Interview with Poet/Writer Arthur Turfa
Last summer, as I put out my debut solo indie album of original music, I was told by a few friends that I should be on twitter in order to promote it and connect with other musicians. Little did I know that the thriving and dynamic indie music and writing communities on twitter would become my biggest audience and creative support network. A year later, after sharing music and book reviews and promoting each other’s work, mostly through sharing playlists and bantering about favorite novels, songwriters and DAW’s, I’ve decided it was about time to utilize my sleepy website and blog and feature a monthly fellow artist’s forthcoming work. My first interview is with poet and writer Arthur Turfa, who’s upcoming novel, The Botleys of Beaumont County debuts in July 2021 on Blurb.
1. You have a number of poetry books published and have collaborated with other artists and writers in some of your publications. Tell us about the process of writing in conjunction with others.
First and foremost, there needs to be complete trust and a shared vision. Otherwise, there will be disappointment. So far, I have not actually been in the same room with a collaborator. Communication then is either by e-mail, messaging, or on the phone.
A few of my collaborations with poets have gone well, others not (so much). My more successful ones have been with artists/musicians. I am in awe, and am envious of people who write, sing, play and instrument, paint/draw/sculpt. All I do is write.
Carol Worthington-Levy and I met in the 8th grade. Her award-winning art is amazing (she also draws, sings, and plays the guitar). When she created some art from family photographs, she asked me to write ekphrastic poetry. Most of them were like my second family, so it came easily. “All in the Family” came into being that way.
We also did something on Plymouth Meeting, PA, where we grew up (her more than me). It was established in 1704, so it is almost as old as Pennsylvania itself. Many historic buildings and sites are in the path of development. There were stations on the Underground Railroad, old lime kilns, a Quaker Meeting House and a wondrous old library. Proceeds from “A Village Remembered” go to Preservation, PA.
I’ve also written lyrics for two songs that Denise Baxter Yoder has or will set to music. She is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and poet. We got to know each other in a Google+ poetry group.
2. Place plays a large role in some of your poetry. Tell us how the places you've lived or visited have influenced your writing.
That is exactly right! When I was four-years old I remember attending events for Pittsburgh’s bicentennial. I can still see the re-enactors in their buckskin or scarlet coats, along with the Native Americans in their dress. That got me to wondering what places I knew where like long ago. While I haven’t lived fulltime there for decades, I am never far from the Monongahela Valley. It is the basis for who I am.
I also believe in the sanctity/specialness of places. These can be types of places. In my first book. “Places and Times,” I write about “Three Woods” that were special to me. Since 2009 we have lived on a heavily wooded two-acre lot in an extremely stunning part of the Midlands.
Some of these places were where I experienced some life-changing events. California is one of them. Germany, especially Berlin, is another.
3. You are a practicing Lutheran pastor. How has your faith influenced your writing?
I describe myself as a poet/writer who is a Christian, instead of a Christian poet/writer. Some people think I should not do so, but it works for me. In my own way I try to follow in the footsteps of Auden, Eliot, Rilke, Donne, Updike, Herrick, and others who wrote excellent poetry and/or prose, in which they at times handles spiritual themes.
There are a few poems where I talk about a visit to a church, perhaps in a service, perhaps visiting alone or with someone. The novel has a congregation at the crossroads, just as the major characters are as individuals and as families.
What readers will not find is devotional material or heavy-handed religion. They will have to look elsewhere for that, and those things are easily found.
4. I hear you have a book reveal coming up. Tell us about your novel!
Yes, indeed! If you had asked me years ago what I would be writing, I would have said columns and novels. Not many feet from me now in the attic there is a box with a very rough draft of a novel. Parts of it went into “The Botleys of Beaumont County”.
The novel owes something to Faulkner since I talk about a once-prominent family in the southeastern US that does not have the influence it used to have. Individual members handle in in various ways. I create a place (there I go again!) like Updike does, and there are influences of Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace with a dash of Hunter S. Thompson thrown in. It begins with Election Day in 2008. Barack Obama’s victory exhilarated many people, and frightened many others. I thought we were finally putting the past behind us then, but I sadly was wrong.
In the book I talk about the Botleys, but much of the plot takes places in a high school, Episcopal parish, and the National Guard. At its core are two people who really belonged together, but the place where they lived put a wedge between them. As times change, they try to overcome the past but find it is not easy at all.
During the pandemic I finished it and sent it to various publishers. My timing was not the best. I decided to put it on Blurb. Carol created another one of her outstanding covers, and it should be available this summer.
5. Finally, you are a great supporter of the arts. How have you found connections in the arts and writing community and how do those connections influence and inspire you?
In high school I read Hesse’s “Glass Bead Game”, which I eventually read in the original German. That book made me aware of connections. Studying German literature in graduate school I sought to learn more about the music, paintings, etc. that were mentioned in what I read. That was generally not well-received; literary analysis tended to be text-oriented.
But those connections exist. I learned what I could not do, and what I could do. There’s a poem about why I didn’t become a guitarist, but that doesn’t stop me from loving music. While I don’t sing (I can chant in church, though), I memorize lyrics.
I find pleasure in all forms of art. My music collection has everything in it from Wagner to Zappa. In painting I like Dürer and Dali, and so on. In my poetry I write about Rachel Portman’s music (I’m listening to “The Cider House Rules” soundtrack right now), and some call me a painterly poetry on account of my descriptions of a setting.
6. Where can we find more about you and your work?
Instagram as turfaarthur