about Bill’s writing

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Notebooks and word processed material

Bill spent his winter afternoons writing (for several hours a day).  He amassed a good amount of work, some of it fairly polished.  In general he would pooh-pooh the idea of publication.  But sometimes he would say “Maybe”.

In his final bout with the illness Bill was hospitalized at the VA hospital in Kansas City.  Patricia and I got the valuables out of his house for safe keeping and when he returned I talked to him about the writing.  “We want to make sure it’s safe”.  “You’ll never find all of it” was Bill’s reply.  “Well we’ve got alot of it” .  And I showed him.  He was impressed, but not too interested.  “My priorities have changed”  he told me.  “I know, but we want to make sure your writing is preserved and published.”  He looked at me skeptically and said “OK”.

Nearly 600 pages of Bill’s notebook entries survive.  They made it through the fire that burned his first house at 1113 NY and the water damage….They also survived Bill’s rough lifestyle…not so great for paper.  Bill had to abandon some notebooks when he made a hasty retreat from “the Island”.  Certain years seem to be missing.  Only one notebook from before the fire is still extant.

In addition to the writing in 20 spiral notebooks which include 600 pages of journal entries, essays, poems and business jottings, Bill also left three novels and a novella.  The novella is Old Red’s Horned Heifer and is an account of Bill’s growing up and the solace he took from living with his family of cattle.  It will be the first of the ‘fiction’ that we will publish.  Bill also wrote a long account of “a day in the life” of a person living in Lawrence, getting ready for a party and visiting friends.  This person looks suspiciously like Bill.  This book will be published some time in the future.

The very first thing we publish will be an anthology with pieces drawn from his notebooks, his transcriptions onto the word processor, pieces of his three novels and novella and his dissertation and the few letters and notes that survive.  This will be a showcase and sampler of Bill’s writing.  Look for announcements of publication of Bill’s writing on the order/information page.

When we publish the Anthology, there will be a public reading of Bill’s work to celebrate and introduce the words of Bill to those who have not heard them.

The transcriptions of Bill’s notebooks continues as a laborious task but one filled with surprising turns of phrase and bouquets of language.

Technique

About Bill’s writing technique:  Bill’s language flashes in and out of the prosaic and the profound.  One second you hear the tone of mock heroics and then then you dive into some hints of the Chinese lyrical tradition.  There are traces of Biblical (Catholic) lampoon and satire.  You can be sure there are Bill’s famous quantum leaps of logic.  The writing twists from profundity into absurdity and back again.  Bill was frequently trying on the worst-case-scenario just to see if he could imagine how bad it can get.  There are plenty of odd phrasings, perhaps from his growing up close to the German tongue in the old people of his Idaho home.  There is nearly Victorian (hell Elizabethan) use of word order.  There is startling originality and banal mindless noodling.  Bill was the master of mixed metaphor, the dangling phrase and the sentence fragment.  An aura of depressed euphoria hangs over the work like a pall of soot.  You can dive with Bill to depression’s depths and give a wry gin with dark, dark humor.  You will hear some grousing, come bitching.  You can soar with him to the heights of some profound insight.  You may learn some coping or survival skills.

Bill’s writing seems to fit into the confessional literature  ala St. Augustine, the mystic tradition of St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross.  Bill seemed to see the world of ideas and emotions as alive.  Take a look at his gerunds.

In Bill’s later writings he would choose a concept and then extrapolate and riff on it for exactly one page.  This was a game he played with himself.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.  The way his mind worked was almost always fascinating, however.  Frequently he brought the whole melange to some kind of logical-like conclusion.  It didn’t necessarily have to make “sense”.

If you have not had the privilege of reading Bill’s words  then I believe you are in for a treat.  But then I’m prejudiced.

Someone asked me why I have undertaken such a massive project.  Well, beyond the fact that Bill was my friend, he was an interesting, complex and unique individual and his writing reflects this.  He meant a great deal to a large number of people.  I believe his life and work deserve remembrance.

Dan’l Bentley

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