Using Language to Explore the World
February 28, 2018
“Read voraciously and see the arc of their work.”
This was the advice given by award-winning poet Brian Turner, the featured speaker for ASU’s 22nd Annual Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton this spring.
“If you study the arc of other writers and their paths and journey through life in literature,” Turner said, “you can sometimes start to develop your own thoughts of how you might spend your time as a writer. There is too much to write about and not enough time. So if you’re going to write, what will you write about, and how does one book inform the writing of the other?”
Turner made two public appearances during the Writers Conference. The first was a question-and-answer session facilitated by Dr. Chris Ellery of the ASU English faculty, where Turner largely discussed his most recent project, editing a book of short stories titled “The Kiss.”
“I asked writers to write about a profound and meaningful kiss,” Turner said. “It’s not a very romantic book. It’s a literary book, so it’s really about failures and successes of communication. I want to create a conversation, whether it’s successful or not, and talk about how people might try to come together and be meaningful to each other.”
In his second presentation, Turner shared excerpts from his poetry collections, including his award-winning book, “Here, Bullet.” He has also written a memoir, “My Life as a Foreign Country,” which made Powell’s “Best Nonfiction of 2014” list. But to his readers, he’s primarily known as a poet.
“There is too much to write about and not enough time. So if you’re going to write, what will you write about, and how does one book inform the writing of the other?”
“Language is one of the ways I explore the world,” he said. “Since I was a boy, I was writing stories. In my teens, I started shifting to writing some poetry, mostly lyrics for songs, which I thought were poems. Once I got into college, I started taking some poetry classes. For me, the two art forms, the song lyric and the poem, work very differently.”
Turner also served seven years in the U.S. Army, including one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. It was then that his writing started to get noticed.
“I wrote my first published book while I was in Iraq,” Turner said. “If I look at all the poems before that, I can see a very different kind of approach to the poem. The lines are much longer, much more musical. Before I was in the military, I could see the same sort of poetic approach being overlaid on whatever the subject was – so the music seemed the same regardless of the subject, which doesn’t make sense.”
“When I was in Iraq,” he continued, “because of the many different pressures I put on the pen when I wrote something, it came out different. I tried to learn from that experience.”
In addition to Turner’s presentations, the two-day conference included eight sessions featuring an array of Texas authors and poets who read from their various works. According to Turner, having a variety of authors at writers conferences are the perks of attending.
“Writers feel very alone and isolated in their work,” he said. “Some people don’t realize that. As writers, oftentimes you’re sitting with a typewriter or computer in a coffee shop or in a home office and staring out. It can be anywhere in the world – it’s a similar experience.”
“But sometimes we get together,” Turner continued. “It’s doesn’t help with the writing, but it can help with the writing life. There are relationships and friendships that happen at these conferences. You can meet colleagues who may live hundreds of miles apart, but two years from now when you finish a draft of a book, you have a great reader who really understands where you’re coming from, and vice versa.”