Fake Plastic Palm Trees

As a collection of poems written in the reflection of war (instead of the serialized accounts of Baghdad Burning) these recollections hold the stark reality of trauma that inhabits those who are witness to war.  Turner has created haunting passages of beauty and pain while pulling the reader through each poem to a realization.  The poetic voice that he uses is not overly concerned about delivering these pearls of wisdom; they seem to evolve during the conception of each poem.  For instance, in the final lines of “Viking 1”  he touches on the cyclic nature of war and civilization, “I want to hear how the great questions posed by ruin/ are given the elegant response of stone./ How we, like Aphrodite, are seduced” (18).
The poem “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center” is one of his most disturbing depictions of a flashback (notice the irony of “Home Improvement Center” where these images take place).  I think this poem best depicts what he says in an interview posted here:

words on a wire

as a “pleasant uncomfortableness” (he even mentions the fake palm trees outside of the coffee shop, which also come up outside of Lowe’s).  He goes on in the interview to say “there’s a kind of obscenity in the lifestyle that America has right now” which is what he shows in this poem.  “Dead soldiers are laid out at the registers,/ on the black conveyor belts,/ and people in line still reach/ for their wallets.” Other images in the poem expose the grotesque nature of American comforts, such as the moment in the poem where Sgt. Rampley hands Turner the blown-off arm through a pool of latex paint.  Turner has had first-hand experience of how much damage the American way of life can cause other nations of human beings.  To further our discussion of writing the political, the subject matter of Phantom Noise obviously carries a significant weight in our public consciousness.  Turner is doing what any poet would do:  using his memories as material which, in his case, are filled with the pain of warfare.  Not all of the poems in this collection are about direct war experience, which makes it a better book in my opinion, but because the subject of the class is writing the political and war poems bleed politics, my discussion remains there.

“Extended Interview With Brian Turner.”  Words on a Wire.  Dec 18th, 2011.  http://www.wordsonawireradioshow.blogspot.com/2011/12/extended-interview-with-brian-turner.html

Turner, Brian.  Phantom Noise. Farmington, ME:  Alice James, 2010.


One thought on “Fake Plastic Palm Trees

  1. I have to agree, that while different than the delivery that Burning Bagdhad used, it was still riveting. I love poetry, and this is, for the most part, good poetry. I have always believed that those who suffer are the greatest artists. Is it more powerful than Bagdhad Burning? To me it is, but I am biased. If I were not a U.S. citizen, perhaps the lines would not ring as true. The ‘target’ audience might just be U.S. citizens, so they can realize what PTSD is all about, and furthermore, what War is really like, so when a president starts selling the war, he does not leave out the fine-print.

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