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Otago honours poet Brian Turner

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Otago honours poet Brian Turner

The University of Otago will confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature on leading New Zealand poet and writer Brian Turner at a graduation ceremony next month.

Vice-Chancellor Professor David Skegg says that Mr Turner is one of the country’s most gifted poets, whose work has not only met with critical acclaim but also attracted a large popular following.

“I am delighted that the University is able to celebrate Brian Turner’s outstanding poetic achievements and his other extensive contributions to New Zealand life and letters,” Professor Skegg says.

Best known for celebrating the stark beauty of the South Island’s hinterland, and that of Central Otago in particular, his poetry more broadly explores universal themes such as love, longing and loss, overlaid with a love of place.

Terms such as “no-nonsense honesty”, “a rigorous clarity of sense” and “sinewy rhythmic energy” have been used to describe his poems.

His list of accomplishments and awards as a poet is long, beginning with winning the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1978 for his first poetry collection, Ladders of Rain. Most recently, his latest collection, Just This, won the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award for Poetry.

An earlier collection, Beyond, won the 1993 New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. Among Mr Turner’s other accolades are being appointed as the Te Mata New Zealand Poet Laureate (2003-2005) and receiving the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in 2009. That same year, he was also awarded the Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for Poetry.

In 1994-5 he held an Arts Council Scholarship in Letters and he was Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1984 and Writer in Residence at the University of Canterbury in 1997.

Alongside a prolific and critically acclaimed career as a poet, which dates back to the 1960s, he has produced a considerable body of other writing in a variety of formats. These include several biographies of prominent New Zealand sports figures; other non-fiction books; essays; newspaper and magazine columns, reviews and articles; plays and TV documentary scripts.

Many of his publications focus on various aspects of sport, recreation and the outdoors generally. One of his recent books, the best-selling Into the Wider World, explores his love of and concerns for the future of this country’s natural environment.

Beyond his thoughtful writings on this topic and others that relate to the current directions of New Zealand, he has also been involved in public campaigns to oppose some energy projects in spectacular and treasured landscapes.

Mr Turner was born in Dunedin in 1944 and brought up in the working class suburbs of Corstorphine, North Dunedin and St Kilda. He attended Otago Boys’ High School from 1957-61 where he captained the school’s cricket and hockey first XIs. He later represented New Zealand at hockey and has maintained a keen interest in outdoor pursuits such as fishing, tramping, cycling, mountaineering and sailing.

Until 1986 Mr Turner’s writing was fitted around work as a customs officer, publisher’s representative and editor (1968-74) for Oxford University Press in Wellington, journalist, managing editor of the Otago publishing firm John McIndoe Limited, work in sawmills, construction sites and as a rabbiter in Central Otago.

Since 1999, he has lived in Oturehua, a small town in the Ida Valley, Central Otago.

As well as receiving his honorary doctorate during the 27 August ceremony at Dunedin’s Regent Theatre, Mr Turner will deliver the graduation address.


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