To be asked to complete a three page response to a book usually seems overly ambitious for many texts I’ve read. However, after reading Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise by Brian Turner I quickly realized three pages could not possibly hold the internal thoughts and emotions raised and/or resurrected.
When I mustered out of the military forty years ago a GI’s homecoming often consisted of acid-freaks and stoned peace-nicks shouting “baby killer,” “rapist,” and other vile crap. And, of course, the drugs destroyed enough of their brain cells that they couldn’t even formulate two complete sentences to support their ranting and raving concerning a subject they had no experience with personally.
In that type of social atmosphere I was naturally hesitant to express personal feelings to anyone (other than my combat brothers), on anything, especially military service. For instance, how do you convince a family member, co-worker, or pampered coed that at any given moment a single phrase, noise, or even odor will instantly transport you thousands of miles away? And the transportation is so real that not only do you experience the complete sensory onslaught, but your heart beat, respiration, and even adrenaline kick into gear to mimic the moment – an often nightmarish moment.
At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, on page 5 of Turner’s Phantom Noise, deals directly with the fore mentioned issue. And yet, with all its clarity, I doubt anyone but another veteran can honestly dive beneath the words and relate to the true emotions that literally cause a person’s skin to crawl.
Case in point: during Turner’s workshop, prior to its beginning and throughout the conversations afterwards, not one other attendee (besides me) spoke of their relating or relationship with anything written in the texts. All their thoughts revolved around the word choice, form, style, point of view, and etcetera. And even when someone usually makes a claim like, “the words drew me in, and I felt like I was there,” I take it with a grain of salt. If they truly felt like they were there they’d be sweating profusely, nauseous, scared shitless, or any number of other common symptoms attributed to such experiences.
Am I being overly critical? Yes I am, intentionally.
When I first read some alleged works by soldiers many years ago I was instantly turned off. They didn’t seem to be talking to me or those I served with. Thus, I steered clear of soldier poets for the past 40 years (something I now regret) until attending Turner’s workshop, and reading Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise. After hearing Turner recite and reading his thoughts on paper I am now convinced the earlier alleged works were done by staff writers of the publication who had no knowledge of the real thing. Turner speaks from the heart of a veteran – not a wannabe.
Read Illumination Rounds from Phantom Noise and tell me Turner is not a veteran. For instance:
…the incoherent screaming
I’ve translated a thousand times over
driving until I finally understand
who it is I’m supposed to kill (p.23-25).
Acting sane one day, insane the next:
…nobody moves, nobody stops him, nobody says a word,
because we all want to see if Stoltman will burn (p.39).
Every human emotion is taken to the extreme. You might be heroic in the morning then suicidal that night. One minute you’re acting saintly and saving a child, but tomorrow you sadistically kill the child’s father. And then comes the battle to understand, but there is no understanding because this is war – and incomprehensible.
Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise are excellent examples of poetry. They can be read, studied, and enjoyed by anyone. However, the true worth of these publications, their pinnacle, is when they are placed in the hands of another veteran – for they are therapeutic.