Brian Turner

Brian T

photo courtesy of Grahame Sydney

My first introduction to Brian wasn’t as ‘Brian Turner the poet’ but  ‘Brian Turner the cyclist.’ Many years ago when our lads were very young, they were involved in the Saturday afternoon cycling scene. (Having a father who was a bike mechanic and top UK time trialist probably went some way to whetting their interest in the sport!) After every event, whether they were first or last home, Brian would come up to the boys with words of congratulations or encouragement. And this was appreciated, because although the club wanted youngsters, very few of the adults had any time to spend talking to them. It was all about getting the race under way and, officialdom.

They quickly tired of the racing scene, preferring to explore the peninsula on their bikes, without the presence of stopwatches and crowds. But if Brian’s name comes up in a conversation they’ll remind me, he was the ‘ guy’  who used to come up and talk to them.

Introducing: Brian Turner

Sport, recreation and politics – especially to do with environmental issues – have always been as important to me, and at times more consuming, than literature. Which makes me wonder how I ever made time to write the number of non-fiction books, essays, columns, plays and so on that I have. But poetry remains at the heart of what’s most important of all – that’s where all my ideas, convictions, emotions, curiosity and love of language scrabbles to become coherent and affecting. No finer way of saying the things most worth saying. That’s poetry. I think I’ve published 10 collections of poems now, and I have literally hundreds of uncollected and unpublished poems. Over time I think I’ve come to believe that to be of much interest to me poets have to be saying things that strike me as extremely important and central to who we are and what we are doing here and why. Having said that, I assume it is a given that we are all – or ought to be – concerned with how we say what we find ourselves saying, and that one looks to discover one’s voice and provide insights into the way we view life. And one hopes, now and then, to produce phrases and lines that sing.

 Poetry ‘readings’… I’ve always had mixed feelings about taking part in them, and for a long time I lacked confidence fronting up, but I am grateful to those who make the effort to run them. I have got used to doing readings now and believe that one should have respect for audiences and do the very best one can to do justice to one’s work.

In the seventies, in Dunedin, in days before the advent of ‘performance’ poets – which can sometimes seem like a label made to open doors to work of little merit – I recall a reading in the back bar of the City Hotel where Peter Olds, who in those days could be feisty and stroppy, stopped in the middle of reading a poem and singled out someone in the audience who was talking and told him if he didn’t fucking shut up he’d come over and belt him.

I also recall reading poems in Singapore to about 500 secondary school pupils with Philip Salom, an Australian poet and good friend of mine. This was in the early 1990s. The thing I remember to this day was that the students were almost completely silent the whole time we were reading.

I much love the high country rivers and valleys – tussock-clothed hills with forests and snow-capped mountains farther off. Alas, I have come to agree with David Attenborough who said recently that he’d had to admit how that we humans were ‘a plague’ upon the earth. I agree. At times I recall Denis Glover’s sequence Sings Harry  where he refers to sheep ‘like a pestilence / Pouring over the slopes’. We’re pestilential in too many ways. Outrageous. We don’t appear willing to do much about it. What a scandal, a crime, that is.

Favourite poets and poems? Gosh, so many; scores and scores. Early on I liked Baxter, Curnow, Glover, Brasch, Dallas, Fairburn, and so on. Still do. (I’ll stay clear of rating or ranking living NZ poets from my perspective as this is not the place.) I have long liked Wallace Stevens (‘The Man with the Blue Guitar’ is music to my ears), Ted Hughes (‘Hawk Roosting’ and ‘View of a Pig’ smack you in the eye and ear), W S Merwin (whose work from early on reminds us of what a mess we have been making), Linda Pastan, some of Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, and on and on.

And four poems from Brian


When I heard
my friend had gone
I went outside
and looked at the hills
and the broad
blue sky,
just stood there
a while,
then I went inside,
took one of his books
from a shelf
and listened to him
again, one
more time.


I saw branches off the hedge
and stack them neatly on the path.
The work looks more acceptable
this way, otherwise
the bits lie about like limbs
severed on a battlefield.

Carnage, too, is acceptable
when it’s tidy, precise,
like the Gulf War’s
Vertical Insertions
in Target Rich Areas.
Wherever, whenever, for reasons

unknown to unknowns
in essence this is what’s believed.

An earlier version of Euphemistically
appeared in New Letters, University of
Missouri-Kansas City,Volume 58, 1992

The Bovine Proms

Nuance keeps being nuanced
and solemnity becomes sonority
the moment you’re where
you’ve nothing to abhor. Like

on a starry night when there’s
just enough light to forget
the need to watch where you
put your feet, and the cattle

lowing far-off might even be
rehearsing for the bovine
proms. Let them exercise
their musical imperatives

for as long as stars do shine
on us and all our soul-searching.


When someone you hardly knew
told of someone you do
that sunlight seemed to have left her
you sensed it was true,

and you couldn’t help thinking
of days when she was sinking
into the crimping dark
places where harrowing

days and nights harden,
that our pasts won’t pardon
us, just button us hard down,
and sunlight’s gone from the garden

where often, once upon a distant time,
there was music, calming voices that chime.

1 Response to Brian Turner

  1. Pingback: Winter’s on the way | Poems in the Waiting Room (NZ)

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