Poetry and Passion
Writers get asked some very bizarre questions. Two I get asked a lot are: Where do you get your ideas, and, Do you write poetry. I have several ways of answering the first such as “The Muse leaves them under my pillow” or “I belong to the Idea of the Month Club”. Flippant, perhaps, but how else do you answer a question like that?
The second question is a lot easier to answer. No, I don’t write poetry. If they persist and ask why, I tell them I’m just not good enough to write it.
There is nothing self-effacing in that statement. I think I’m a pretty damn good prose writer. But poetry? No way. Poetry is a whole other world, no, it’s a whole other universe. The structure, the form, the words used, where they’re used, when, the meter, the flow, even the damn commas, periods and line breaks, everything about a poem is different than prose. The only similarity I can see between a finely written poem and a finely written piece of prose is the spelling of the words used.
Just as there are many bad writers, there are many bad poets. If they continue at it, learn the craft, maybe they’ll get better. Indeed some of them must because there are some damn fine prose writers out there and some damn fine poets. On very rare occasions you’ll run into an exceptional prose writer, an exceptional writer of poems. I’ve read my share of each in this latter category. Recently I added a writer to the poet side.
The writer in question got his MFA from the University of Oregon. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t put much stock in having an MFA, leastwise writers with them. They all seem to write unintelligible clap-trap for obscure little magazines that maybe a total of five people actually read. He also spent seven years in Uncle Sam’s employ, serving in Bosnia and Iraq at a time when neither place was exactly Disneyland.
I’m not a trees and flowers and sentimental love poem kind of lover of poetry. Oh, some of it is nice but in general my tastes run more to the South American liberation poets, the persecuted Russian and German Jews, the survivors of famine and war in whatever country they reside in or have run from. I love the passion, the rage, the defiance, the fear. I want my breath to catch, my heart to hammer, the tears to flood my eyes. I want to feel that sense of loss, that pain, that rage and defiance. I want to feel that passion in their words.
Brain Turner got me on all counts with Here, Bullet.
I first heard of Brian Turner just last week while listening to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air on NPR. She was interviewing Lt. Col. John Nagl who wrote the textbook on counterinsurgency. I was sort of halfheartedly listening when the conversation came around to a review Lt. Col. Nagl had written for a poetry book. A poetry book? Now that got my attention. And oh what a review it was. Terry read some of it and it brought tears to my eyes. When she asked Lt. Col. Nagl a question, it took him a long moment to get it together and his voice, when it came, was thick with emotion. I had to like the guy.
But, after the kind of review Lt. Col. Nagl wrote, it was the poet I wanted to know more about. I wrote his name down and the name of the book, thinking I would look for it later. I guess Terry was as impressed with the review as I was for her next guest was Brian Turner himself.
Not since reading Bruce Weigl’s Song of Napalm or, Yusef Komunyakaa’s Dien Cai Dau have I read words written by a warrior in the depth of war that moved me as Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet moved me. However you may feel about Bush’s folly in Iraq, or war in general, if you love great poetry, and I mean cry-your-eyes-out great poetry, you’ve got to read this book of poems.