WNPR

Hill-Stead's Sunken Garden Celebrates the Poetry of War Veterans

Jul 7, 2016

The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington is in full swing. 

This Sunday, the festival celebrates the poetry of war veterans. The headliner is award-winning poet Brian Turner.

"Asbah" is a poem from Brain Turner's 2005 collection Here, Bullet, an unflinching account of his year as an Army infantry team leader in Iraq. 

Asbah

The ghosts of American soldiers

wander the streets of Balad by night,

unsure of their way home, exhausted,

the desert wind blowing trash

down the narrow alleys as a voice

sounds from the minaret, a soulfull call

reminding them how alone they are,

how lost. And the Iraqi dead,

they watch in silence from rooftops

as date palms line the shore in silhouette,

leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.

Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon in 1996. A few years later, at the age of 31, Turner took the unusual step on enlisting in the Army. 

Poet Brian Turner spent six years in the Army. His experiences are chronicled in two books of poetry.
Credit Brian Turner

Turner comes from a military family, and said he felt the urge to join.

"In one sense, to kind of understand and be a part of my tribe, part of it means to put on the uniform and participate in the rituals and practices of that way of life," he said. "It's part of the construction of being a man, for me."

Turner was first deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the Tenth Mountain Division, and in 2003 was sent to Iraq.

As he witnessed the horrors of war, Turner coped by writing poetry.

Turner said the intensity of war became his muse.

"In these trying and difficult situations, there's opportunity for knowledge of some sort," he said. "The profound is available there. You know, your role in the universe is magnified."

Eulogy

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.

PFC B. Miller

(1980-March 22, 2004)

Turner served seven years in the army. When his stint was over and he returned to civilian life, he chronicled that transition in his second book of poems, Phantom Noise.

"It's still bizarre coming home," he said. "It seems as if, and it still sometimes seems that is the real world, and this is not. This sometimes seems so superficial, it lacks a lot potential or profound meaning."

Turner is a 2016 Guggenheim fellow, and the recipient of the USA Hillcrest Fellowship in Literature, the NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, and the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship.

Brian Turner is joined by poet and Vietnam veteran Doug Anderson for an evening of poetry and music this Sunday at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.