Remembering Turner Cassity

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Remembering Turner Cassity

I met Turner Cassity the first week he arrived at Emory.  Carl Bain--on my dissertation committee--and I were having coffee when Turner walked over to speak to his friend from Jackson.  Carl introduced us, saying, “Turner is a poet”; I thought to myself, “Who isn’t?”  But it dawned on me soon after, when Turner began, “What partial dark, inverting on the sea / A melon with a rind of indigo,” then spoke to us graduate students for an hour about the caesura, that Carl meant Poet

Turner was generous in his encouragement of my poetry, sometimes suggesting a word that was not just precise but startling. And though he would modestly allude to the resources of a reference librarian, he had a surprising range of knowledge.  This, of course, is evident in his poems, which are, to use his terms, always “about something rather than nothing” and even, I thought, when he chose “Hellmouth” as one of my poems in his editorial venture Drastic Measures.  It was also an honor, when I won Ohio University Press’s Hollis Summers Poetry Prize for The Watchers, to share his editor, David Sanders.

Recently, he laughed in delight when I mentioned that my husband, Jeff, was a relative of the Presidio’s Gen. Frederick Funston, who’d ordered a swath of San Francisco dynamited to stop the fire of 1906.  With the relish he took in pronouncing stumps more beautiful than trees, Turner informed me that he was a member of the Frederick Funston Fan Club.

There was iron in his irony, but he was loving and loyal, and some of his poems are heartbreakingly touching.  His allusions to the Bible cut more than one way, as when carpenters hammer or the speaker closes the safe deposit box containing his poems: “’He is not here?’ /  He is, however.”  How fortunate for us all that he was and he is.