Guernica Magazine

Brian Turner: A Music That Suits Our Time on the Planet

The poet on his debut album—a tribute to and collaboration with his late wife, by The Interplanetary Acoustic Team—and the role of music in literary practice. The post Brian Turner: A Music That Suits Our Time on the Planet appeared first on Guernica.
Image courtesy of Brian Turner.

Brian Turner’s poetry, of which I first knew Here, Bullet (2005), does what the best literature always does: it serves as a conscience of our times. Turner got his MFA from the University of Oregon and subsequently enlisted in the American military, serving initially in the Balkan crisis of the 1990s and later in the first Iraq war (where he was an infantry team leader). He then turned his military experience into visceral recollections and refractions on the page, first in two poetry collections and then in a memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country (2014). Turner’s work consoles in its refusal to look away from the hard truths of American adventuring abroad, and it is unique in finding a psychic language to articulate what we have lost there.

It turns out that as he was writing, Brian Turner was also making music. He seems to have begun as a punk and a partisan of rock and roll, but has since moved outward, into the realm of electronic music, among other genres. None of this should be very surprising: Both poets and musicians are required to cultivate a kind of sonic attention. There are other poets who are fine musicians (Cornelius Eady is a good example). And poetry is often set to music with great success (Turner himself has been set to music by the composer Jake Runestad). But Turner’s music-making became a true analogue to his poetry practice in the space of grief. His new album, 11 11 (Me, Smiling), attributed to the Interplanetary Acoustic Team, celebrates and preserves the work of Ilyse Kusnetz, his late wife and a fellow poet, and acts, he says, as an “anchor to her, to her voice, her narration to her own journey.”

Indeed, ) is a collaboration with Kusnetz, who was a feminist and post-humanist concerned with justice and with what is beyond the body. Turner wrote and plays a lot of the music, and on these tracks even sings along with Kusnetz herself—beautiful spoken and sung vocals that were recorded prior to her death. The result is up-tempo, funky, with horns and R&B guitar and drum machines and synthesizers—sort of like the Average White Band mixed with Kraftwerk; sort of like Can if it subsumed Earth, Wind, and Fire; sort of like by David Byrne and Brian Eno, but with greater literary aspiration than one

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