Classic Turner

I saw Brian Turner read at SUNY Fredonia during my Freshman? Yea, Freshman year and he seriously changed my views on poetry. I had just started taking a poetry writing class and was still finding my bearings but Turner made me realize that poetry can be anything. As  newbie I focused on the beautiful. I wrote about the typical….let’s be honest, crap that a college Freshman/new found poet would focus on: love, pain caused from love, being home sick, love, and you guessed it, love. What I loved about Turner is that he wrote about the gritty, the gruesome, the dark and tragic, yet he has this incredible talent for making it beautiful. I had actually read the title poem from Phantom noise prior to taking this class and I think it’s a good example.

Phantom Noise
by Brian Turner
There is this ringing hum  this
bullet-borne language  ringing
shell-fall and static this  late-night
ringing of threadwork and carpet  ringing
hiss and steam  this wing-beat
of rotors and tanks  broken
bodies ringing in steel  humming these
voices of dust  these years ringing
rifles in Babylon  rifles in Sumer
ringing these children their gravestones
and candy  their limbs gone missing  their
static-borne television  their ringing
this eardrum  this rifled symphonic  this
ringing of midnight in gunpowder and oil this
brake pad gone useless  this muzzle-flash singing  this
threading of bullets in muscle and bone  this ringing
hum  this ringing hum  this

This poem speaks of horrible things such as missing limbs on children and the horrors of war, but Turners use of language almost makes it….beautiful which make the reader (or at least me) feel sort of bad about enjoying it. Such phrases as “bullet born language” and “late night ringing of threadwork makes something so cary kind of appealing. I’ve admired poets who are able to use repetition without being annoying or too repetitive and Turner always managed to pull it off. Going back and reading this makes me want to dig further into more of his work.


2 thoughts on “Classic Turner

  1. At first, I did not liek that poem, Phatom Noise, until I heard it read aloud. It certainly sounds like the firing of an automatic rifle. The “ringing” one hears through out the poem is a lot like the action of the rifle and shells hitting pavement. The sound is a macabre series of chimes.

  2. The music of this poem is definitely “beautiful” in terms of its rhythms, repetitions, and sounds which is why poetry is such a powerful way to express painful experience. A poet as good as Turner will always be able to deliver language in an aesthetically pleasing way (which is why I think reading poetry out loud to yourself is important) and we will be drawn into the poem because the words themselves, their meanings not focused upon exclusively, will be realized as beautiful. Then, when reading or hearing war poetry, the meanings and imagery of horrific events grab hold but cannot be separated from the pleasurable experience in the music of the words. You were saying, Dewey, that you felt kind of guilty about enjoying the poem with all its horrible implications; maybe we should feel that way. Reading Turner’s poetry should invoke some confusion within the sadness and anger. I think hearing about the ugliness of the world through mediums like poetry creates a mysterious experience where a contradiction can happen in our reaction. Maybe rendering beauty in war experiences gives us more insight into how the poet, and other people who have had those experiences, really feel about them.

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