In last Week’s Sunday Times, an article titled “Battlefield Salvos” addressed a question about the apparent lack of accomplished poetry written by soldiers active in current war zones. Of course, many readers are familiar with soldier-poets from past wars. The article cites Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon as examples from World War I. In a recent post here at “One Poet’s Notes” James Dickey’s World War II poetry, particularly “The Firebombing,” was highlighted, as was Richard Hugo’s “Letter to Simic from Boulder,” concerning Hugo’s participation in bombing runs over European cities during the Second World War. In addition, the current issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review includes W.D. Ehrhart and H. Palmer Hall, poets who served in Vietnam, and the issue features John Balaban, a conscientious objector who chose to serve in Vietnam as a civilian. Other notable contemporary poets who were among the military in Vietnam would include Bruce Weigl and Yusef Komunyakaa.
However, thus far the production of well-written poetry from service members in our contemporary conflicts seems limited. The Sunday Times author offers one explanation: “The poets of the first world war were serious writers operating at the very limit of human experience and sent back first-hand literary reports. It’s difficult to imagine an equivalent situation ever reoccurring, at least in the West. Most of the poets I know would think twice before setting a mousetrap, let alone enlisting for active service.”
Nevertheless, the article correctly identifies one prominent new soldier-poet who has received praise for his first book of poems: “True, Brian Turner, the American soldier with the creative writing MA, published a volume of war poetry that goes far beyond the hobbyist poetry that most people write at some time in their lives, especially to express sadness or loss, but he is the exception who proves the rule.” The newspaper’s mention of Brian Turner is seconded by a comment at the end of its article in the online edition by fellow blogger Andrew Shields, who offers his recommendation of Here, Bullet, Turner’s first volume of poems, and who also posted this video to his blog.
As I previously indicated in my January review of Here, Bullet at “One Poet’s Notes,” Brian Turner’s powerful collection of poetry arising from his experiences as a soldier provides readers with excellent and engaging perspectives of combat or conflicted emotions sometimes felt by soldiers seeing active duty on the contemporary war front. As I noted in that review, Turner served seven years in the U.S. Army, including tours of duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina and then Iraq, and he also is an MFA graduate from the University of Oregon’s creative writing program.
Therefore, on this Veterans Day weekend, I again recommend to readers Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005), and I include his reading of the book’s compelling title poem:
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.
To hear more of Turner reading his poems and being interviewed, I suggest visiting the excellent page devoted to Brian Turner at the From the Fishouse web site.