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Veteran Poet Comes to Campus

by Sheridan Cyr

Veteran Brian Turner’s poetry was so emotionally moving that it rendered the audience silent for nearly the entirety of his presentation.

American poet, essayist, memoirist and professor Brian Turner shared personal work, ideals and tips with students November 4th in Marcus White Living Room. “I’m sharing these with you so that maybe they’ll find a home in you, as well,” he said.

The majority of Turner’s poetry comes from the heart of the Iraq War, either hastily scratched onto paper between the distant sounds of explosives or written in remembrance of the time he spent as a soldier. His poems carry a massive emotional weight along with a unique, careful observance – a longing to convey to non-veterans what life-changing experiences they will never come in contact with.

Turner explained that our country wages the war so well that we do not feel the need to make note of it on a regular basis. It simply subtly slips to the back-burner of the brain and only occasionally bubbles enough to spark a thought.

Between his readings, he presented questions for the listeners’ consideration. At one point, he asked, “Does anybody here know how to say ‘hello’ in Arabic?” A few cautious head-shakes spoke for the crowd, and he continued, “If we’ve been fighting this country for over a decade, killing and terrorizing Iraqi citizens, don’t you think we should know how to say, ‘hello’ in their language?” The crisp intention in his voice was enough to send goose-bumps crawling.

Some of the poems that Turner shared included “Two Thousand Pounds,” “Katyusha Rockets,” “Sleeping in Dick Cheney’s Bed,” “Mohammed Trains for the Beijing Olympics, 2008” and “Here, Bullet.”

He explained the story behind each passage he read. “Here, Bullet” in particular, nearly shouted out from memory verbatim, left audience members in awe. He explained that it was inspired by and closely-mirrors Phil Levine’s poem, “They Feed the Lion.” The first few lines of Turner’s poem read, “If a body is what you want, / then here is bone and gristle and flesh. / Here is the clavicle-snapped wish, / the aorta’s opened valves, the leap / thought makes at the synaptic gap.” The rest of the poem is well-worth the retrieval.

Brian Turner was raised in Fresno, California. He attended Fresno City College before transferring to Fresno State, where he earned both his BA and MA, and finished with his MFA from University of Oregon. He has spent time teaching English in South Korea and has traveled to Russia, United Arab Emirates and Japan. While enlisted in service, he was the infantry team leader of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Second Infantry Division. He was also in the Tenth Mountain Division in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

He has been published in The Cortland Review, Poetry Daily, Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, National Geographic, The New York Times and many more publications. His poems and his 2014 memoir have earned him numerous awards.

CCSU was lucky, to say the least, to spend the evening with poet Brian Turner.