For most of his adult life, Bentz Kirby has pursued a bi-vocational course: arguing court cases by day, playing music (either solo or with his jam band Alien Carnival) at night.
There’s no question which he preferred.
“I can unequivocally say I hated just about every minute of it,” he says of his years practicing law.
He worked all over the map — commercial litigation, insurance, personal injury, real estate, bankruptcy, Social Security and the rare criminal case, never staying in any area long enough to distinguish himself. The good days were when he felt worthwhile, like representing people suckered by consumer loan scams.
“What I did like about it was when you could actually help somebody that needed help,” Kirby offers. “That’s especially true with bankruptcy and Social Security, which is why I gravitated to that towards the end.”
Still, he kept up both jobs until he died.
That premature event came six years ago, when he and his wife May were driving from Travelers Rest, where they had just attended a family reunion, to Westminster, where he was intent on visiting his late brother’s memorial stone. He was listening to the University of South Carolina-Tennessee football game on the radio when he started feeling light-headed, pulled off to the side of the road, and was barely able to tell his wife to take him to the hospital when he slumped over at the wheel, falling victim to Sudden Cardiac Death Syndrome.
Luckily, with medical help and a long rehabilitation process, he told the Grim Reaper (and his day job) to beat it. He’s still working two jobs, only now they are making music and writing poetry.
Unlike his songs, his poems have never had a home until just recently, when his first collection, Dream Work, finally saw print.
The book makes its official debut next week with a book signing at The White Mule in Five Points.
The 114-page collection is a kind of joint venture between Kirby and local author (and Loose Lucy’s co-proprietor) Don McCallister. While McCallister’s Mind Harvest Press is mainly devoted to publishing his own novels, Kirby’s book is a wary step toward broadening the publishing list.
“I’ve just always had ideas,” Kirby says. “Things that ought to be said, from my point of view, and I’ve been writing them down. Don, my wife and some other friends, I just enjoyed sending them whatever I had to write. Don just popped up one day and said, `Let’s do a book of your poems.’”
McCallister picked out the 44 poems that comprise the book. They were then edited into shape and arranged thematically.
“Bentz and I are on the same page in one sense,” McCallister offers. “We both revel in the creative act, and the publishing part of it, the books and all, are a wonderful icing on the cake.”
For Kirby, music is based more on emotion, while poems — which he calls “songs of experience” — tend to be based on real-life events.
“I’ve become a big admirer of [Carl] Sandburg, because that’s what a lot of his poetry is, either an observation or something he did, one or the other,” the poet reflects. “Maybe my mind’s too narrow, but I don’t sit around and try to figure out a construct like T.S. Eliot.”
Music remains big for Kirby. He’s writing an album with former American Gun and Boxing Day alumnus Todd Mathis. It’s based on a series of stories Kirby’s father told him about growing up in the mountains of North and South Carolina. But his poetry is no passing fascination.
“The goal is to write it to the best ability I have, and for someone else to find it worthy of reading,” he explains. “The goal is not to publish anything — I wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for Don looking at what I was doing, thinking it needs to be out there.”