Poet steeped in his surroundings

Brian Turner’s love for the natural world is reflected in his poetry and prose.
Brian Turner’s love for the natural world is reflected in his poetry and prose.
Oturehua writer Brian Turner has often thought life would have been easier if he was not a poet, but his uncertainty has been our good fortune.

No other writer loves the dry, dusty back-country of our tussocks and grasslands as much as he does, or, at least, nobody puts it quite like him, his nuggets of colour and clarity sitting deep in the Central Otago psyche.

Now on the heels of his best-selling Into the Wider World: A Back Country Miscellany, comes Just This - this time poetry instead of essays, but with the same love for the natural world that spills over into his very being.

‘‘My environmental illumination started in the 1970s when I was working in Wellington. I read more and more of what's now called ‘nature writing', and I became acutely aware of the fact that if we didn't stop what we were doing to the Earth, nature would have the last word.''

He was not sure whether his high profile meant he had any more clout than the average member of the public when it came to lending his weight to public campaigns against ‘‘damming every last remaining river in the world'' or building ‘‘one of the biggest wind farms in the world here and another monster beside it''.

He admitted to ‘‘running out of steam'' when it came to the work involved in opposing projects like the proposed Project Hayes wind farm on the Lammermoor Range, although he denied any bitterness towards corporates that eyed up our valleys and those who thought ‘‘it's perfectly okay to keep attacking nature''.

‘‘Bitterness only eats you up. But I do have a deep distaste for some of those on the other side.''

Is the increasing development and destruction of the modern world, processes he sees as synonymous, enough to drive him barmy?

‘‘All writers are a little bit barmy.''

And so he carries on in his ‘‘little red house'' in the Ida Valley, believing there is still ‘‘no finer way to say things'' than by way of poetry.

‘‘A great poem touches on all sorts of things in ways that can't be done in any other form of writing. You get the true voice of feeling.

"You get the most surprising startling of images and figures of speech shaping the language, and hearing it sing, the sense of rhapsody and reverence that sometimes you can impart.

"You can get a tremendous buzz out of writing it. It forces you to pay close attention to what you're saying, how you're saying it. You develop a true respect for the gift and power of language.''

Just This was filled with many poems that came from ‘‘an examination of place, what it does to us and what it means to us and to me''.

In many poems that means a focus on the Central Otago with which his work is so closely associated.

But in many others it means love, longing, family and friends against a different backdrop; poems coming from his childhood in Dunedin, feelings about freedom, relationships, decrees issued by way of going fishing.

Turner rejected any notion that writers came from or occupied ‘‘some kind of rarefied place and aren't real people''.

He has deep respect for others who are good at what they do, cherishes his friendships, likes ‘‘unpretentious, practical, warm-hearted people. I don't like preciousness and pretentiousness''.

So an old-fashioned, steadfast, straight-talking upbringing continues to serve him well.

There's a ‘‘sense of gratitude'' for values firmly instilled, and he is touched by those who now follow his work.

‘‘It's heartening to think that people will come along and listen to my poetry. I'm duty bound to do the best I can.''

• Turner will be at the Wanaka Library on Friday, July 24, from 5pm-7pm as one of several poets reading from their work to commemorate Montana Poetry Day.

• A joint exhibition of excerpts from Turner's work and that of Wanaka photographer Gilbert van Reenen will run at Central Stories, in Alexandra, from August 7 to September 24.

- Pam Jones

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