Wade lives, teaches, and writes in Salt Lake City. For a good time, he enjoys wandering the Wasatch Mountains and playing with his grandchildren. His poems have appeared or will soon be published in Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, Best New Poets, Western Humanities Review, Subtropics, Rattle, Chicago Quarterly Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Concho River Review, Raleigh Review, and Reunion: The Dallas Review, among others. A chapbook of his poems, Askew, was published in 2013, by Red Ochre Press. A full-length collection is due from Aldrich Press in early 2015.
Geosi Gyasi: When I looked up your biography from your website, I realized that you’re a grandfather and hiker besides writing. Do you mind sharing about being a grandfather and hiker?
Wade Bentley: Well, as any grandparent will tell you, being a grandparent is the best. I have a difficult time opening up my circle of caring to new people—the world’s a scary place, and the more people you love, the more danger they, and therefore you, are in. I’m a very fearful person. However, I have not regretted one moment of being a grandpa. My grandchildren love me unconditionally, for now, and I them, and I’ll take my chances with the future.
My father and I started hiking regularly about fifteen years ago. We have averaged 30-40 hikes per year, learning to identify many of the wild things we encounter, but mostly just enjoying being in the mountains, both discovering that nature is the thing that heals us best. Now, as my father enters his 80th year, things are changing—the hikes are fewer and shorter, and of course that trend will continue. It’s difficult for me to think about it ending, to accept that it will. It has been as natural as the seasons for dad to stop by at least one morning per week for a hike in the nearby mountains. My father and I don’t have a great deal in common, so this hobby, this tradition, has been a way—sometimes the only way—for us to connect. I hope that I’ll continue to hike after my father is no longer able, and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to find a child or grandchild who will want to go with me.
Geosi Gyasi: Again, from your website, I came across an entirely new word “avuncular”. What is the relationship between you and the word?
Wade Bentley: It’s a fun word, isn’t it? It’s a word I use to describe the way I imagine that some of my students might see me—like a favorite uncle. Someone who is on their side, who wants to see them succeed. Or, for the students who don’t like me, maybe I’m the crazy uncle, or the creepy one.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you fairly remember what inspired your short story, “Secrets”?
Wade Bentley: Wow. I wrote that story over 30 years ago, so it took me a minute to remember that I had written a story with that title, and a few more minutes to remember what it was about. As I recall, I was trying to look at the difference between the ways humans/lovers relate to each other in contemporary life, the absurd hang-ups about the human body—specifically female breasts, in this story—the many sexual permutations, etc. as contrasted with the more primordial functions and roles that we sometimes revert to in times of stress.
Geosi Gyasi: You were the SLCC Outstanding Employee of the Year in 2009. Do you know why you were chosen for this award?
Wade Bentley: I think it was mostly because, at that time, I was heavily involved in service-learning. I used it in my writing classes, I was on the service-learning board for the college, and I won a grant to attend a service-learning conference. I think because service-learning was a fairly new practice and I had caught the rising wave, it got some notice. In general, I strive to be a very pedestrian employee.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special reason why you write?
Wade Bentley: Tough question. I have always enjoyed writing, and people have generally said encouraging things about my writing—starting with my mom, who liked and saved my astronaut stories from grade school. And I think we tend to do more of
those things from which we get a positive response, right? I settled on poetry fairly late in life, after discovering that I couldn’t sustain a novel and was a lousy hand at plot and dialogue—elements that are often expected in a short story. While I have always dabbled in poetry, I didn’t really get serious about it until maybe ten years ago, when I decided it was time to really see what, if anything, I could do with it. After the requisite dozens of rejections, I began to have some success and, once again, people began to say encouraging things about my poetry.
Because of my late start, I think my writing voice and style and skills are still developing, and I have enjoyed trying to figure out who I am as a writer. What has been most pleasant for me, just in the last couple of years, has been getting to the point where external encouragement and validation is less important. Don’t get me wrong; I still thrill and despair with every acceptance and rejection. And if I haven’t had anything accepted for a while, I start to feel like I’ve been kicked out of the club, like they’ve changed the password and I’ll never get back in. But it has been a surprise and a simple joy to discover that, bottom line, I enjoy writing, and I do so often. It’s not a chore. I don’t suffer for my art. It’s as natural to me as a hike through the woods.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult poem you’ve ever written?
Wade Bentley: If a poem is very difficult to write, I usually end up not liking it. I remember I decided once that I was going to write a very formal, layered, rhyming poem that would mix in the four blood humors, along with their accompanying dispositions, and then throw in the four seasons, and probably the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And, by god, I did it. I pulled it off, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But it reads like that, too—like someone was gnashing his teeth when he wrote it. Horrible.
Of course, other poems have been difficult in other ways—trying to write about powerful emotions is incredibly tricky. Maybe the most difficult thing to do well. There are so many pitfalls, ways for it to go badly. Sentimentality, simplification, cliché, etc. I find that I have to find an unexpected way to get at those experiences. It’s like looking at something only out of the corner of your eye.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think poetry is relevant in this modern age?
Wade Bentley: Hmm. Relevant? It has its place, certainly. I hope there will always be readers and writers of poetry, people who will find something there that they can’t get anywhere else. But there are just so many “anywhere else’s” these days. We are bombarded with sensory input, with ways to gratify every conceivable need. I hope the kids will find a way to rap and slam poetry into life; poetry has shown itself to be adaptable, able to evolve. But I think, at heart, poetry is a quiet, analog, introspective activity that will always have its monks and apprentices and supplicants, but I don’t see it going viral or becoming the next big thing.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer?
Wade Bentley: Second grade. Miss Atkinson’s class. Short story: “Rocket Trip to the Moon.” Nailed it.
Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?
Wade Bentley: I would say some are mystified by it, but most all are supportive. Mom doesn’t like the swears.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your plans for the future?
Wade Bentley: More writing, hiking, and grandchildren, I hope!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do poetry readings?
Wade Bentley: I have done some readings, yes, and hope to do more. Anti-social as I am, I was surprised to find that I actually enjoy doing readings, and I think my poems come across well in that kind of setting.
Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you write for?
Wade Bentley: It has varied, over the years—teachers, girlfriends, wife, publishers, editors, blog followers, contest judges. It sounds sappy to say but, thankfully, mostly for me, these days.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you look up to for inspiration?
Wade Bentley: So many. I don’t want to turn my answer into a list of writers who have influenced me. I seem to go through intense affairs, with writers, where I read nothing but that writer for months, and I am sure that writer will be my BFF. But, okay, a few of those (one-sided) affairs have involved Seamus Heaney, Charles Dickens, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, Thomas Hardy, William Carlos Williams, Kay Ryan, Ted Kooser. Many others. I’m a floozy that way. As far as inspiration goes, I think Billy Collins has been the most inspirational, though I know some poets like to discount him. I love the way he has tried to return poetry back to the masses, where it began. He shows that a poem can be accessible and also layered and surprising and worthy of multiple readings. He is a poet of humanity, I think, and what more can a poet aspire to? I told him once, after attending one of his readings, that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. And of course he pooh-poohed that, but it’s still true.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you often sit to write?
Wade Bentley: When the mood strikes, anywhere will do. I’m never without pen and paper or, these days, phone. But, stereotypical as it is, I’m afraid most of my poems have been written in coffee shops.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest response you’ve ever received from a fan of your book?
Wade Bentley: I have a former high school student who is now an impressive writer herself. She published an honest and insightful review of my chapbook that was wonderful to read.
Geosi Gyasi: Do care about critics when you write?
Wade Bentley: Sure. Less so, now. One of the few advantages to getting old, maybe. But, yeah, my poems represent my life—the best and the worst of it. If you want to know who I am, read my poems. So, when someone rejects a poem or says something to disparage my writing, obviously I take it personally. There is nothing more personal than a poem. That said, I don’t let my worries about criticism shape my poetry or determine its subject matter. I am gradually learning for myself what works and doesn’t work and what it feels like when I am happy with a poem.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you face any challenge(s) as a writer?
Wade Bentley: I haven’t had enough experiences or pain or suffering or alienation or alcohol in my life to be a truly great poet, dammit. But I can live with that.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever written out of anger?
Wade Bentley: Yes. My poems are not typically red-hot with anger, but many have cooled into bitterness or sarcasm.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything on your mind to conclude the interview?
Wade Bentley: Thanks for this opportunity, Geosi! It’s good for me to be forced to think about these things, from time to time. This was a particularly opportune moment for me to assess my writing and my future as a writer; I have a collection of poems coming out in early 2015, so I have found myself wondering whether, once the book is out, I will have said all that I have to say, whether publication is still important to me, why I will or won’t continue to write, etc. This interview has allowed me to think more concretely about such things. Thanks, and all the best to you.