Westerly Native Explores Grief, Healing in New Poetry Collection

Get a sneak peek at "Heal," the first book from Rhody native and New York City-based poet Briana Elizabeth Turnbull.
Book Cover Image 2

Heal is the first collection of poetry from Westerly native Briana Elizabeth Turnbull. (Courtesy of Briana Turnbull)

Briana Turnbull knows that healing isn’t a destination — it’s an ongoing process, one that often takes place over a lifetime.

The Westerly native explores the nature of grief and recovery in Heal, a new poetry collection due out from London-based Olympia Publishers in February. It’s the first book for Turnbull, who writes under the pen name Briana Elizabeth and graduated from the Parsons School of Design. She now lives and works in marketing in New York City.

Heal is a reflective collection of poems, but in my opinion it’s also a bit of a coming-of-age story,” she tells Rhode Island Monthly. “It follows my experiences with my parents’ divorce in early childhood all the way up until my mid-20s and me finding my own home for the first time. The book came from a place of me wanting to know myself more thoroughly, but also building a stronger foundation in myself.”

Turnbull grew up in an Italian-American family in Westerly, an upbringing she explores in the collection. The irises on the book’s cover pay tribute to her great-grandfather, who grew irises along the coast in Narragansett. Turnbull says she was in high school when she first became interested in the arts. She moved to New York City for college and fell in love with the art of storytelling.

“As I grew into my early 20s, I wanted to take that experience and start to tell my own story,” she explains.

Heal uses poetry to explore different types of grief, from losing a family member to her parents’ divorce when she was a child. She describes her writing as therapeutic, at the same time noting the healing process is never fully over.

“There really is no arrival with healing. It’s an act of endurance or constantly learning and evolving,” she says. “The act of writing itself and rewriting has always been really therapeutic for me, but I think it’s also been a journey into self-knowledge and understanding my origin story in Rhode Island a little bit better and the family that I come from.”

A vulnerable moment came when she shared the collection with family for the first time. Turnbull says the positive feedback she received from close friends and family members has made her excited to share her poetry with a wider audience. Her family comes through in her writing, especially her older half-sister, who dealt with her own experience of grief after losing her mother at a young age. Turnbull says her sister’s Native American heritage has also helped influence her understanding of the world around her over the years.

“The beauty of having an older sister is that she has paved a path for me to learn from,” she says. “Another common theme in my writing is that I was able to get closer to a place of healing by learning from other cultures. Growing up with a sister that is Indigenous showed me the value in having a reciprocal relationship with nature and the importance of learning from history. Be it traveling, reading, writing — my sister aided in my journey by teaching me, listening to me and being there for me time and time again.”

Heal will be available for pre-order from Olympia Publishers starting in January. The poem below, included in the collection, is provided courtesy of the author.

 

Old Narragansett.

Land as far as the eye can see.

Dove-grey skies 

and stone-covered steps

down to the sea.

Love was mahogany,

orange peels burning,

fires with anise. 

Winter meant family

and less time for me. 

 

Bw

Briana Elizabeth Turnbull (Courtesy of Briana Turnbull)

 

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