Writing poetry helped soldier-turned-poet Brian Turner express his experiences of being in the U.S. Army.
“Writing my experiences on paper has helped me keep my life together,” Turner said.
Turner was part of the St. Louis Humanities Festival event Veterans Voices, which was held at 2:30 p.m. on April 13 in the East Academic Building.
Current Missouri Poet Laureate and Webster English professor David Clewell introduced Turner at the event.
Turner grew up in Fresno, Calif., and received a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from the University of Oregon.
After graduating, Turner taught English in South Korea for a year.
Within that time, Turner enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served his country for seven years. He traveled to Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Japan.
“While in the army, I was with the 10th Mountain Division, deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Turner said. “I was infantry team leader for a year in the Iraq War beginning in 2003.”
Turner also recalled memories of what fellow soldiers would do to themselves.
“In Iraq, about 18 soldiers a day would commit suicide from the stress of the war,” Turner said. “One of my friends, Private Miller, was one of the many that killed himself.”
Turner dedicated the poem “Eulogy” to his friend, Miller. The poem reads:
“It happens on a Monday, at 11:20 a.m.,
as tower guards eat sandwiches
and seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.
Prisoners tilt their heads to the west
though burlap sacks and duct tape blind them.
The sound reverberates down concertina coils
the way piano wire thrums when given slack.
And it happens like this, on a blue day of sun,
when Private Miller pulls the trigger
to take brass and fire into his mouth:
the sound lifts the birds up off the water,
a mongoose pauses under the orange trees,
and nothing can stop it now, no matter what
blur of motion surrounds him, no matter what voices
crackle over the radio in static confusion,
because if only for this moment the earth is stilled,
and Private Miller has found what low hush there is
down in the eucalyptus shade, there by the river.
“This is one of the hardest poems for me to read at any event,” Turner said.
Turner said felt conflicted when he came home from the army.
“I had to get used to not having to fight in combat,” Turner. said. “Even though I made it back home alive, I had to get my head together.”
He said he put his feelings and experiences from the war on paper to keep his sanity.
“It was hard going to that time (when writing about the war),” Turner said.
In 2005, he published a book of poems, “Here, Bullet,” about his time in Iraq. He published another book of poems, “Phantom Noise,” in 2010.
His poems have appeared in Poetry Daily and Georgia Review. Turner has also won awards for his poetry, including the New York Times’ “Editors’ Choice” selection.
Currently, Turner is working on a new book of poetry and is serving as one of the editors on an anthology called, “The Poet of the World” for the Missouri Warrior Writer’s Project.