Jim Turner doesn't remember when he first put pen to paper and came up with poetry. Since then he has filled hundreds of pages with his work. Some are only a few lines, while others go on for pages.
He has worked many jobs over the years, including bicycle messenger, cafeteria manager, high school teacher for veterans, furniture assembler and real estate agent. Throughout them all, he has used poetry as a tactic to make sense of the world around him.
He is an enthusiastic supporter of the Starry Night Poetry Series, an open mic organized by D.B. Pacini and held monthly at the Lodi Public Library. At their last session, he read a work of his called "A Backward Dream."
Turner sat down with the Lodi News-Sentinel for a few questions about his poetry, his life and what inspires him.
Q: Tell us about your first printed poem.
A: It was called "Song for a Stilled Mockingbird." Some folks in Lodi were complaining of mockingbird attacks. It wasn't really an attack, but more of a harassing performance. But the city came out and destroyed the birds and the nests. I grew up with the understanding that if I hurt a mockingbird, I'd get the lights beat out of me. So I wrote this, and sent it in to the paper. They published it as a letter, and I got a great response.
Q: Tell me about your poetry.
A: I enjoy writing. I enjoy reading when I can get someone to listen to me. The problem with poetry is that it has ceased to be an art of sound, and is now a more visual art.
I suspect I've written hundreds of poems. A hundred or more are still in the works, but they'll never be finished. Not all of them.
Q: What inspires your poetry?
A: Nothing lately. But usually an idea or a feeling. If something affects me, I'll write about it. I'm rather touchy. Music inspires me. But only good music. Good music is kidnapping. It picks you up and keeps you there.
Q: How do you define poetry?
A: Smarter people than me have been asked that question and given some pretty stupid answers. A friend of mine once told me, "You can say an awful lot in such a few words." I guess that's poetry, saying something in only a few words.
Q: What brought you to Lodi?
A: I was living in Vallejo to with my sister. Saw an ad in the paper looking for a reporter in Lodi and thought, "Where the hell is Lodi?"
I had no portfolio but I knew I could write, so the editor gave me a shot. I worked my way up to city editor. Fred Weybret saw something in me that wasn't there and made me the managing editor.
I hate dealing with people, the hiring, the firing, the chastising, the coddling. It's just not my mug of coffee. After a year, I was burned out. I had to go.
Q: Do you recall any interesting stories?
A: Frankly, I don't remember. It was half a century ago. It's important to do a good job, but it ain't gonna be remembered.
Q: Tell me about the bookstore you opened when you left the paper.
A: I borrowed a couple grand from my brother-in-law and rented a storefront on School Street, near Pine.
My first distributor got me the books at a 20 percent discount. I got a better deal when I went directly to the publishers.
I remember when Stellman's "Passion of Minds" came out. I thought, "Who's going to pay $10 for a novel?" My, how times have changed.
Q: What advice do you have for writers?
A: Keep a notebook faithfully. Religiously. Write about people, what they say, how they look when they say it, what they have done. Write about what happened that day, and how people reacted.
Write about the colors of things. Learn the names of the birds and flowers and trees so that when you need to say what kind of elm or oak or sparrow, you know.
Q: Tell me about the project you keep coming back to, your obituary. Why are you writing your own?
A: I want to get it right. I want people to understand that it's a joke, really. If they should ask, don't tell them I died. Tell them I'm going back to South Carolina 80 years ago.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.