The Music Issue
I played trumpet in the school band—from the 5th grade through high school. (I was one of those annoying trumpet players belting out bugle calls during Friday night football games in October, basketball games in March.) After high school, I moved into the big city (Fresno) from my childhood home in the country outside of Madera, California. I moved into an apartment with a bunch of buddies I’d known for years. I also switched from treble clef to bass clef, picking up a 4-string electric bass guitar and never putting it down.
This nucleus of friends from childhood created a band then that still plays on to this day. In fact, my good friends Brian and Russ and Darren (guitars, vocals, and drums respectively) have been working hard these many months I’ve been traveling as the Amy Lowell Traveling Poetry Scholar—they’ve been mixing down the album we recorded early in 2009. The name of the band has been a constantly shifting quandary, but the friendships that make up the band are rock solid. We’ve most recently switched from being “BottomFeeder” to “Trufle Pig.” (Two f’s in truffle seemed just a little too fancy for our sound.) Maybe you’ll see/hear us on YouTube soon. Who knows?
There are a couple of reasons I bring this up.
The first has to do with being in a band itself. It’s a helluva lot of fun. A lot of work sometimes, too—there’s no denying that. As the years have gone by and I’ve continued to work from one poem to the next, much of what I’ve learned in musical collaboration with my friends has also helped me with my more solitary work with the pen. When I turn to other poets and editors to hear their suggestions for a given poem or the ordering of poems within a manuscript, I think I’m more open to hearing their ideas. Don’t get me wrong—I’m still stubborn about the path I think the poem needs to forge through the brush. Still, years of crafting songs together in the group and working through the mixing down stages have helped with the editing process as well as the construction of the composition from its inception.
This brings me to related point.
So often I read interviews with poets and fiction writers who mention a wonderful list of great writers when asked about those who’ve influenced their work. It’s like hearing a personal pantheon of greats. I’ve done the same thing when asked this question. If I really dug into the question and thought into the nature of what it asks of my life, then I’d say that one of the greatest artistic influences on my writing (on my approach to art itself, to my appreciation of structure and composition and experiment) has come from my old friend—Brian Voight. Our ongoing years of conversation about music and film and photography have helped in the formation of my consciousness as a writer and as a human being. Brian doesn’t write poetry—though I’m certain he’d write incredible verse if he chose to do so. It’s just not his bag. He does, however, write a good portion of the lyrics and the bulk of the songs for our band.
It may seem a small thing to ask, but I’m asking that writers give a shout out here and there when asked the question about influence. Let’s not forget where we come from. I’m from the San Joaquin Valley, California. I’ve been fortunate enough to study with such amazing writers and human beings as Corrinne Clegg Hales and Chuck Hanzlicek and Steve Yarbrough and Philip Levine and T.R. Hummer and Garrett Hongo and Dorianne Laux. I’ve got Larry Levis and Bruce Weigl and Tim O’Brien and Kurt Vonnegut and Ismail Kadare and Khalid Mattawa and Dunya Mikhail and April Ossmann and Stacey Lynn Brown and Adrian Matejka and Walt Whitman and Yehuda Amichai and Tony Hoagland and Richard Kenney and Richard Hugo and ….so many to thank.
But let’s not forget Brian Voight. And Russ Conrad—the singer in our band, Trufle Pig. And Darren, our drummer. And my Uncle Jon Turner, who fought in Vietnam and worked cattle on the ranch and gave me books of poetry as I was growing up. And my father, Marshall Turner, who read novels to my mother and I while we did the dishes after dinner. And the artists we meet along the way. And to my fiancee, Ilyse Kusnetz, who is also a poet—who keeps me on the ground, who reads through the rough and the polished with equal eye and a lexicon that kicks my lexicon’s ass. These people I love who have allowed me a place within their lives—these people profoundly influence the words I bring to the page. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.
Some poems get written to music (I wrote the poem “Here, Bullet” while listening to Queen’s of the Stone Age, for example). Some get written to the silence of 4 a.m. Others have water, wind, thunder in the distance.
I wrote a book of poems at the end of last summer (called, appropriately, Summertime) while listening to handful of specific albums. I don’t intend to publish the book. It was just something I had to do at the time. Still the following albums were the core soundtrack, the musical backdrop behind the writing of the poems…
Andrew Bird—Noble Beast (This was the primary album, the essential soundtrack I wrote to)
Chris Knight—The Trailer Tapes
Sam Phillips—A Boot and a Shoe
Coleman Hawkins—(a mix of his work)
The Flaming Lips—Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
If you listen to music while writing, what’s the music you fill the room with as you lift the pen and turn to the page?
Brian Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon and lived abroad in South Korea for a year before serving for seven years in the U.S. Army. He was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. Then in November 2003 he was an infantry team leader...