Brian Turner has become world famous for his war poetry, which was largely inspired by a year-long tour
of Iraq with the 3rd Stryker
Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. The ostensible reason for our meeting, however, was first sustained work of prose, a memoir entitled My Life as a Foreign Country, which ----more---- covered his early life, his family's long record of military service, his own tours of Iraq and his struggles to readjust to life back in America. This lyrical, unflinching book, which noticeably does away with page numbers, is his own Portrait of the Soldier-Poet as a Young Man.
We met in Liverpool and talked in an office of the English Department, who were hosting a reading by Turner, Ilya Kaminsky and Carolyn Forché. In the first part of a lengthy conversation, we touched on office decor (Turner teaches creative writing at Sierra Nevada College), before pondering the vexed relationship between war and poetry. Turner recalled an early patrol outside Baghdad, where he had to decide whether to shoot a small band of men or not. He also pondered memory, violence and the language of war.
His themes included:
war memoir as genre
sex, drugs, and boredom in the military
love and intimacy in war
beauty in war
the fear and excitement of being a soldier
the intensity of working in a war zone
how post traumatic stress wrecks relationships
'How many people did you kill, Sgt Turner?'
'Did someone try to kill you, Sgt Turner?'
Turner as occupier
complicity and the War on Terror
memory and ghosts in
Turner recalls a patrol outside Baghdad.
how serving in Iraq changed his use of language as a poet