Brian Turner

Award-winning Poet
Author of Here, Bullet

Readings &
Lecture Topics
  • The Soldier’s Rucksack
  • The Landscape of War: Love & Loss
  • The Poetry of Work, Labor, and Love
  • Fragmentation & Braiding: Memory in Memoir
  • An Evening with Brian Turner

Biography

“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

“In Brian Turner’s extraordinarily capable hands, language is war’s undoing, in the sense that his words won’t allow absurdity and terror to be anything less than real.” —Mark Doty

“[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

For Brian Turner, the landscape of his writing is war but the subject is love and loss. And healing.

Turner is the author of two poetry collections, Here, Bullet 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; and Phantom Noise, which was shortlisted for the 2010 T.S. Eliot Prize in Poetry. He is also the author of a memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country, which made Powell’s Best Nonfiction of 2014 list. Turner served seven years in the US Army, including 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. In his poetry and prose, Turner conveys both elegant and devastating portraits of what it means to be a soldier and a human being. In addition to his poetry and memoir, he is the editor of the anthology The Kiss (2018), a diverse anthology of essays, stories, poems, and graphic memoirs.

My Life as a Foreign Country (Norton, 2014) follows the experience of one soldier in one recent war—the preparations, actions, homecomings, and infinite aftermath—but then explodes from those narrow limits. Turner’s account combines recollection and imagination and leaps centuries and continents to seek parallels in the histories of other men. The result is an opportunity to enter the head of a man still stalked by war, to experience conflict with new definition and lasting effect. Benjamin Busch calls the memoir a “brilliant fever dream of war’s surreality, its lastingness, its place in families and in the fate of nations. Each sentence,” he says, “has been carefully measured, weighed with loss and vitality, the hard-earned language of a survivor who has seen the world destroyed and written it back to life.” Jen Percy in the New York Times Sunday Book Review declared, “My Life as a Foreign Country is a triumph of form and content, and a praiseworthy example of how the empathetic imagination can function beautifully in nonfiction writing…. History can only be served by this kind of attention.”

The poems in Here, Bullet (Alice James, 2005) 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 Here, Bullet, 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.”

In his second poetry collection, Phantom Noise, (Alice James, 2010) 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.”

Turner’s work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, National Geographic, The New York Times, Poetry Daily, Shortlist (UK), and other journals, as well as in the Voices in Wartime Anthology published in conjunction with the feature-length documentary film of the same name. Turner was also featured in the Academy Award-nominated film Operation Homecoming, a unique documentary that explores the firsthand accounts of American service members 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. He traveled extensively with an Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, and to Japan in 2012 with a US-Japan Friendship Commission Fellowship. Turner is the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim and his poems have been published and translated into Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swedish, and more.

Short Bio

Brian Turner is a poet and memoirist who served seven years in the US Army. He is the author of two poetry collections, Phantom Noise and Here, Bullet, 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, the 2007 Poets Prize, and others. In addition to his poetry, he is the editor of the anthology The Kiss (2018), a diverse anthology of essays, stories, poems, and graphic memoirs. Turner’s work has been published in National Geographic, The New York Times, Poetry Daily, Harper’s Magazine, and other fine journals. Turner has been awarded a United States Artists Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, and more. His recent memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country, has been called, “achingly, disturbingly, shockingly beautiful.”

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