Monday January 28, 2013

LENOX -- At 85, former Berkshire Eagle city editor William F. Bell has embarked on a new career as a poet.

Actually, Bell admitted that has been writing poetry since the early 1970s, "but it was kind of puny stuff ."

Puny no more. On Saturday, Bell read a number of the poems from his first book, "The Picnic In The Rain," published by the University of Evansville Press in 2012.

The event was at The Bookstore on Housatonic Street. About two dozen people, including many of Bell’s former Eagle co-workers, were in attendance.

All the poems in Bell’s book were written over the past 15 years. That year, 1998, Bell began to write poetry with renewed interest.

"I found one of my old poems and reread it," he said. "It still wasn’t very good, but I thought to myself, ‘I can make this a little better. I can improve this.’ This was in 1998, when I was 71."

Bell, a native of Orwell, Indiana, is a graduate of Indiana University and a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.

He worked as a copy editor for The Eagle for 29 years. His focus and insistence on accuracy were legendary in The Eagle newsroom.

"Bill could edit copy during an air raid," was a famous quote in the 1990s from his former colleague Stephen Fay, now the editor of a newspaper in Maine. He was also the author of a hugely popular religious column in The Eagle for many years.

Many of the poems wrote in the past 15 years he submitted to various literary magazines. Many were published, and most of those appear in the book, said Bell. The book itself came as a result of Bell winning the 2012 Richard Wilbur Prize. Wilbur, 91, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. The native of New York City presently lives in Western Mass. and is a professor at Amherst College.

"The prize came out of the blue," said Bell. "Completely unexpected. But with the prize came [the publishing of] the book."

Bell’s subjects in the book are, for the most part, highly personal. He speaks of lost loves and a host of various experiences that he recalled throughout his life.

He writes well about things as mundane as shooting baskets or going to a movie.

"I never really felt at home with prose as I have with poetry," said Bell. "This is a different level of enjoyment."

Bell has written about 150 poems in the past 15 years, and has no intention of retiring again. There will be more poems, he said. But another book?

"That’s the challenge," he said. "We’ll see."

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6251.
On Twitter: @DerekGentile