Saturday, March 4, 2017



Men, Death, Lies by Roy Bentley
 (Moria Poetry’s Locofo Chaps, Chicago, 2017)

With Men, Death, Lies, Roy Bentley has presented a complex, layered, wide-ranging collection of poems that send the reader to Google to untangle unfamiliar references to reveal the metaphor lying not quite close enough to the surface for thoughtless reading.  There are powerful autobiographical poems that evade cliché, as in “My Father's Love Letters.”  The boy's mother is burning letters with a fury whose origin is not quite evident.  Yet, she leaves a desperate fire to the boy, who recovers letter fragments to read, their content not quite evident, which sends the reader back into the text, much as the son explores embers for clues, and feeds the fire himself.

Adoration burns.  And it keeps burning if you
go inside to your room and retrieve things
to feed the flames.  All afternoon, I fed it
on a paved street where hopscotching kids
paused and pointed at the sky in the direction
of the route and destination of the smoke.
[p. 27]

And this is just one set of secrets and surprises Bentley offers in a chapbook that offers a large view of his world from a little boy's mimicking soldiers and cowboys to journeys back to Plato and the visions of Salvadore Dali.

With Men, Death, Lies, Bentley breaks through any preconceptions of chapbook as sliver of life, and he presents us with a wide swath of experience of life in a variety of poetic forms.  The poems form a whole that defies the notion of a small collection.  There are narrative poems (“Famous Blue Raincoat”), ekphrastic poems (“Fans Listening to a Boxing Match Over the Radio, June 22, 1938”) so compelling the reader searches their source, sonnet-like poems (“Score for a Movie about the Death of a Carnival Worker”) and a series of 10 poems (“Magnificent Strangers”) exploring the nature of masculinity and violence primarily via movies.  The book begins with seven poems introducing a range of themes (men, death, lies) its title suggests, and ends with seven poems, ekphrasic and personal.  The Magnificent Strangers poems in the center of the book focus on movies and heroes.

Bentley, who grew up in Appalachia and has lived in Ohio and Florida, moves far beyond the culture of his roots, even as he embraces it in poems like “Nosferatu in Florida,” which mixes an Appalachian sensibility with Florida blue collar settings, laced with the metaphor of a German expressionist movie and Bela Lugosi's Dracula.  And he makes it all work.

Men, Death, Lies itself is a meticulously constructed mix of U.S. backwoods and popular cultural influences that enliven a young man growing up in Ohio, acute observations of men and women and war, and classical literature.  He makes the carny in “Score for a Movie About the Death of a Carnival Worker” as compelling as Bela Lugasi in “Nosferatu in Florida” and “Jason Robards in The Day After.”

If God is the ringmaster doubling as relief driver
for a semi moving heaven and earth and elephants--
if grief is an aerialist's love of flight after a bad fall,
a body laid out is cue to roll credits to rising music:
acknowledgment there are only so may encores.

These poems reverberate and intensify each other in ways that leave the reader both pleased and wanting more poems, and the poet wanting to figure out, How did he make this wide variety of subjects cohere?  This is a chapbook that encourages repeated reading and an appetite to know more of Roy Bentley's work.


Martha Deed is based on the north bank of the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda, New York.  Her collection, Climate Change (Foothills Publishing) appeared in 2014.  Her mixed media reconstruction of death-by-medical error, The Last Collaboration (Furtherfield) was published in 2012, and her edited collection of  Millie Niss's poetry, City Bird (BlazeVox) was published in 2010. Her most recent chapbook, We Should Have Seen This Coming, was published by locofo in 2017.  Her poems are included in a dozen anthologies and have been published in many poetry journals.  Blogs on

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