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Turco, Lewis 1934–

(Wesli Court, Lewis Putnam Turco)

PERSONAL:

Born May 2, 1934, in Buffalo, NY; son of Luigi (a Baptist minister) and May (a Methodist missionary) Turco; married Jean Houdlette (a music librarian), June 16, 1956; children: Melora Ann Turco Norman, Christopher Cameron. Education: University of Connecticut, B.A., 1959; University of Iowa, M.A., 1961. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Oswego, NY. Agent—Steven E. Swerdfeger, CloudBank Creations, Inc., 6137 E. Mescal St., Scottsdale, AZ 85254-5418.

CAREER:

Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH, instructor in English, 1960-64, founder and director, Cleveland Poetry Center, 1961-64; Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI, assistant professor of English, 1964-65; State University of New York at Oswego, Oswego, assistant professor, 1965-68, associate professor, 1968-71, professor of English, 1971-96, founder and director of program in writing arts, 1968-95, poet in residence, 1995-96. State University of New York at Potsdam, visiting professor, 1968-69; State University of New York system, faculty exchange scholar, 1975—; University of Louisville, Bingham poet in residence, 1982; Ashland University, visiting writer in residence, 1991. City of Oswego, member of charter revision commission, 1990; member of Oswego Opera Chorus, 1980s and 1990s. Exhibitions: The Compleat Melancholick: Being a Sequence of Found, Composite, and Composed Poems, Based Largely upon Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy" was included in Chicago Book Clinic Exhibit of 1986 and National Endowment for the Arts' New American Writing Exhibits, International Book Fairs of Frankfurt and Liber, 1986. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1952-56.

MEMBER:

PEN American Center, Poetry Society of America, Maine Writers and Publishers Association.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Yaddo resident fellow, 1959, in poetry, and 1977, in fiction; Academy of American Poets prize, University of Iowa, 1960; Bread Loaf poetry fellow, 1961; chapbook award, American Weave Press, 1962; fiction prize, Davidson Miscellany, 1969; Helen Bullis Prize, Poetry Northwest, 1972; National Endow- ment for the Arts-PEN syndicated fiction project award, 1983; First Poetry Award, Kansas Quarterly-Kansas Arts Commission, 1984-85, for a poem written under the pseudonym Wesli Court; Melville Cane Award, Poetry Society of America, 1986, for Visions and Revisions of American Poetry; chapbook award, Silverfish Review, 1989, for A Family Album; chapbook award, Cooper House, 1990, for Murmurs in the Walls; John Ciardi Award, lifetime achievement in poetry, National Italian American Foundation, 1999; honorary L.H.D., Ashland University, 2002.

WRITINGS:

POETRY

First Poems, Golden Quill Press (Francestown, NH), 1960.

The Sketches of Lewis Turco and Livevil: A Mask, American Weave Press (Cleveland Heights, OH), 1962.

Awaken, Bells Falling: Poems, 1959-1967, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1968.

The Inhabitant: Poems, with Prints by Thom. Seawell, Despa Press (Northampton, MA), 1970.

Pocoangelini: A Fantography & Other Poems, Despa Press (Northampton, MA), 1971.

The Weed Garden, Peaceweed Press (Orangeburg, SC), 1973.

(Under pseudonym Wesli Court) Courses in Lambents: Poems, Mathom (Oswego, NY), 1977.

A Cage of Creatures, Banjo Press, 1978.

Seasons of the Blood, Mammoth Press (Rochester, NY), 1980.

American Still Lifes, Mathom (Oswego, NY), 1981.

The Compleat Melancholick: Being a Sequence of Found, Composite, and Composed Poems, Based Largely upon Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," Bieler Press (St. Paul, MN), 1985.

A Maze of Monsters, Livingston University Press (Livingston, AL), 1986.

The Shifting Web: New and Selected Poems, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1989.

A Family Album, Silverfish Review Press (Eugene, OR), 1990.

Murmurs in the Walls, Cooper House (Oklahoma City, OK), 1992.

Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters: Poems and Centos from Lines in Emily Dickinson's Letters, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1993.

Legends of the Mists, New Spirit (Kew Gardens, NY), 1993.

A Book of Fears (bilingual), Italian translation by Joseph Alessia, Bordighera (West Lafayette, IN), 1998.

The Collected Lyrics of Lewis Turco/Wesli Court, Star Cloud Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2004.

The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco, 1959-2007, Star Cloud Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2007.

NONFICTION

The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1968, expanded edition published as The New Book of Forms, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1986, 3rd edition, 2000.

The Literature of New York: A Selective Bibliography of Colonial and Native New York State Authors, New York State English Council (Rochester, NY), 1970.

Creative Writing in Poetry, State University of New York (Albany, NY), 1970.

Poetry: An Introduction through Writing, Reston (Reston, VA), 1973.

Freshman Composition and Literature, State University of New York (Albany, NY), 1974.

Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1986.

Dialogue: A Socratic Dialogue on the Art of Writing Dialogue in Fiction, Writers Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 1989.

The Public Poet: Five Lectures on the Art and Craft of Poetry, Ashland Poetry Press (Ashland, OH), 1991.

(With Ansen Dibell and Orson Scott Card) How to Write a Mi££ion, Robinson Publishing (London, England), 1995.

Shaking the Family Tree: A Remembrance, Bordighera (West Lafayette, IN), 1998.

The Book of Literary Terms: The Genres of Fiction, Drama, Nonfiction, Literary Criticism, and Scholarship, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1999.

(Editor and author of introduction) The Life and Poetry of Manoah Bodman: Bard of the Berkshires, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1999.

The Green Maces of Autumn: Voices in an Old Maine House, Mathom Bookshop (Dresden, ME), 2002.

The Book of Dialogue: How to Write Effective Conversation in Fiction, Screenplays, Drama, and Poetry, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2004.

A Sheaf of Leaves: Literary Memoirs, Star Cloud Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2004.

Fantaseers: A Book of Memorie, Star Cloud Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2005.

OTHER

The Dark Man (play), first produced in Storrs, CT, at Jorgensen Little Theater, University of Connecticut, 1959.

While the Spider Slept (ballet scenario), produced in Stockholm, Sweden, by Royal Swedish Ballet, 1965.

The Elections Last Fall (play), first produced in Oswego, NY, at Tyler Hall Experimental Theater, 1969.

(Under pseudonym Wesli Court) Murgatroyd and Mabel (juvenile), illustrated by Robert Michaels, Mathom (Oswego, NY), 1978.

The Fog: A Chamber Opera in One Act, music by Walter Heckster, Donemus (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1987.

The Museum of Ordinary People and Other Stories, Star Cloud Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2007.

Contributor to anthologies and to reference works. Contributor of poetry, short stories, essays, and reviews to numerous literary journals and periodicals, including New Yorker, Poetry, Nation, New Republic, Atlantic, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Kenyon Review; work under pseudonym Wesli Court appeared in Song and Poetry Newsletter of Temple University.

SIDELIGHTS:

"Those who frequent the small world of the little poetry magazines know Lewis Turco as a champion of the classical virtues of form and craftsmanship," wrote David G. McLean in an Agora review. Turco, best known as an American poet, is also a critic, playwright, short story writer, and author of children's literature.

Awaken, Bells Falling: Poems, 1959-1967, considered to be one of Turco's strongest early works, is "a full and varied book, showing off the range of Turco's talent and the variety of his mind" commented a Virginia Quarterly Review contributor. In Concerning Poetry, Hyatt H. Waggoner noted that images "of winter, of silence, and of either a cold darkness or a cold whiteness suggest, and sometimes establish, the prevailing mood of Awaken, Bells Falling." Waggoner compared Turco's verse to "early [Wallace] Stevens or early [Robert] Frost, or both at once." William Heyen, in a Modern Poetry Studies review, saw the poems in Awaken, Bells Falling as "bearers of consciousness, awareness, intelligence…. [Turco's] poems… are metaphors for what seems to be a developing vision."

The Inhabitant: Poems, with Prints by Thom. Seawell, is also generally considered one of Turco's strongest collections of poetry. McLean saw The Inhabitant as representing "the American poet caught in the classical vs. romantic crossfire…. [This] message is clear, although we do a disservice to The Inhabitant if we imply that the book is excessively didactic." McLean concluded that "successful as is the collection as a whole, few, if any, of the individual poems rival the best of Turco's earlier works." Heyen called The Inhabitant "a whole world, not a slice of life,… the world [Turco] has opened for himself is dynamic, self-propagating, endless…. It seems to me that this is a good test of any aesthetic, any world view: can it take everything into account?" Heyen concluded that much of The Inhabitant is "wonderfully realized … intelligent and moving."

Writing in the English Record, Gene Van Troyer highlighted Turco's poetic range and virtuosity as well as "the fantastic element in Turco's work," as evidenced in the collection A Cage of Creatures.

Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters: Poems and Centos from Lines in Emily Dickinson's Letters is a book of poems that Turco composed by "collaging together" sentences and fragments from the many letters written by Dickinson. Turco's own words sometimes serve as bridges between the Dickinson quotations or put her words into a particular context. The effect is to create a number of new poems which seem to be written in the famous poet's voice. Sarah Wider commented in the Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin: "The book is a curious one, bound to raise conventional eyebrows." Wider finds that within these poems, readers "will eerily hear Dickinson's voice … for the poems themselves are based on her words." Willis Buckingham, writing in Nineteenth-Century Literature, cited Turco for steering "well clear of greeting-card banality, retaining Dickinson's verve, haunted complex- ity, and resonance without clarity. I enjoyed many of these poems." Writing in Eclectic Literary Forum, Kevin Walzer found Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters to be "an unusual contribution to Dickinson scholarship … and a strong addition to Turco's own work—a creative homage to another poet." In an overview of Turco's career for the Hollins Critic, H.R. Coursen wrote that the poet's "individual poems are invariably of high quality, a quality especially remarkable when one considers the virtually complete range of formal approaches that Turco employs."

In addition to his work as a poet, Turco is also known for his writings on poetic form and technique. The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, written as a handbook for the appreciation of poetry, and its expanded version, The New Book of Forms, contain definitions of poetic terms and "a wealth of technical information," said Booklist reviewer Penelope Mesick. Turco catalogues examples of verse forms used by poets from many countries and time periods. Mesick noted: "[The New Book of Forms] distinguishes itself as a handbook by the inclusion of ‘examples of poems written in each form by poets of all periods’ and a ‘formfinder’ that tells the baffled reader exactly what a nine-line, alliterative anapestic stanza is." Morris Rabinowitz, writing in Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, called The New Book of Forms "the most informative, easy-to-use, and most attractive book about poetics and verse forms that I have seen in 20 years of looking at such texts, both as teacher and librarian."

Turco's critical work Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, according to Times Literary Supplement contributor Mark Ford, constitutes "a fiercely formalist rejection of organic poetry as it derives from [Ralph Waldo] Emerson." In the ongoing debate between "professionals" and "amateurs," Turco, Ford elaborated, favors poets who master patterns of rhythm, rhyme and syllable count over Walt Whitman and others who use a more relaxed, speech-oriented mode of expression. The reviewer concluded that "it is possible to disagree with everything Turco says and still find this book superbly engrossing." Margaret Dickie, in a review for American Literature, observed that as "one poet's testimonial, it draws together more than two decades of thinking about what it means to write and to be devoted to writing." Dickie concluded, however, that Visions and Revisions "is too sparse to stand up against its predecessors written by professional scholars."

As a poet, Turco would like readers to see more than formalism in his verse. Turco once told CA: "Although people believe—because my name is associated with The Book of Forms—that I am interested only in traditional ways of writing, such is not the case. I am as interested in experimental writing as in any and all other aspects of the subject. In fact, most of my own poems are written in unrhymed syllabic verse, with which I began experimenting at Yaddo in the summer of 1959…. I'm one of those writers who loves to write; I'm never happier than when I'm working on a project. Jim Elledge and Herb Coursen are quite accurate when they say that I'll try anything."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 11, 1979, Volume 63, 1990.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1984, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.

Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1989, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Turco, Lewis, The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, E.P. Dutton (New York, NY), 1968, expanded edition published as The New Book of Forms, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1986.

Turco, Lewis, A Sheaf of Leaves: Literary Memoirs, Star Cloud Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2004.

Turco, Lewis, Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, University of Arkansas Press (Fayetteville, AR), 1986.

PERIODICALS

Agora, spring, 1972, article by David G. McLean.

American Literature, March, 1987, Margaret Dickie, review of Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, pp. 138-139.

Booklist, January 1, 1987, Penelope Mesick, review of The New Book of Forms, p. 678.

Concerning Poetry, fall, 1969, Hyatt H. Wagoner, review of Awaken, Bells Falling: Poems, 1959-1967.

Eclectic Literary Forum, fall, 1995, Kevin Walzer, review of Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters: Poems and Centos from Lines in Emily Dickinson's Letters, pp. 48-49.

Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin, May-June, 1993, Sarah Wider, review of Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters.

English Record, Volume 42, number 2, 1992, Gene Van Troyer, review of A Cage of Creatures.

Georgia Review, winter, 1991, Ted Kooser, review of A Family Album, p. 792.

Hollins Critic, December, 1988, Alfred Dorn, review of Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, pp. 10-11; April, 1991, H.R. Coursen, article on Turco's career.

Kliatt, winter, 1987, Morris Rabinowitz, review of The New Book of Forms, p. 20.

Modern Poetry Studies, winter, 1974, William Heyen, review of Awaken, Bells Falling and The Inhabitant: Poems, with Prints by Thom. Seawell.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, March, 1995, Willis Buckingham, review of Emily Dickinson, Woman of Letters, p. 538.

Poetry, March, 1969, review of Awaken, Bells Falling, pp. 423-424; March, 1973, review of The Inhabitant, p. 344.

Times Literary Supplement, May 22, 1987, Mark Ford, review of Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, p. 557.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1968, review of Awaken, Bells Falling.

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Turco, Lewis 1934–

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