Josie’s Poesy

Josie Emmons Turner takes her turn as Tacoma’s Poet Laureate

By Tammy Robacker on April 20, 2011

Not as much a romantic as she is a realist, there's a palpable pragmatism to Tacoma's new poet laureate, Josie Emmons Turner.

If you expect the usual june-moon-spoon doggerel from this poet, you won't find it. There are no cute, rhyming monosyllabics in her writing. Emmons Turner takes on tough topics like death, loss, difficult family relationships and the complexity of love. She refers to the canonized masters as the "old dead guys." She won't even entertain the lofty notion that poetry could heal the world. "That's a lot of responsibility to put on a poem," she says.

Emmons Turner will be reading her work at her first public poetry reading as Tacoma's new poet laureate during a free event at the bellaballs studio (747 S. Fawcett Ave., Suite B) Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. Emmons Turner will be joined by three former Tacoma poets laureate and special guest poets.

Q&A with Josie Emmons Turner

TAMMY ROBACKER: Why did you apply to be the next poet laureate of Tacoma?

JOSIE EMMONS TURNER: I would like to foster projects which contribute to an enhanced awareness of poetry. So often people associate poetry with what I call the "old dead guys." Poetry is, like most art forms, constantly evolving. It is very much alive in our everyday world and I would like people to experience the joy in poetry. 

ROBACKER: What is your biggest goal to accomplish during your term as poet laureate from 2011 - 13? 

EMMONS TURNER: I guess this goes back to what intrigues me about being poet laureate. Tacoma has a strong literary community -  I would like to bring more attention to it. I also would like to expand upon the poet laureate experience by working with homeless and/or incarcerated youth and to foster collaborations between artists and writers presenting work in public settings. All in all, I hope at the end of my tenure that there is a greater regional awareness of poetry in Tacoma and that I have helped those who need and want to find their voice by hosting poetry workshops and readings.

ROBACKER: Who are a couple of your favorite poets? 

EMMONS TURNER: Favorites?  That's hard - it is a long list.  But I guess the poets I constantly return to include Robinson Jeffers, W.S. Merwin, Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Mary Oliver, Tess Gallagher, Ginsberg, oh ... of course, my mentor, Lola Haskins. Already, that's more than two ... honestly, it depends upon the day and my mood. I try to read a bit of poetry daily - it always helps me to keep focused on my own work. Sometimes I just want to savor another poet's craft while other times it may be the narrative and the poet's message. There are poems, say Donald Hall's "Painted Bed" - every time I read it, I discover something fresh. But it is the freshness that makes a good poem, right?

ROBACKER: What inspires you to write poetry? 

EMMONS TURNER: Inspire is such a big word when it comes to poetry. It sort of sounds like waiting for the muse. If I did that, I would never get anything written. Often, especially in first drafts, I will think I will be writing about an event, or war, or some disaster, or a person, or something in nature and the poem goes in a totally different direction. I've learned to respect that. Marvin Bell once told me something like "it's only a poem" - I take my writing seriously, but if I take the words too seriously, I can't write a thing. For me, I have to not be afraid to chop a word or line if in the end, it doesn't serve the poem. 

Swallow's Mother
By Josie Emmons Turner

Five o'clock in the morning
July rain interrupts slumber.

A cacophony of birds
the drag of metal and rubber -

arising early, the woman next door
takes a hose to new mud nests.

What does poetry matter
when there is no place to live?

Poetry reading

Thursday, April 28, 7 p.m., bellaballs studio, 747 S. Fawcett Ave., Suite B, Tacoma