Debut collection takes on 'Ants' and the 'Problem of Evil'
by Bonnie Wells, staff writer, Amherst Bulletin
During a career as an urban planner, Dick Bentley says his writing ran to interoffice memos, manuals, monthly reports and obsequious letters to politicians for other people to sign.
Well, that and diaries in thin spiral notebooks that now take up six feet of shelf space in the family study
But since leaving his job as chief planner with the Mayor's Office of Housing in Boston, moving to Amherst 15 years ago and discovering Amherst Writers & Artists workshops, Bentley has been turning his pen to a range of creative forms. "I began hanging out with (AWA founder) Pat Schneider," he says. "She has changed more lives. It's amazing."
In 1991, Bentley earned an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College, adding that to his undergraduate degree in English from Yale University.
He now teaches literature at Western New England College and a creative writing course through the Division of Continuing Education at the University of Massachusetts.
And Sunday afternoon, Bentley celebrates publication of his first collection of writings with a reading at the Jones Library from 3 to 5 p.m.
"Post-Freudian Dreaming," published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press, is a sampling of nonfiction, poetry and stories, wide-ranging romps that nonetheless bear a family resemblance -- an avid wry curiosity about the world and its ways, a willingness to look a quarter turn to the quirky for answers and consistent quiet grace of the language.
The first piece in the book, "Rough Camp," is an excerpt of a nonfiction story, co-authored with Fred Rydholm, previously published in the magazine Michigan Out of Doors. Fascinating from several standpoints, it weaves deep Michigan and Bentley-family history with the story of a present-day Don Quixote, who is pursuing a dream of salvaging the buildings that grew up on the 17,000 acre wilderness tract owned by the International Harvester McCormicks, starting in the early years of the 20th century.
The account begins in 1902 with a wilderness trek taken by five men to establish the first permanent camp in the area. The party included Cyrus McCormick Jr., son of the man who invented the reaper, and one Cyrus Bentley, diarist for the group, McCormick's lawyer and Bentley's grandfather.
Following are poems and stories on such diverse topics as "Ants" and "The Problem of Evil," replete with deep thinking and light teasing.
Then there are the Onion Variations," five brief meditations sprinkled throughout the book that start with onions and end up with, by turns, trenchant and humorous observations on human nature. Bentley composed them on a week long stay at the world's first prose-poetry conference, presided over by Robert Bly and Russell Edson, in Walpole, N.H., in the summer of 2001.
The "onion Variations" are a prime example of what Diane Lefer, author of "Radiant Hunger," had in mind when she said Bentley was like Updike on acid. Those and poems like "health Care," narrated by a sniper as he takes aim from the bushes at his doctor, who is putting blithely on the green.
Bentley writes in longhand, sitting amid family bustle at a long, Danish-spare room table made by his daughter, Julia, at Amherst Regional High School. And he must use a Pilot, extra-fine ballpoint pen, he says, pulling one from his pocket." "And in case it runs out, I've got these," he adds, fishing up a fistful from the pocket. "If they ever stop making them, it's going to be a big psychological adjustment."
"Post-Freudian Dreaming" designed by Barbara Werden, sports a painting of a cottage swaddled in dune grass at sunset by Northampton artist Scott Prior on the cover, and includes a painting of Hadley tobacco barns by Bentley on the frontispiece. Bentley studies drawing and painting with Ashfield artist Jamie Young.
But beyond his teaching, his main focus these days is the writing. He's working up to beginning to mine the 30-odd years of personal journals for future work.
"It's not always fun," he says, "but when it's working there's no greater feeling. You feel you're mythologizing your own life,"
At the publication party, Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m., in the Large Meeting Room at the Jones Library in Amherst, Bentley will be joined in reading by several authors also published by AWA Press, including Anna Kirwan, Mary Clare Powell, Steven Riel, Janet Sadler, Barbara Van Noord and Pat Schneider. The reading is free and open to the public and refreshments will be on the agenda.