brian turner | here, bullet

16 02 2010

Poetry Dispatch No. 311 | February 16, 2010

Intro: Words and War

Norbert Blei

Some of us with a literary bent, with a history and love of contemporary literature under our belts and in our hearts, still wait for news from the current war fronts, Iraq and Afghanistan, hoping to discover the truer tale, the latest chapter on man’s inhumanity to man in those two theaters of violence.

I’m not a great lover of war literature, though I respect and admire the best novels, poems, plays and essays that came out of prior confrontations, from WWI to Vietnam. We all have our favorites from this times and battlegrounds.

But it all seems so quiet out there since we set foot in Iraq. Where are the writers? Where’s ‘the’ or one of ‘the’ novels? Has no one but Robert Bly cried out to the nation as he did in August, 2002 with the poem, “Call and Answer” (which he was kind enough to allow Cross+Roads Press to reprint in its broadside series, “Broadside Beat #5, 2005) ?

click the cover above to see the back please…

Or is the work being done—but just not receiving the attention it deserves? Which I suspect may be the case. Keep the voices down…bury them in the small presses, little magazines, street literature. But why? Nobody’s listening? Nobody cares? Publishers see no market in it? Are political and corporate factions more concerned with bringing down government, destroying democracy rather than listening to our varied voices? Talk shows are hungry for hot-headed politics over reflective novelists, poets, essayists. If a Vonnegut came along today, would anybody care? Recognize him? Norman Mailer? James Jones?. Where’s the next Tim O’Brien? Michael Herr? Has our once great literature of national significance been reduced to celebrity trash, the manufacturing of mystery /thrillers ala James Patterson?

Has anyone ever heard of Brian Turner? Has he appeared on any major talk shows, network or cable? Have there been any articles about him in People Magazine? Vanity Fair? Maxim? Any “war writing buzz” whatsoever?

Here’s some poetic news from one of our current fronts. Just in case you miss him sometime on Oprah.


Body Bags

A murder of crows looks on in silence
from the eucalyptus trees above
as we stand over the bodies—
who look as if they might roll over,
wake from a dream and question us
about the blood drying on their scalps,
the bullets lodged in the back of their skulls,
to ask where their wives and children are
this morning, and why this hovering
of flies, the taste of flatbread and chai
gone from their mouths as they stretch
and rise, wondering who these strangers are
who would kick their hard feet, saying
Last call, motherfucker. Last call.

Two Stories Down

When he jumped from the balcony, Hasan swam
in the air over the Ashur Street Market,
arms and legs suspended in a blur
above palm hearts and crates of lemons,
not realizing just how hard life fights
sometimes, how an American soldier
would run to his aid there on the sidewalk,
trying to make sense of Hasan’s broken legs,
his screaming, trying to comfort him
with words in an awkward music
of stress and care, a soldier he’d startle
by stealing the knife from its sheath,
the two of them struggling for the blade
until the bloodgroove sunk deep
and Hasan whispered to him,
Shukran, sadiq, shukran;
Thank you, friend, thank you.

Here, Bullet

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.

[from HERE, BULLET, Alice James Books, Farmington, Maine, 2005]

BRIAN TURNER earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the l0th Mountain Division (1999-2000). His poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, American War Poems: An Anthology, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. He currently lives in California.



10 responses

16 02 2010

I was privilaged to hear Brian Turner at the Dodge Poetry Festival a few years ago. Since then I did hear an interview with him on NPR. He impresses me as an earnest young man who has much to tell us. Here Bullet should be required reading for all those military leaders who are supposedly reading Three Cups of Tea.

16 02 2010
Ralph Murre

Yes, where are the writers and where are the publishers who can question another “good war”? Wonderful work here from Turner, and there may be a handful of others, but it feels like pacifism is some sort of black sin in these days of “support the troops” no matter their mission. Sit quietly through commercials that recruit our children to become agents of war, put a redwhite’n’blue ribbon on your car and don’t ask any questions, vote for who you want, even the one who talks of ending the war, but don’t expect him to live up to it. Maybe it’s just me growing up (!), but it feels like the kids at the front are more than ever the pawns, and the kings really got threatened this time. Do we need the writers to tell us, again, of the horrors of the bloody field, or should we listen to the ones that tell of the horrors of the political processes that fertilize that ground?

17 02 2010
Robert M. Zoschke

Maybe Little Eagle Press should put out a chapbook or a book by a writer who answers the questions you pose.

17 02 2010
Robert M. Zoschke

Maybe Cross+Roads Press should put out a chapbook or a book by a writer who answers the questions Norb and Ralph pose.

17 02 2010
Sharpstone Herb Grinder

Extremely physical wording and deep dark almost guilty perspective. At least thats what I got from his poetry and bio.

17 02 2010
Norbert Blei

Speaking for Cross+Roads Press, when and if I ever come across an Iraq or Afghanistan
war ms. as engaging as all the the WW II and Vietnam writers I mentioned, writers in the thick of it…keen eyes, deep hearts, the true words to tell it straight, shape the violence into art—I would publish it in an instant.

Norbert Blei
Cross+Roads Press

14 02 2013

Take a look at what I’ve put out on wordpress, warmemoir. Let me know what you think.


17 02 2010
Ralph Murre

Rob Z’s point is a good one. While my budget at Little Eagle is miniscule, I am more than willing to put my limited resources where my mouth is. Show me a manuscript of GOOD poetry and art, on the topic of pacifism and that feels relevant to our current situation, and I’ll be very excited to put it out there. The problem though, with any small press operation, is that a popular blog will reach more people in a day than we might in a lifetime. That is not a cop-out; merely a statement of fact.

20 02 2010
MaryAnn Grzych

Robert Bly felft so strongly about the war in Iraq that he gave copies of The Insanity of Empire to those of us who attended his reading in Oak Park, Illinois a few years ago.
Unless my memory fails me (which it does more and more these days) Jackie Langetieg wrote some powerful anit Iraqi war poems a few years ago. She was at one of Judith Strasser and Robin Chapman’s poetry workshops at The Clearing 4 or 5 years ago.

4 03 2010
Jon Wolston

Brian was interviewed in The New Yorker awhile back.

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