Laura Treacy Bentley is a poet and fiction writer. She has served as writer in residence for three years at the Marshall University Writing Project, and she is the book editor for WV Living: http://www.wvlivingmagazine.com. Poetry is her first love, but writing fiction is her newest love. She has just published The Silver Tattoo, a dark literary thriller set in mythical Ireland and is hard at work on a second novel. She was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, but has lived most of her life in Huntington, West Virginia. Check out Laura’s website: http://www.lauratreacybentley.com/thesilvertattoo.htm
Who or what was your inspiration for “Caving”?
I had major surgery a few years ago, and it took me months to recover. My friend Eddy unfortunately had a setback, too, so we decided to do something exciting/challenging/unique to celebrate when we were better. I think I had wanted to climb a mountain or do a zipline, but since she was afraid of heights and I had never been caving before, it became our goal to drive to Laurel Cave in Kentucky. I’m pretty fearless most of the time, but this pushed me to my limits. The experience stayed with me, so it eventually became a poem that turned out to represent much more than caving.
How long does it take you to write a poem the length of “Caving”? Poems in general?
Well, a long time. Sometimes weeks or months. Every time I return to a poem that I think is complete, I revise it again. There’s one poem that I’ve been revising for decades, so I think it’s time to just let it go. Most of the time when a poem comes together for me—I get a feeling when I read it aloud that tells me it’s done. Once a poem is published, I will never change it. Some poets revise their earlier work for new journals or collections, etc., but I think they need to accept that even though they have probably grown as a poet, their earlier poems reflect their life and thoughts and emotions at that moment in time, and there’s a beauty in that.
Who inspired you to become a poet?
One of my English teachers at West Junior High, Mrs. Barrett, used to read a few poems aloud to my class. One short poem, “The Pasture” by Robert Frost, remains indelible. She read it several times with such joy and wonder that I can still see her in my mind’s eye. Frost invited the reader to come with him to see the calf with her mother when he said “You come too,” I loved the invitation, the intimacy of it all. I later wrote my first poem at West for a poetry project, and I still have it somewhere. I think a teacher’s power to capture a child’s imagination cannot be underestimated.
Tell us about your books.
Lake Effect is my first poetry collection. Although I had been published widely in the United States and Ireland, the market for poetry is very small, so I was thrilled when Bottom Dog Press wanted to publish my book in 2006. Poems represent a poet’s journey, and if the poem’s words connect with a reader, make them feel something, that’s the very best part. A poet doesn’t have to have a book or ten books or be on a map or live in New York City to be a good poet. They just need to learn Emily’s definition of poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”
My first novel is The Silver Tattoo, and it’s being released in early April 2013 in paperback and as an ebook. It’s a dark literary thriller set in Ireland. Talk about a roller coaster ride! You can read all about it in the Acknowledgements of my novel. Good things come to those who wait, or those who dream big!
What writers were an influence on your writing?
Oh, so many. Paula Meehan, William Stafford, Eavan Boland, Ted Kooser, Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, Naomi Shihab Nye, Truman Capote, Jill Bialosky, James Dickey, Sara Teasdale, Dylan Thomas, Cynthia Rylant, Raymond Chandler, Amy Lowell, William Golding, Harriet Arnow, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Wolfe, somebody stop me!
Do you live the writer’s life? If not, then what would that life look like?
I think I definitely do! I’ve been the book editor for WV LIVING magazine since its inception, so I’m constantly reading, researching, writing, and revising my interviews and features for “Conversations,” the name of my series in the magazine. I’ve been editing The Silver Tattoo, compiling a new poetry collection, and preparing to present two workshops at the WV Writers Conference this summer, as well as to teach creative writing for three weeks at the West Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts at Davis & Elkins. I’m also helping plan the second Word & Song Café during Old Central City Days, and I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a draft of a new novel this past November in one month. I think I’m obsessed, in a good way!
How often do you write?
Almost every day, but I have lulls just like everyone else. Last year my mother, my sister-in-law, and Ray Bradbury died, so I couldn’t focus on writing for a long time. Death and disappointment became a sad refrain, but I’ve turned a corner and am excited about the future.
Write to this prompt: Dogwoods and Redbuds bloom in WV in profusion every spring. You are in a grove of these trees, a faint, early spring sun filtering through the blossomed branches. The air here is soft, and you feel almost as if you are floating. You turn and there is . . . an old woman.
Each year an old woman marks her calendar
when fireflies first candle the dark,
when a veil of starlings
fold and unfold across the September sky,
when the mountain waterfall
finally surrenders its motion to ice,
and redbud blooms again
beside the wild dogwood.