After visiting countries like South Korea, Iraq and Vietnam, Fresno State alumnus and award-winning soldier-poet Brian Turner is no stranger to traveling the world.
Turner, an Iraq War veteran, has shared his experiences from his travels and time in the U.S. Army through his debut poetry collection “Here, Bullet.”
“The poems are what I’m all about,” Turner said in an e-mail interview. “It’s how I think. It’s part of how I look at the world.”
Turner said he loves poetry because it allows him to strive for understanding by using language.
“I think that the poet’s job is to try to act as a witness, to speak not only to what is bright in this world, but to what is broken,” he said.
Turner lived abroad in South Korea for a year before serving in the army for seven years.
While serving in the army, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999 and 2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. Turner served as an infantry team leader in Iraq, beginning in November 2003, with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division for a year.
Connie Hales, English professor and coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at Fresno State, has known Turner since he was her student.
“He is a good friend and a poet whose work I greatly admire,” Hales said. “I think he is one of the most exciting poets writing today.”
Hales said she has read “Here, Bullet” many times.
“It’s bold and honest and entirely gripping,” she said. “It simply won’t let go of the reader.”
Tim Skeen, English professor and the faculty advisor for the San Joaquin Review, has used “Here, Bullet” in his teaching. Skeen also had Turner visit his class to discuss his work with the students.
Skeen said “Here, Bullet” exemplifies Turner’s gritty style of writing.
“He is a blue-collar working class-roll up your sleeves-get your hands dirty poet,” Skeen said. “I’m always anxious to read his next work.”
Turner’s poem “the graffiti, the shouting under the breath,” written when he was an undergraduate, was recently published in the 2009-2010 San Joaquin Review’s Special Poetry Issue.
“It shows his early promise, and promise that he still has,” Skeen said.
Turner has won numerous awards for his poetry. His most recent awards include an unrestricted $50,000 grant from the 2009 United States Artists Fellowship as well as the 2009 Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship.
The scholarship is given annually to a poet born in the United States to travel outside of North America for a year to spread his or her poetry to wherever the recipient chooses. Turner is currently in Vietnam.
Turner said he is surprised at how many awards and how much recognition he has received for his poetry, and that he is not certain he deserves all of the credit.
“In one sense, the author of my first book was war, not me,” he said. “Its ink is made of pain and suffering and loss. Beauty? Yes. That too belongs to war, though it may surprise some to hear it.”
Turner, a Visalia native, got his bachelor of arts degree from Fresno State and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Oregon. He also taught in the Master of Fine Arts program at Fresno State and at Fresno City College.
He said he is proud to have graduated from Fresno State.
“It’s a hard-working school,” he said. “The San Joaquin Valley is a hard-working community.”
His book “Here, Bullet” was published by Alice James Books in November 2005. It is available in the Henry Madden Library. Alice James Books will also publish Turner’s second poetry book, “Phantom Noise,” later this year.