The likes of Wilfred Owen and Yusef Komunyakaa spoiled us on war poetry, so when we read Brian Turner's Here, Bullet we are acutely aware of the lineage of soldier poets, and we are vigilantly skeptical of the tricks of the trade.
This is how I approached the book, having already seen the moon loaded on an ox cart, and an ecstasy of fumbling for gas masks. I must admit that my first glance at Here, Bullet was full of sneers and critiques of the overuse of the verb "brings" (though I must say that Komunyakaa uses it in similarly weak fashion) and other such technical snobbery before I remembered that I had not been reading as a reader but as a skeptic, a contrarian, applying bad Iraq war political discourse habits and to poetry.
I realized this was unfair only when the poems told me, themselves. The strength came over the course of a few weeks after my first reading of Here, Bullet when I began to realize that Turner's images were still with me, showing up in my own writing, in my responses to news (and fake news) reports on the war. It was then that I realized Turner deserved another chance.
On subsequent readings, I have found a great deal to admire in Here, Bullet.
It would be critical blasphemy to suggest that Turner's "In The Leupold Scope" is as good or better than Komunyakaa's "Starlight Scope Myopia," on which it is modeled, but Turner makes a rather valient effort at keeping up with the elder in his use of image. Where Komunyakaa puts the image of the moon on the oxcart, Turner puts a woman hanging laundry, "dressing the dead, clothing them / as they wait in silence." The final stanza begins, "She waits for them to lean forward / into the breeze, for the wind's breath / to return the bodies they once had…" and concludes with women, men, and children filling these clothes and running hard into the horizon. The image is beautiful and powerful, coming home to the comfortable American who will likely never know an accurate death count of Iraqi citizens.
The long poem, "2000 lbs.", is equally powerful and resonant, giving names to the victims of a suicide bomber who destroys a crowded market, killing both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, all in confusion and disbelief, in shock, as one might imagine anyone of any culture would be in such a situation.
Other poems, such as "Two Stories Down," "What Every Soldier Should Know," and the book's title poem, are more individual, more personal, often dealing with understanding Iraqi culture and the enemy combatants while confronting death, personally. The result is an emotional response to the war that is more real, more moving than the rhetoric of the war debate has been to this point, even among veterans and family who have gained headlines and even political office speaking out against the war.
As a collection, Here, Bullet prints an image on the mind and a feeling on the consciousness of the reader in poetry that is strongest in its immediacy. Turner captures moments and emotions, delivering them to the reader as a letter home – here, with lines blacked out not by censors for national security, but by the reader's preconceptions of the war. The letter home assures the family that the son or daughter survives, and the poetry of Brian Turner assures that the soldier (and the Iraqi civilian, and even the enemy soldier) is still human.