The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

March/April 2006

Standing Among The Classics


Brian Turner’s magnificent book of poetry, Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 80 pp., $14.95), has been widely and justly praised since its publication last year. Reviewers have noted the various strengths in Turner’s writing, but it’s time now to take the next step in talking about this extraordinary book: It will stand among the classics of war writing.

Here, Bullet is quite clearly among the finest books of any type—fiction, nonfiction, or poetry—to come out of the Iraq war. But by the time a reader encounters the title poem just 13 pages in, it’s clear that these are poems that speak with honesty and power, not only about one soldier in Iraq, but for all times and all wars.

Brian Turner does what any soldier-writer who wants his or her words to stay with us must: He uses the specific, the private, and the temporary to speak about the larger truths of war and its cost. Turner’s war may be Iraq, and while the details—the heat, sand, and sun—are all here, the echoes and hard-won truths of Shiloh, Corregidor, Normandy, Chosin, and Hue ring in his words.

Turner served seven years in the Army, first with the 10th Mountain Division in Bosnia-Herzegovina before deployment to Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Here, Bullet chronicles his tour of duty in Iraq, opening with an invocation: “this is a language made of blood . . . To be spoken, it must be earned.” A soldier’s creed, from any war, simply stated, with great power.

Turner’s language is plain and direct, his images clearly drawn. He wants us along on this heart-rending ride, not confused and groping for the meaning in his words. A soldier lives in a concrete world, and Turner does lyrical justice to the details: weather, road dust, elephant grass, oil, autopsies, explosions, medevacs, body bags, orange groves, moonlight, and sand. We live the days with him.

Along the way a story emerges as powerful and layered as a novel, and by the final poem (appropriately, “To Sand”) Turner has carried us on a tour of duty punctuated by the suicide of a young private, reflective moments on observation posts, the loss and grievous injury of fellow soldiers, and the shattered aftermath of a suicide bomber’s attack. Turner locates the emotional center in this journey. It is indeed a “language made of blood,” and Brian Turner has earned it.

I recall a review of another war book some years ago that said “there is more truth here than can be found in a thousand pages of official records.” The same can be said of Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet. This is art built to last.


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