Overview: In this short solo episode (ep 140), Adam Williams adds to his occasional series, “A Poet Was There,” and features poet Brian Turner and work from his first collection, “Here, Bullet” (2005). He also reads three of Turner’s poems from that book, including the title poem. (Released on podcast on Feb. 24, 2023)
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EP 140 SHOW NOTES, LINKS & TRANSCRIPT
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Original Written Version
Editor’s Note: This profile series called “A Poet Was There” highlights poets from around the world who through their verse convey the kind of intimacy, truth and connection with place and experience that only exists because a poet was there. Read “A Poet Was There: Introducing A New Blog Series” to learn more.
I’ve mentioned Brian Turner’s first collection of poems, “Here, Bullet,” a few times on this blog. I’ve carried the emotion, intensity and raw truth of that work for nearly 20 years now. I occasionally go back to it and read again.
Turner and I happened to both be in the U.S. Army during some of the same years. He would serve in the infantry in combat zones. I would not end up spending time in those unconscionable spaces, as it turned out.
His capacity to use poetry to convey his experiences while in Iraq have shined light on the unimaginable for me, taking me emotionally to where my duty assignments never did physically.
This quote from an article about “Here, Bullet” in the The New York Times Book Review eloquently expresses why I read such poetry:
“The day of the first moonwalk, my father’s college literature professor told his class, ‘Someday they’ll send a poet, and we’ll find out what it’s really like.’ Turner has sent back a dispatch from a place arguably more incomprehensible than the moon—the war in Iraq—and deserves our thanks … ”
That speaks to the heart of this occasional series, “A Poet Was There,” which I started during the pandemic, in 2021. I want to know, through the heart, mind and pen of poets what I will never otherwise get to observe and feel.
No movie has put me in touch with what I take to be the truth of war like “Here, Bullet.” Turner published a second collection, which I also have on my shelf, called “Phantom Noise.” I probably ought to spend as much time with that as I have “Here, Bullet.” But it’s that first collection that gripped me so many years ago and has haunted me since.
Before I share forward a few of Turner’s poems, one more meaningful note:
Turner already had completed a Master of Fine Arts before serving in the U.S. Army for seven years, including deployments to Bosnia and Iraq. That is not a common path, in my experience in uniform.
I am grateful that he went into battle equipped creatively, intellectually and heartfully to tell the story in such poignant and lasting ways.
Here are three poems from “Here, Bullet”.
It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 a.m.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun, </i
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.
The title poem of the collection, “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 open 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.
At dusk, bats fly out by the hundreds.
Water snakes glide in the ponding basins
behind the rubbled palaces. The mosques
call their faithful in, welcoming
the moonlight as prayer.
Today, policemen sunbathed on traffic islands
and children helped their mothers
string clothes on the line, a slight breeze
filling them with heat.
There were no bombs, no panic in the streets.
Sgt. Gutierrez didn’t comfort an injured man
who cupped pieces of his friend’s brain
in his hands; instead, today,
white birds rose from the Tigris.
Brian Turner has continued to write, and to publish poetry and essays. He also is a teacher of writing. He published “My Life as a Foreign Country: A Memoir” in 2015.
Photograph by Jay Rembert and edited/modified by Adam Williams