LAURA TREACY BENTLEY is the author of THE SILVER TATTOO (2013) —a psychological thriller with a magic realist’s edge set in Ireland—and a short story prequel NIGHT TERRORS (2015). In addition, she has written a poetry collection LAKE EFFECT (2006). Laura’s work has been widely published in the United States and Ireland in literary journals such as The New York Quarterly, Art Times, Poetry Ireland Review, Connotation Press, Rosebud, Nightsun, Blink, The Stinging Fly, Kestrel, ABZ, Crannog, Now & Then, 3×10 plus, Grey Sparrow Journal, and numerous anthologies, including The Southern Poetry Anthology. She received a Fellowship Award for Literature from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, and her poetry was featured on the websites of A Prairie Home Companion, Poetry Daily, and O Magazine. In 2003 Laura read her poetry with Ray Bradbury. She will be a featured author at the Ohio River Book Festival in Huntington, West Virginia, and the Dublin Irish Festival in Dublin, Ohio. www.lauratreacybentley.com
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve stated on your website that poetry is your first love. Do you know why?
Laura Bentley: I’m not sure why I was drawn to poetry, but it’s very freeing. It’s like composing secret music that eventually might be played. It’s all very exciting. I wrote a little in high school, but I became more serious in college. My first published poem appeared in the student literary journal Et Cetera at Marshall University. It was entitled “The Leafman.” I remember how thrilling it was to see my work in print and knowing that others might be reading it.
Geosi Gyasi: How would you distinguish between poetry and prose?
Laura Bentley: For me since I write both, I’ve pondered that question. I am captivated by prose and a great story, but poetry is deeply personal to me. I discovered that after the death of my mother, Ray Bradbury, and my sister-in-law in one month’s time that I couldn’t write poetry for a couple of years. I polished a novel instead and started taking photographs every day that I post on my Poetography Facebook page. The photos became my substitute for saving a moment like a poem. I’m just now getting back to writing poetry again. I think I have finally healed enough to go deeper and begin again.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that it is easy to write poems?
Laura Bentley: I think anyone can write a poem, but I never think of poems as easy or hard. I just write them, and some are written quickly, and some I revise for years. I worry that people who think poetry is easy to write are trying to demean it somehow and think that anyone can do it. It takes time to become a good poet. A classical guitarist practices for years to master his craft. It’s the same with a poet or a dancer or an artist.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you indulge in prose poetry?
Laura Bentley: I don’t. I am too addicted to the crafted line and the shaping of a poem to make it more powerful. I appreciate a beautifully written paragraph, but I’m not a fan of prose poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read growing up as a child?
Laura Bentley: Fairy tales, books about horses, the Boxcar Children, and comic books. I loved and still love the picture book Little Black Sambo. I realize that it is totally politically incorrect now, but I adored the brave little boy. The entire story was dangerous, exciting, magical, and had a happy ending when all the tigers melted into butter that the family later ate on pancakes! I so identified with the little boy! It was such a well-made story with magical realism thrown in to boot.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you come from a family of writers?
Laura Bentley: My mother wrote a little poetry and my paternal great grandmother did as well. When I read my great grandmother’s work, I feel her feelings even though she died long before I was born. History provides us with the facts; poetry tells you how someone felt.
Geosi Gyasi: What makes a good poet, if I may ask?
Laura Bentley: That’s such a hard question. For me a good poet always makes me feel something when I read their work. I love Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry, and when I get cold chills after reading or hearing a poem read, I know that it is a work of art.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “The Silver Tattoo”?
Laura Bentley: Because I’m a poet first, I’m intoxicated and driven by image. I took a photograph of a busker on Grafton Street in Dublin, Ireland, back in 2000, and it served as the magical inspiration for a short story that later became my novel The Silver Tattoo.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your decision to set “The Silver Tattoo” in Ireland?
Laura Bentley: I have been lucky to travel to Ireland four times now. Each time I kept a journal and took many photographs, not knowing that I would ever write a novel. The landscape and the legends stayed with me, especially in Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher. I walked to the Cliffs almost every day when I was writer in residence for a month in Co. Clare. The stunning, dramatic, and dangerous cliffs were indelible.
Geosi Gyasi: Does it matter so much to you where you set a story?
Laura Bentley: It does. I have to have a particular setting in mind, so I can walk around it in my mind.
Geosi Gyasi: Can you distinguish between “The Silver Tattoo” and “Night Terrors”?
Laura Bentley: The Silver Tattoo is a literary psychological thriller about a young woman who deserts her psychic husband. She leaves the US to study at Trinity College in Dublin where she begins to be stalked and shadowed by the legend of the warrior hero Cuchulainn. Night Terrors is a short story prequel about Conor as a small boy when his psychic abilities first were revealed.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me something about “Lake Effect”?
Laura Bentley: It’s my first poetry collection. The title reflects the poetry within that creates its own weather: beautiful, dramatic, frightening, light, and dark.
Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell me about your experience at the Dublin Writing Workshop?
Laura Bentley: It was my very first trip to Ireland, and I got to study with noted Irish writers like Paula Meehan, Eavan Boland, and Theo Dorgan. It changed my life.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any childhood memories about your birthplace, Hagerstown, Maryland?
Laura Bentley: I do. Feeding the swans in the park, playing hide n’ seek, playing with my baby brother, selling fudge at a county fair, being hospitalized with asthma for a couple of weeks, marching in a Halloween parade, and being locked in a cedar chest. I lived in Hagerstown until I was seven.