Sunday, October 28, 2007

Commentary: Soldier-Poet Brian Turner in Vermont

Brian Turner flew in from California to spend four days in Vermont -- including one in St. Johnsbury as the guest of Kingdom Books. His evening reading was in the classic upper hall of the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, where in the 1900s the high social, literary, and political figures of the nation brought their public speeches. Craftsbury (VT) poet Peggy Sapphire, author of A Possible Explanation, offers the following commentary on the reading:

Brian Turner's reading from HERE, BULLET at the St. Johnsbury Athanaeum began with the title poem, as if it were a "photograph which takes him to the space he needs." Turner often read from memory, eyes closed, quietly and with images and memory running simultaneous with his sometimes whispered words. Almost all the poems in this first collection were written in journals while serving in Kuwait and Iraq.

"Hwy 1" begins as the "Highway of Death," and he knew as he wrote that his would be a "very long year." Turner counted 16 Iraqi police dead after one convoy passage, then counted out 16 of his audience this night, to wonder aloud the impact their deaths would have on their loved ones-children, parents, wives and husbands. "Each of us is a universe," he tells us.

The last line of "Observation Post #71," written in Balad, Iraq,"My mind has become very clear," was originally the first line of the last stanza of this short 3-stanza poem. It leaves things "open," he tells us, as they must be. This story is not over. And in fact, Turner is searching for ways to keep this story alive here at home, wanting us all to “feel it,” asks us, “Is the Iraq war here? Do we feel it?”

Turner looks to those of us gathered here, and asks that we remember "Eulogy," as the one poem would truly honor him, and in fact it was written to honor his dead friend, Pvt. 1st Class Bruce Miller, whose death remains unrecorded as among "the dead," omitted from the roster upon the return of remains to the U.S. Turner tells us it "undoes a wrong" and he reads it everywhere.

Turner discloses that nothing can "modulate the pain" of these poems until "we sit and talk" together.

Upon reading "2000 lbs." he incants "Inshallah," and it echoes throughout the Athenaeum. And my silence is all the more about my inadequacy, my helplessness in the face of this Hell in which Turner has somehow survived,and "Inshallah" becomes my prayer for him.

He reads "Night In Blue," and, as if in a final disclosure, says again,"I have no words to speak of war."

But Brian Turner has come closer than any I know. There seems no distance between where and what he has written, and where and what we hear in his courageous poems. Turner’s work challenges me not to go far from the Hell that is happening as I live my life, as I awake each morning long past the dawning hours of Iraq. And I will remember
the “night sky of the skull” of every dead child, every Iraqi grandmother, every dead American troop and all who survive with horrific wounds, certain of which will be tormenting for a lifetime. And beyond, as Turner offers from Qur’an 10:30, to ask

“Who brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead from the living?”

Thank you, Peggy.

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