Brian Turner was born in Visalia in California. He gained his MA in poetry writing from the University of Oregon. Subsequently, he served for seven years in the American army. In 1999–2000 he was sent with the 10th Mountain Division to Bosnia-Herzegoniva. In 2004, he led an infantry squad in Iraq that was stationed in the neighbourhood of the city of Mosul. His poetic debut, Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005) is the upshot of his experiences in the Iraq War. Turner’s first book was also highly successful. In 2005 it gained the Beatrice Hawley Award, in 2006 the Northern California Book Award for poetry and in 2007 the Poets’ Prize.
In Here, Bullet Turner shows himself to be a genuine war poet – in the tradition of Li Po and Wilfred Owen. In stratified language rich in imagery he conjures up the horrors of war. One of the poems has the form of a funeral oration for a fellow soldier who takes his own life: “Private Miller has found what low hush there is / down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.” In another poem he typifies the absurd chaos of Baghdad by writing a poem about the animals that have escaped from the ruins of the zoo: “One baboon escaped the city limits. / It was found wandering in the desert, confused / by the wind, the blowing sands of the barchan dunes.”
In the title poem from the collection we are sucked into the feelings of a soldier in combat in a hair-raising way. The soldier speaks. He addresses the bullet that threatens him and personifies it: “If a body is what you want, / then here is bone and gristle and flesh.” In lines short and sharp like machine-gun fire, he shouts out his courage and anger: “And I dare you to finish / what you’ve started.” But the reader constantly feels how a fear of death is hidden beneath all that shouting: “each twist of the round / spun deeper, because here, Bullet, / here is where the world ends, every time.”
[Brian Turner was a guest at the 2009 Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam. This text was written for this occasion.]
Here, Bullet, Alice James Books, Farmington, ME, 2005
(republished in UK by Bloodaxe Books, Manchester, 2007)
Talk the Guns, Alice James Books, Farmington, ME (forthcoming in 2010)