Paul Bentley

Paul Bentley

Paul Bentley was born in Rotherham. His father was a steelworker, and then a builder, and his mother worked in a knitwear factory. His paternal grandfather was a boxer, his maternal grandfather a miner. He went to Wickersley Comprehensive School in Rotherham, and then, following the advice of his father, to Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam) and then the University of Sheffield, where he studied English Literature to avoid work.

He now lives in Cornwall, and teaches English Literature in Plymouth. When not working he likes to loaf around in Cornwall with his wife and two children, search for real ale, and keep tabs on the progress of Rotherham United.

His poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The Rialto, The Manhattan Review, Magma and other magazines.

His poem ‘Barnsley Abu (a postcard to Paul Muldoon)’ was joint runner-up for the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize 2008 for the best poem in the year’s Poetry Review to have been written by a poet who has not yet published a full collection; the late Peter Porter described the poem as ‘very knowing… Muldoon is only there by way of key signature – most of the poem is concerned with the social, political and, above all, footballing life of the North, a fine broth of lowbrow and highbrow people, names, and enthusiasms’ (Poetry Review)

His book on Ted Hughes for Bloomsbury, Ted Hughes, Class and Violence, was published in 2014.

Paul Bentley was a winner in the 2010 Book & Pamphlet Competition, judged by Simon Armitage, with Largo. The pamphlet was then shortlisted for the 2011 Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets.



'At the centre of Largo is a long poem about the miners' strike. Bentley's technically sophisticated poem interweaves deep personal feeling with popular culture, history and party politics.' — the judges of the Michael Marks Award (Alan Jenkins, Carola Luther, Tanya Kirk)

'The most ambitious of [the 2010 Competition winning] pamphlets is Largo by Rotherham-born Paul Bentley. It is dominated by two long poems, ‘Barnsley Abu’ about the tribal loyalties of South Yorkshire football fans, and ‘The Two Magicians’, an extraordinary sequence about the Miners’ Strike. Reminiscent at times of Geoffrey Hill and early work by Peter Reading, ‘The Two Magicians’ is about growing up in South Yorkshire in the early 1980s, an epic of Medieval warfare sung to a sound-track by The Smiths and The Fall:

‘A window cracks from side to side – / Scab! Scab! Scab! Scab!.. The chant repeated, night after / night after night. The enemy within / the enemy within... The mirror cracked from side to side. / Daylight breaking. / Cars swerving from side to side / across the M18. / Flashing lights. / A council site / down a side- / road – a shower of stones, grit. // Dark shards. Splinters... Ghost lights. Revenants. / On the central reservation / men gathered together. / In the bearded barley.’

The poem keeps cutting forward to the aftermath of the strike, to the emigrations, the heroin and the suicides. ‘Nothing to do now but go fishing. / Sign on/. Take the dogs out. Get stoned... All hath suffered change. The cages are still. / The pit wheel sunk in the ground / down the High Street, a war memorial.’'

— Andy Croft, Morning Star

'Teenage desires and embarrassments are placed alongside the anguish of the miner’s strike with confident ease. The boiling pot on encyclopaedic footnotes and chorus lines, of concertos and football tannoys, creates a multi-layered collection that is altogether bold, challenging and evocative from start to finish.' — The Stand

'Class also stalks the pages of Paul Bentley’s Largo, which treats the 1984 miners’ strike through metaphors drawn from natural history and medieval warfare: drug-takers replace rabbit poachers in the woods and a cricket screen becomes a kind of siege engine in a pitched battle between strikers and police. But this Arthur will never return: the fight has been too savage and cynical for that. Bentley takes as an epigraph — visit “the innermost earth” to find “the hidden stone” is an acrostic, in Latin original for “vitriol”.' — The TLS

''Largo’s structure and style blur the distinction between manuscript and commentary. They yoke disparate materials through a rich, politically attentive logic. The pamphlet’s anti-hierarchical organisation of the page is attentive to margins, edges, corners. Placing weight on annotations, footnotes, epigraphs, Farley offers alternative entry points into the main body of the narrative. It is a pamphlet that brilliantly registers the disorientations of leafing through the pages of history, personal memory and civic space, as well as those of physical documents.' — Natalie Pollard, London Magazine

'It's an intriguing mix of materials which embraces both a form of realism and a sort of 'super-realism' which creates an effective discourse of mayhem and confusion, Kes meets surrealism perhaps, and I mean that as a compliment. It's both gritty but upbeat and assertive, full of life and the 'smells and sounds' of a particular time and place, heightened by the form and juxtaposition of the materials.' Stride Magazine



Paul Bentley on The Two Magicians:

I’m interested in the notion of psychogeography. I thought of this poem as a poem of voices – a patchwork of direct quotations, memories, and echoes, stitched loosely onto the old ballad. I’d been reading David Jones’s In Parenthesis, in which this kind of thing is brilliantly done; I’m also interested in rap music – in the idea of ‘flow’, and sampling. I’d also been reading David Peace’s GB84, which brought back a lot of memories. As the poem is in part set in the 1980s at a time when Victorian values were being promoted, I tried for a kind of Victorian lyrical flow, after Tennyson and Swinburne (and beyond them Keats). I also wanted to evoke the Poet Laureate of the time, who grew up near my neck of the woods. George Herbert’s ‘The Collar’ is also there, to rein in I think some of the choler.


Though Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21
in C Major
had you staring heavenward, from my arms, 

it was Dvorák’s Largo
from Symphony No. 9
(the Hovis music, to you and me) 

that did the trick, and finally got you down.
As if you remembered, as you drifted off,
climbing a cobbled street, sad and steep, 

and seemingly never-ending; or the massed bank
of Leeds supporters, intoning it
wherever they went, still adrift from Division 1.

Titles by this author


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