Last week, the Wells community joined with local residents to attend the retirement reading by poet and Professor of English Bruce Bennett. An audience comprised of current and former students, faculty, staff, professors emeriti, local writers and publishers, Aurora residents and others packed the College’s Art Exhibit Room to hear the work of the longtime teacher and to mark the publication of his latest chapbook, “Swimming in a Watering Can.”
Professor Bennett has lived a dual life at Wells: in addition to 41 years of teaching courses in poetry and nonfiction writing and British and American literature, managing Wells’ popular Visiting Writers Series, and serving as founding director of the Wells Book Arts Center and a director of the Wells Press, he has remained intensely attentive to his craft, authoring nine books of poetry and more than twenty-five poetry chapbooks. As an introduction to his reading, Professor Bennett discussed the interplay and interdependence between these two professional roles.
“I’ve said it before and I’d like to say it again, teaching is really one of the best jobs a writer can have,” he said, remarking on the time he has spent mentoring, advising and guiding the learning experiences of generations of young writers. “Teaching literature for so many years, you reread and familiarize yourself with material almost to the point where you know it by heart.”
For the evening’s reading, Bennett selected works from his catalog of writings that dealt with a variety of topics and were written in elegant poetic forms, commenting on the meanings or inspirations behind many of them: teachers who had influenced his own work, colleagues’ comments in person or by letter, events from his life, and even a dramatic scene in a driver’s education video. He also read a number of poems from “Swimming in a Watering Can,” which was published by FootHills Press specifically to celebrate the occasion of his retirement reading.
Though many of these recently-released poems deal with death, loss, and other depressing or distressing topics, Bennett emphasized that he himself is not planning to disappear after completing his final year as a professor. In fact, his plans are to focus on publishing more of the work he has written over the years, hold more readings, keep active in the community, and of course, keep up with his habit of writing daily.
In the meantime, his work on the Visiting Writers Series will continue with readings by Stone Canoe writers and editors on March 27th, Healing Muse writers and editors on March 31st, Peter Makuck on April 2nd, William Trowbridge on April 16th, and Judith Harris on April 23rd.