Alberta Turner

Alberta Turner was born in Pleasantville, NY. and graduated from Hunter College, Wellesley College and Ohio State University.

She taught at Oberlin College and Cleveland State University where she took over the directorship of the CSU Poetry Center in 1964-1990. She ran its monthly “Forum,” brought in many nationally known poets, and helped launch the whole CSU Poetry Center’s series of publications. Her own books of poetry include Learning to Count (1974) and Lid and Spoon (1977) both from the Pitt Poetry Series, A Belfry of Knees (Univ. of Alabama 1983), Beginning with And: New and Selected Poems (Bottom Dog Press 1994) and Tomorrow Is a Tight Fist (2001). Turner also edited several important texts about poetry: Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (New York: McKay) and Poets Teaching (New York: Longman, 1980). She was a strong believer in poetry as an important part of everyone’s life and so opened the CSU Poetry Forum to all, declaring, "Whether they're academic poets, street poets, language poets or living-room poets, it really doesn't matter. Whatever opens your soul, that's fine." She was a founding editor of the literary magazine, Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. Turner received numerous honors for her poetry, including the Governor's Award for the Arts, Cleveland Arts Prize, Ohioana Poetry Award and Chillicothe Award for Outstanding Poet. Cleveland poet David Citino once commented, “If Alberta Turner had not existed, American poets and poetry lovers would have had to invent her.” She died in May of 2003.

     - Larry Smith



by Alberta Turner

Strange you don't wake. You grunt, draw up
one foot. You must be alive. But before
foot on the floor, before coffee on the edge
of the warm tub, you must decide what to do
with the rest of your life: Rewind? Too much
fear back there. Then be something else,
like a rare blue-tailed raccoon. Wild? Caged?

You consult your hand: the life line
ran out three years ago.

Have you picked the scarlet violet, heard the plush
thrush? Have you flushed the velvet toilet?
Not strange enough. Have you kissed the alligator
on his chocolate dentures? Not strange enough.

But you could watch two six-year-olds
soaking their feet in the fountain
or the fat man climbing his ladder
to paint his red barn red. Wait,
don't speak. They'll turn. Perhaps a radiance
on the top rung? Or in the fountain
four winged feet?


by Alberta Turner

Not Whitman's leaves, but all grasses:
tall pampas, coarse crab, fine fescues,
nibbles that sheep find in bracken,
the surprise of fringed oases. Along railroad
tracks it pushes up through milkweed
and goldenrod. Along thruways its tractors
make hay, and across commons it sows
wild oats, wild rye, saw grass, salt
grass, hare's tail, sod. In marshes
it hides, in ditches it tassels, whiskers, seeds.
Rooted in fear, it flattens under wind.
Cropped, it thickens. Paved, it heaves brick.


by Alberta Turner

Language of laugh and leap
alphabet of fun and grin,
when I am broken from my stem,
how shall I mean?

How sit beside Aunt Mildred's ghost
and bring her news of her son's
new wife: an eyebrow plucked
and an earlobe pricked?

When I am gone and even the word
for word is gone, how shall I gloat?

Even the smallest cub can growl, cuff,
play war, pretend, cuff again.
And the old bear plays his broken
claws and yellow teeth on slower
rabbits and on younger sheep.

Oh, Language, in your stocking cap
and mitts, how shall I find Jesus
or Figaro? How hail them, ask their
names? And if they don't remember,
how explain?

(All poems from Beginning With And: New and Selected Poems Bottom Dog Press 1994)