Q&A with Jace Ryan Turner

What better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than with an interview with one of our favorite new Out Loud poets, Jace Turner? Jace is a librarian at the Santa Barbara Public Library and regularly shares his poetry on Instagram. He read his short poem, "Solitude" at our March reading and we hope to hear more from him at future readings! Read more about Jace's process and creative practice below, and follow him @jace.ryan.turner to read more of his poetry.

Happy National Poetry Month! How will you be celebrating?

Doing what I usually do—reading and writing poems! However, I usually make more of an effort to share poems I love (not my own) with friends. “Holdfast” by Robin Beth Schaer is a recent poem I shared widely and enthusiastically.

Every poet I’ve ever met has a different way of approaching their own poetry. Tell us a little bit about your process of writing a poem, from the glimmer of an idea and where it comes from to the finished, published poem.

A poem is usually felt first in the gut then followed by a phrase. I’ll write that phrase on a scrap of paper and let it volley back and forth between the mind and heart—it’s the feeling that I want to capture and shape with just the right words. Sometimes I take a walk and let the phrase repeat like a favorite song. More writing follows on the scrap of paper. The more I write the better I can hone in on the subject of the poem. Once I’ve identified the subject I can translate it into my own language and shape into my own experience. I’m reading the poem aloud over and over—adding phrases and changing words. Now the scrap of paper is crammed with words—many of which are crossed out—looking much like a blackout poem. At this point I sit at my Hermes 3000 typewriter and begin typing. Line breaks, stanzas, and rhythm come quickly; the subject and voice of the poem usually define these characteristics. Type-written poem in hand I walk around the room reading it aloud. Seeing the poem typewritten (not in my handwriting) provides the perspective distance I need from the subject. Minor changes follow. Sometimes I carry the poem in my pocket all day—pulling it out, reading, and tinkering. Other times I’m lucky and find the end of a poem swiftly. Once it looks right on the page, and sounds right out loud, I snap a photo of the poem and post it to Instagram. Then I hope people read it.

In reading your poetry, I’m very much struck by how many of them seem to utilize eastern poetic techniques (strong imagery, for example, that speaks for emotional tone, as in haiku and other similar styles). This may just be my own interpretation, but it does make me wonder: who (or what) are your poetic influences? 

I appreciate you noticing this quality in my work. I love clouds and the winter beach at sunset. And windy days. I also love the searching spiritual punctual brilliance of a Glenn Gould recording, the dreamy shadows in a Margrethe Mather photograph, the haunting minimalism of Philip Glass, and the style of Frank O’Hara

Poetry via social media seems to be an effective medium to get your voice out there and share a bit of yourself with others. I particularly enjoy how the poems you share on social media are oftentimes paired with a striking visual or piece of artwork—an old portrait, a desolate landscape, a close-up of a woman’s eyes. How does the fact of a poem becoming a “post” inform how you think about presenting it (or does it)?

Posting my poems on Instagram has certainly changed how I view and present my work. It’s even altered my own poetics. I now think of my poems as visual experiences. This is where my lovely Hermes 3000 typewriter comes in—I appreciate how the typed poem looks on the page. But if I can find an image that seasons the mood or visualizes what the poem is trying to convey then why not!

Of course, writing happens (mostly) in solitude; yet, part of being a writer is also engaging with others who share your passion for words. And yet another part of being a writer is figuring out how to earn money to support yourself. You mentioned that you work at the library—how does this play into your own sense of literary-citizenship? Does your official-work nourish your writing-work, and if so, how?  

Loving books as much as I do and enjoying the experience of sharing my biblio-enthusiasm with others, I found myself drawn to libraries. At first, I was under the mistaken impression that I became a librarian because I didn’t think I could make it as a poet. I still don’t think I could make it as a poet, but now after all these years of working at a library, I’m finally seeing the value in what I have to offer the community as a public librarian. So to answer your question: feeling somewhat successful in my work, and feeling the sense that my work makes a difference, has helped nourish my own creative life.

Book recommendation time: what poets and/or poetry collections are at the top of your bookshelf, and well-worn from use?

There are so many! But among the most heavily rotated would certainly include works by WS Merwin, Patti Smith, Frank O’Hara, Maggie Nelson, & Louise Gluck. The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, edited by Kevin Young, is also a heavily handled collection.

Finally, what’s your advice to people who are considering submitting their work to Out Loud?

Submit. Submit. Submit.