Turner’s collection of poems and their subject matter are not anything entirely new, a soldier comes back scarred emotionally and the memories wait for unsuspecting moments to resurface. I get it, he is rightfully a victim of PTSD (for good measure: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/), he’s seen and gone through things I will never wish to see. The most notable example of this theme is the title poem, Phantom Noise in which Turner describes this constant ringing that shows no sign of going away, the last line contains one single italicized ringing but not just some random ringing, Turner describes it as “this ringing hum this/ringing“, a specific type. This type of ringing is associated with a “bullet borne language”, one that reminds him of all the shots fired and their victims, the roar of militant machinery, and the feelings felt during his seven years of tours. This poem summarizes Turners experiences and is a look into the effects of those experiences and is an apt summation of the book as a whole, all of which are common themes of war literature, especially when written by veterans. I do not mean all of this belittle PTSD or the efforts and sacrifices made by those who have and continue to serve in the military; what I mean is that so far, I’m having a tough time separating this collection of poetry by a veteran from other books and collection about the same topic of war.
Setting aside thinking about how PTSD centered and very characteristically this collection was of war literature, I went back to find what separates, or elevates this from the rest of the literature of the same genre. THe first poem that caught my attention was, “Aubade: Layover in Amsterdam” (9). This poem is a roller-coaster hump, it starts serene in California, telling of the sleepy hours between two lovers and the narrators ever increasing immersion into a memory about a night spent with a woman in Amsterdam. What struck me is that even though the issue of PTSD is the reason this memory was turned to a poem, the focus is the narrators life in California with his lover and the “watery dark” and ends with a sympathetic wish while lying with a woman from Amsterdam, “and I want her to whisper in my ear,/ even in a language I’ve never heard before,/ just to hear another human voice, just to breathe in the dark”. What struck me about this was how emotion centered this poem was, especially given the last lines. This poem we know is born of war memories, but it’s plot is not driven by them, it is driven by the narrator’s emotion’s and desire’s, ones we can all share giving us a elevated sense of understanding or insight to these poems. A similar event occurs in “Illumination Rounds” (23), where the narrator enters a dream-like, memory induced trance and the memories combine illogically, yet seamlessly, with one another. At one point in the poem the narrator is found shoveling a grave for “the war dead” and his wife walks out to help him back to reality saying they should invite these ghosts inside to get to know them, and understand them, especially if they’re going to bury them. I’m 100% on the last stanza of the poem, but the focus of my point is more on the fact that the narrator’s wife is brought in and she’s not just some victim subject to his bouts of PTSD, she is portrayed as any other non-veteran author would portray a wife, she is strong, and a driving force behind the calming of his mind when he is suffering. It also reflects on the veteran narrator as well, he is completely human, he isn’t some idealized Rambo-soldier, nor is he some nutcase because he was subject to the governments apathetic whims of experimentation on it’s soldiers. The relation between the narrator and his wife are not any different than any other married couple, their issue, PTSD, is uncommon but an issue the both of them handle as average citizens who are married.
It is both the exposure of and humanistic portrayal of one man’s dealings with PTSD, combined with the fact that Turner is not overtly political in his poetry that gives these poems their human aspects and qualities or normalcy that allow the average reader to experience these poems with a greater understanding and true sense of sympathy; and is what separates this collection from ones it it/could be compared to. Without the overt political message, we as the reader do not have to choose a side and can focus on the narrator’s emotion’s, struggle’s, and above all, his humanity.