Brian Turner

Award-winning Poet
Author of Here, Bullet

 

"[I]n sharp, straightforward, yet lyrical language, Turner exposes the many costs of war.” —Library Journal

 

“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...” —New York Times Book Review

"[Turner] is a writer who is less warrior than observer, someone whose curiosity, knowledge and tenderness allow insight into landscapes and people that terrify the rest of us....Turner shows us soldiers who are invincible and wounded, a nation noble and culpable, and a war by turns necessary and abominable." —The Washington Post

 

Brian Turner is a soldier-poet who is the author of two poetry collections, Phantom Noise (2010) and Here, Bullet (2005) which won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times “Editor's Choice” selection, the 2006 Pen Center USA "Best in the West" award, and the 2007 Poets Prize, among others. He also has a memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country (2014) that retraces his war experience. Turner served seven years in the US Army, to include one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. Turner's poetry has been published in Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, and other journals, and in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. Turner was also featured in Operation Homecoming, a unique documentary that explores the firsthand accounts of American servicemen and women through their own words. He earned an MFA from the University of Oregon and has lived abroad in South Korea. In 2009, Turner was selected as one of fifty United States Artists Fellows.

2011 Interview by NEA Art Talk

Turner's second book of poems Phantom Noise (Alice James, 2010) was shortlisted for the 2010 T.S. Eliot Prize in Poetry. In the collection, Turner tells us what happens to a person and a culture when a soldier brings the war home with him. Poet Louis McKee wrote, "Turner's intention is neither to romanticize nor to protest the war but simply to bring its ironies and madness, its sad and difficult truths, into the light—a light that perhaps will exorcise the demons." Benjamin Percy writes: "There is the war we know—from Hollywood and CNN, about dirt-smeared soldiers disarming IEDs and roaring along in Humvees and kicking down the doors of terrorist hideouts—and then there is the battleground of the mind, the war that Brian Turner carried home with him like a rucksack full of dynamite....We might be able to change the channel, to turn the dial on the radio, to skim past a disturbing article, but Brian doesn’t have that luxury: because the news is in his head, the ghosts of Iraq have followed him home and he brings them to life with a staggering arsenal of talent."

Washington Post review of Phantom Noise

The poems in Here, Bullet reflect Turner's experiences as a soldier with penetrating lyric power, compassion, sensitivity, and eloquence, while deploring the violence and acknowledging the grief and terror of war. One poem, "Eulogy," was written to memorialize a soldier in his platoon who took his own life, as the military does not recognize such a death. The Franklin Journal wrote: "The poems on the pages of HereBullet, with their immediacy of impact, their universality of theme, their blend of cultural and historical insight, and their many tiered reverberations of the aftermath of gut wrenching violence, make for a powerful reading experience....The relationship Turner establishes with the reader is not dialogue but a tidal insistence on reflection, that if there is meaning in loss, there must be meaning in what precedes loss, in what is related to loss. There is no harm in such reflection, argues Here, Bullet, but, rather harm stems from the lack of it.”

National Geographic Article: "Baghdad After the Storm"

NPR interview about National Geographic article

NYT Article by Brian Turner: "To Bedlam and Back"

 

About MY LIFE AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY (Memoir, 2014)
A war memoir of unusual literary beauty and power from the acclaimed poet who wrote the poem “The Hurt Locker.” In 2003, Sergeant Brian Turner crossed the line of departure with a convoy of soldiers headed into the Iraqi desert. Now, each night beside his sleeping wife, he imagines himself as a drone aircraft, hovering over the terrains of Bosnia and Vietnam, Iraq and Northern Ireland, the killing fields of Cambodia and the death camps of Europe—a landscape of ongoing violence, revealing all that man has done to man. In this breathtaking memoir, Turner retraces his war experience— pre-deployment to combat zone, homecoming to aftermath. Free of self-indulgence or self-glorification, his account combines recollection with the imagination’s efforts to make reality comprehensible. Across time, he seeks parallels in the histories of others who have gone to war, especially his taciturn grandfather (World War II), father (Cold War), and uncle (Vietnam). Through it all, Turner paints a devastating portrait of what it means to be a soldier and a human being.

About PHANTOM NOISE (Poetry, 2010)

“With courage and an uncommon willingness to see the world as it actually is, Brian Turner returns with a bullet-borne language in which helicopters hover like spiders over a film of water. His poem Al-A’imma Bridge alone proves his mastery, and joins him to the tradition of Wilfred Owen and David Jones, for he is their descendent, his poetic gifts detonated into a spray of lyric force that will mark what is possible in poetry for years to come, a chiseling of agony onto paper and a poignant cri de Coeur to the republic of conscience.” ―Carolyn Forché

 

Shaped by his time spent serving in Iraq, American soldier Brian Turner's first collection, Here, Bullet, depicted combat with a mixture of bleak reality and disturbing surrealism. His second, Phantom Noise, also bristles with war's devastations, but here conflict appears in flashbacks set against the backdrop of the poet's Californian home. Turner's is a world where even a visit to the local hardware shop opens on to artillery fire: a spilled "50 pound box of double headed nails" that pour on to the floor "constant as the shells / falling south of Baghdad." The poems often read as an attempt to explain, understand and come to terms with the terrible things soldiers witness and are party to: the language sparse and precise, the tone questing and urgent. Yet the writing is rarely prescriptive, leaving interpretation open. Almost miraculously, there is also much sensitivity: "Al-A'imma Bridge" is a nightmarish account of the 2005 Tigris River disaster, yet finds "flowers that may light the darkness" to commemorate those who lost their lives. Turner's resilient, humane poems remind us of war's impact but also provoke and question. —The Guardian

About HERE, BULLET (Poetry, 2005)
A harrowing, beautiful first-person account of the Iraq War by a soldier-poet. Adding his voice to the current debate about the US occupation of Iraq, in poems written in the tradition of such poets as Wilfred Owen, Yusef Komunyakaa (Dien Cai Dau), Bruce Weigl (Song of Napalm), and AJB’s own Doug Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire), Iraq war veteran Brian Turner writes powerfully affecting poetry of witness, exceptional for its beauty, honesty, and skill. Based upon Turner’s year-long tour in Iraq as an infantry team leader, the poems offer gracefully-rendered, unflinching description but, remarkably, leave the reader to draw conclusions or moral lessons. Here, Bullet is a must-read for anyone who cares about the war, regardless of political affiliation.

Brian Turner's webpage

Phantom Noise Press Kit