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Poetry Book Review:

Here, Bullet

by Brian Turner

here bulletBrian Turner's Here, Bullet is a veritable image gallery of tactical observations. Well structured as a compilation and equally well packaged as the poetic memoir of a soldier who has been there and seen firsthand the surreal nature of 21st century warfare rather than the sound bite version from CNN, Turner's voice is unique and credible, but that is its limit.

At times, he is brilliant. But mostly, his verse barely surpasses mediocre. While Turner captures the realities of three-dimensional warfare in an earthy two-dimensional way, I found myself looking for something more than concrete images of soldiers with stubs for hands and craters the size of automobiles. Page after page Turner proves himself to be the English language equivalent of a photojournalist, presenting realistic images that split hard wood and drop like a hammer on desert sand. Even when he tilts his head in the direction of postmodernism with verses like this from "Alhazen of Basra":

	If I could travel a thousand years back
	to August 1004, to a small tent
	where Alhazen has fallen asleep among books
	about sunsets, shadows, and light itself,
	I wouldn't ask whether light travels in a straight line,
	Or what governs the laws of refraction, or how
	he discovered the bridgework of analytical geometry;
	I would ask about the light within us,

I still find myself seeking something deeper, something more emotionally satisfying. But, my lust is left unabated. Here, Bullet is often heady and detached, its biggest weakness.

This weakness is characterized by Turner's restrained imagination and lack of versatility. There are words that he likes to use frequently - "chai", "eucalyptus", "minaret" - and while the words may be the perfect choices to represent his experience, they leave his poetry tasting bland. Linguistically, emotionally, Turner is not a risk taker. When he does stretch his synaptic bungee cord, the lines are hit and miss, often cascading like suppressive fire over his objective. Such is the case with his originally-structured prosaic narrative "9-Line Medevac."

The opening strophe is an incredible confessional outpouring, but Turner can't force himself to keep up the pace throughout this ambitious three-page project. The effort falls short because some of the strophes, each representing one line on the report soldiers send when requesting medical assistance on the battlefield, just don't rise to the same stream-of-conscious execution as that first intense catharsis.

Nevertheless, there are bright spots in Turner's verses. Some of them are so bright they eclipse the sun. "AB Negative (The Surgeon's Poem)" comes to mind as the best example. Turner opens the poem with a beautiful picture of the gloominess of battlefield trauma in a helicopter headed for the hospital with these epochal lines

	Thalia Fields lies under a gray ceiling of clouds,
	just under the turbulence, with anesthetics
	dripping from an IV into her arm,
	and the flight surgeon says The shrapnel
	cauterized as it traveled through her
	here, breaking this rib as it entered,
	burning a hole through the left lung
	to finish in her back, and all of this
	she doesn't hear, except perhaps as music - 

The poem is 44 lines long, 308 words, and only one sentence. In 1 ˝ pages, just one period. Turner executes the lyric narrative with all the charm and grace of a butterfly, employing the simplicity of right words to capture the realities of losing a life in war. Some of the lines are reminiscent of Wilfred Owen's powerful "Dulce et Decorum Est," except that Turner doesn't use his soapbox to make a political statement. His crafty narrative is full of pathos and he takes you clause by beautiful clause on a ride through the sky, under the rain, and into the dark embrace of eternal silence by way of the "droning engines of midnight." Fabulous! And not a single wasted word.

While Turner is capable of incredible skill, he only taps into it in patches. Some poems get there, some don't. He likes complex sentence structures, but they aren't necessary much of the time. He is at his best when he shows us glimpses of himself in the action as opposed to writing as if standing on the sidelines like an interested reporter. A few times I found myself wanting to strike out unnecessary words and phrases, the likes of which can be found in "Autopsy," probably the weakest poem in the book.

A bit overwritten, "Autopsy" mixes personal pronouns in such a way that I had to go back to make sure I understood who was cutting whom. I found myself distracted by the first two lines

	Staff Sergeant Garza, the mortuary affairs specialist
	from Missouri, switches on the music to hear 

because I don't really need to know where the patient is from and it is these kinds of details that make Turner's poetry overly realistic.

In summary, I'd say Turner is a good writer, but he lacks the vision of a poet. His poems are full of images, but often lack emotive depth. When he does capture the emotion in a poem it is powerful, but more often than not he touches on an image and brushes right over it like a street sweeper to get to the next one. His poems are full of action, but there is little editorial insight to help me grasp the significance of it.

Here, Bullet is an important work even if it fails to reach the highest levels of literary achievement; it is important because it shows a side of war that most people will never see. The glimpse inside the modern battlefield from Turner's perspective is refreshing when most of what is seen and heard is run through a teleprompter and film editor. Turner trips the trigger of experience from the inside out. Too bad the dust of too good a memory gets in the way.

Order your copy of

Here, Bullet by Brian Turner


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