others are more musical like, “Eggs and Butter and Milk and Cheese.” (Do you notice how that title starts and ends on the “e” sound? Do you notice how a grocery list becomes a short litany a child might chant to her mother as she helps put groceries away?)

 

8.

Most of these poems either relate or create an anecdote for the reader. To call them narratives might indicate they are longer than they are. (His average length is one or two pages.) Some don’t so much tell a story as create a scene where a story might take place. Think of an Appalachian David Lynch driving through small towns, past closed drive-ins.

 

9.

Bentley’s references are wide ranging and fun. He loves Jerry Lee Lewis as much as he loves Salvador Dali. He likes Walt Whitman and Arthur Rimbaud. He loves Elvis (who doesn’t?) and Batman and zombies. Did I mention strippers? He loves those too.

 

10.

Bentley has not only grown more skillful with age, but also more productive. Six years passed between his first and second books. Then fourteen between his second and third. Then seven more to the next. Then only five passed to the next two! And now this robust selected appears two years after the last two collections. Bentley is bending time in his direction these days with his well-told reckonings and his joyful, verbal leaps.

 

My Mother’s Red Ford: New & Selected Poems, 1986-2020
Lost Horse Press, 2020
Poetry, $24

 

 

 

About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines throughout the country in such places as Plainsongs, Gargoyle, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Chiron Review. His fifteen poetry collections include: Journeyman’s Suitcase (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), First-Hand Accounts from Made-Up Places (Stubborn Mule), Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag.) He served as an associate editor of The Kentucky Review and currently serves as an associate editor of Unbroken.

 

 

More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

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