If a body is what you want
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Brian Turner, Here, Bullet, Bloodaxe Books 2007
These are the words that Brian Turner used to open his poetry reading and masterclass at Manchester Metropolitan University last night.Powerful enough on the page, when read by this former US soldier in his bold, rhythmic style, they lifted the hairs on the back of my neck.
I’d not come across Brian Turner before I read he was making a flying visit. But having watched various you tube clips I knew he was a poet I wanted to listen to.
To say that hearing Turner read his poems brings them to life would be to do a massive disservice to his writing. The poems fully inhabit the page as they are. But read out with his energy and rhythm – they become three dimensional – all our senses are engaged.
He talks of his poetry as being built of imagistic rhymes, and the words and sound combine not just to paint a picture of the action, but to place you in the midst of it. In AB Negative (The Surgeon’s Poem) we were there on the plane watching the exhausted surgeon cry as Thalia Fields loses her battle with life. In Eulogy we saw the seagulls rise off the River Tigris, startled as we were at Private Miller shooting himself.
Poetry is Turner’s way of expressing what he can’t find the language to pronounce. He talks of carrying poems inside until they’re ready to be written. The story goes that he wrote Here Bullet in 10 minutes listening to Queens of the Stone Age. But he recognises that, really, the poem was the result of years of writing and reading poetry until the poem formed.
Yet, even now Turner does not consider any poem complete. He believes that we don’t really know how our poems finish until they’re out in the world. The reader is an active participant in interpreting the poem.
I like that approach. When I studied English Literature for A level I was frustrated by the idea that there could be right and wrong answers to the meaning and significance of the poem. There can’t be many poems that don’t have space in them to allow for differing interpretations or experiences.
So, would I buy Brian Turner’s poems? Well, I just have. But you probably guessed that. If you want to find out more, you can read about him and his poetry here. And don’t forget You tube!