In addition to reading selected poems from their most recently published collections, Bentley and Clinton also reflected on their work and discussed what inspired the themes throughout.
Bentley, a Dayton, Ohio native currently residing in Central Ohio, was the first to read from his recently published collection, titled My Mother’s Red Ford: New and Selected Poems. This particular collection includes both new poems and selected poems from his first six books, four of which earned him national recognition.
“It’s a book that I felt genuinely lucky to have written,” Bentley said. “Just the idea of emphasizing my mother’s aspect in my life, I think, was a lucky move.”
Bentley’s selected poems were authentic reflections on memories of his early life, and the people and places that had a lasting impact on him. Themes of hardship and political corruption were also central to his poetry.
During the live reading Bentley recited his poems in a certain high-spirited way that made it clear to me that there was a significant kind of passion behind the words he was speaking. I was intrigued by his speaking style and it quickly became easy to envision what he had created in his poems.
Following Bentley was guest poet DeWitt Clinton, who currently resides in Wisconsin and serves as an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He read poems from his recently published collection, as well, titled By a Lake Near a Moon: Fishing with the Chinese Masters.
Clinton’s collection was based on a separate collection of translated Chinese poems by Kenneth Rexroth, titled 100 Poems from the Chinese. Clinton expands on and adapts these translated Chinese poems by placing them in a more contemporary, modern-day world.
“You might think of this entire collection as after-poems, response poems, improvisations, or adaptations; something of that condition,” Clinton said when describing the nature of his poems.
Since Clinton’s collection was cleverly inspired by Rexroth’s collection, he chose to read both the original poem and his adapted poem during the live reading.
“Usually poets write about their own experiences, but what these poems did for me was to open up a personal side of my writing that I’m unfamiliar with,” Clinton said. “And it’s continued with different kinds of poems since.”
Clinton explained that he knew nothing about classical Chinese poetry before opening up Rexroth’s translated collection, but his admiration for this particular type of poetry seems to be reflected in the adapted poems he created.
I personally enjoyed the energy that both Bentley and Clinton brought to this virtual poetry reading. Though it was a small group of people in attendance, they both seemed rather proud to be sharing their work among peers nonetheless.
Overall, an evening spent listening to these two accomplished poets was an evening well spent. It was nice to tune out all of the noise for a little bit and just appreciate quality poetry. It reminded me of the importance of the arts, especially during a time like this when art tends to be the only true form of escapism.