Saturday, November 12, 2005

Good Morning Iraq

I've been reading the new Brian Turner book of poems, Here, Bullet, winner of the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James (don't you just love Alice James Books?). Turner was recently a soldier in Iraq, and many of these poems were written during his time there. The book is being compared to Komunyakaa's Dien Cai Dau. In these poems we are given gruesome details of suicide bombings in the streets, instructions for how to invade a civilian home (do not say "Stop! or I'll shoot," but "Good Morning," as you are kicking down the door), weird hallucinations from malaria pills, accounts of soldiers (and civilians) shooting and being shot, soldiers dying injured on evacuation flights or putting a rifle in their mouth to end it all. We are also given an account of the animals escaping the Iraq zoo after the initial invasion (a terrific poem to open the first section with), poems about seeing archeological sites in Iraq, and some historical poems about Iraq under previous sieges. It was a good read: the writing is tight and evocative; I enjoyed the transliterations of Arabic words; I enjoyed the authenticity of someone who was actually there. The only thing missing for me: there is nothing about why the poet is there in the first place. Not a clear note of inquiry or speculation or doubt about the "mission." Of wonder about its "rightness or wrongness." Perhaps it is a standard military thing: not to question. But I think it is a significant omission.

1 comment:

Justin Evans said...


It is a standard thing to leave out the politics. You may be right that it is an omission, but I think it necessary, even above the so called form of military writing. The message, standard or not, is that on some level, the soldier is not in complete control. For Turner's book, it works to stick to the form because of his dream-like poems influenced by malaria pills and a world where the combat experience has been turned on its ear. Beginning with Grenada and Panama, the press has been intentionally invasive, and the soldier has lost (some say for the better)his/her sense of anonimity.

I know from my own experience writing about war, I went for the shock, I went for the 'in your face' perspective, and it destroyed some of the more basic qualities of what poetry should try to do. I lost something as a result of my injecting politics. Even if it was just one of my poems, I lost a big part of the construct which would allow my reader to be surprised, maybe even delighted. Another result was that my poems were uneven, and lacking the sameness which contributes to a unified experience.