Here, Bullet by Brian Turner
Reviewed by Michelle Dee
Here, Bullet is as startling as it is direct.
The anthology of poems written by the multi award-winning U.S. war
veteran Brian Turner uncovers the landscape of the war in Iraq with
unswerving honesty and importantly he writes from a non-political viewpoint.
Brian Turner saw active service for seven years which included leading an
Infantry Team in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd
Infantry Division in November 2003.
The book's powerful cover design, by Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson-Pearce,
shows a solitary figure face-on wearing army fatigues, against a barren outlook.
Here, Bullet was compiled relatively recently and first published in the U.S. in
2005 by Alice James Books and later published in the U.K in 2007 by Bloodaxe Books.
The writing hasn't lost any relevance over the past three years.
Due to the constant barrage of bulletins and conflict updates from every media
source the sense of immediacy, of being on the ground, is realised. So much so,
that in the future I can see Here, Bullet being picked up by the educational
establishment as an aid to understanding the nature of this particular conflict
and of war in the 21st Century in general.
The title poem Here, Bullet personifies the shell fired from a weapon.
The shooter is noticeably absent from the poem, giving the shell the intent,
a keen purpose, a will of its own. The short verse is littered with cold,
removed, anatomical references that suggest Turner bore witness to horrific
injuries during his tour.
As the poem reaches its conclusion, sharp metaphor
brings the mechanics of the weapon and those of the body ever closer to hit the target.
Some of the poems reference places like Najaf and Kirkuk, Basra and Fallouja.
Those names are now laden with grim weariness, as one by one they became familiar,
lodged into our collective conscious through endless reports from the war zone.
As well as mapping out the geography of the war, the verse creates vivid
clinical images of combat: night-vision views as helicopters crash into the
Tigris River and unspeakable horror as trucks are blown apart by concealed roadside bombs.
Other poems speak of the people such as, 16 Iraqi Policemen, Eulogy and one
about a prisoner called Louie who is being held captive in an Iranian P.O.W. camp.
Turner doesn't attempt to preach or make judgement on the war. He writes with
an even hand and open mind, much like a diarist, documenting everything he sees.
He lists the AK47s and RPGs in The Al Harishma Weapons Market getting inside the
mind of the proprietor as he goes. A look at The Baghdad Zoo reveals more than
just reports of looting after the city was liberated by the U.S. and Allied Forces.
Many of the poems are given a telling introduction, selected quotes from literary
luminaries are used or ones from other prominent figures, including a damning quote
from the U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix.
The notion of knowledge and understanding is seen to be important, not only are the
pages littered with Iraqi vocabulary and translation, but the book also contains
lines from the Koran showing a desire to not only learn about the language and
culture but also the religion.
Turner underlines the need for understanding and of gaining knowledge from the
people whose country you are operating in.
He shows this to good effect in
What Every Soldier Should Know, inspired by the Iraqi Basic Language Survival Guide
and the ambiguous notion that the more local knowledge you can gain, the better the
chance of your survival - or not.
There are also excerpts from Iraqi poets within the collection that inspired and
informed Turner, as he lay in his bunk with his notebook in the blistering heat.
Sometimes Turner would wait a few days after an incident before trying to put into
words his observations, his thoughts and his fears.
Not all the poems are gloomy, some recapture dreams and those of comrades, verses that
outline aspirations for the future and past lend the whole, just a hint of optimism.
Some of the poems talk of back home. On the Californian coast, the Bible and the Koran
are pieced together with Babel like desire in Dreams From The Malaria Pills (Turner)
while Cole's Guitar is thick with comforting, reassuringly American, iconic imagery
and landmarks, such as the factories in Pittsburgh and interestingly Muhammad Ali,
laid out on the canvas.
The humanity of war, as well as the brutality - and often absurdity - is explored in
9-Line Medevac, a two handed prose piece capturing the communications and thoughts
of an injured patrol and their rescue team - and in Ferris Wheel the free-thinking
recovery of Iraqi civilians and U.S. servicemen alike, alive and dead from a capsized
boat, at the once popular Al Sadeer Tourist Complex in Mosul.
There are many memorable pieces within Here, Bullet, memorable for different reasons.
Readers with an inquiring mind, the truth seekers, may find a lot to satisfy their search.
Those less tolerant of difference may find some of their strongly held beliefs challenged
by Turner, as he tackles his subject head on, with honesty, balance and equanimity.
The references to weapons of modern-day warfare, the military speak and visceral detail,
have strong appeal to the video-gaming teen demographic, underlining my belief that
Turner's Here, Bullet will find a way on to school shelves to sit alongside
time-honoured war-poets Owen and Sassoon.
I would strongly recommend this intensely readable collection to writers, poets,
historians, students and everyone who has a view on the on-going wars in the Gulf region.
Here, Bullet has earned Turner nine major literary awards including a 2006 Lannan
Literary Fellowship and a 2007 NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry.
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Steve Steinman vaulted into an epic rendition of Life is A Lemon without delay,
the incredible power of his vocal delivery reaching the row furthest from the stage with ease.
I should know: that's where I was sat, yet the sights and sounds even from back there were to be savoured.
Having mimicked Meatloaf for almost twenty years now, Steve Steinman's
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