The first time I was introduced to this book of poetry was in reference to a character in Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway. In the story, Septimus Smith is a returned World War I veteran that is clearly experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He hallucinates noises and images of war during mundane experiences that are entirely unrelated to warfare, as does the speaker, while in a department store, in Brian Turner’s “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center.”
In the novel, Septimus hears the echo of gunfire in common noises, such as the cough of an engine, as he walks the park. In the poem, Turner hears gun shells falling when a box of nails spills onto the floor. Septimus frequently has hallucinations of his friend, Evans, who died in the war. He wakes in the middle of the night screaming his name, and sees him walking toward him in combat gear from behind a tree in the park. Turner sees a comrade, Bosch, walking down aisle 16 dressed in “full combat gear,” as Sgt. Rampley emerges from aisle of spilled paint cans (Turner 5).
Throughout the Iraq war, and especially during the presidential race that led to Obama’s election, America was concerned most with how to get the troops home. However, the struggle of war doesn’t end there; it doesn’t end with a tank of soldiers returning to their families in the States. The mental effects that continue post-war for these soldiers are something we don’t often talk about, unless our own families are directly affected. This is what literature, like Mrs. Dalloway and Phantom Noise discuss.
The effects of PTSD, how to recognize it, and how to treat it are all categorized on the website “National Center for PTSD” via the United Stated Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the site, about 86 to 87 percent of soldiers that were in Iraq relate their symptoms of stress to “knowing someone killed/ seriously injured.” Septimus’ frequent hallucinations of Evans are clearly linked to this type of stress. Also, 94 to 95 percent relate stress to “seeing dead bodies.” (“Mental Health”)
In the novel, Woolf explains that part of the reasons for Septimus’ stress is due to the fact that he felt nothing when Evans was killed, and therefore became terrified of his inability to feel. The relevance of seeing dead bodies as a stressor is that soldiers may become desensitized to death when faced with this stressor too often. Or to gore, for that matter. For example, the speaker of the poem is nonchalantly handed a “blown-off arm” by the hallucination of Sgt. Rampley, who says “Hold this, Turner, / we might find out who it belongs to,” as though they found a lost wallet or key chain (Turner 6).
What I find most interesting about Turner’s book of poetry is that it doesn’t just focus on the experiences he had while in Iraq, but also on the relived experiences, and all too terrifying symptoms of PTSD he has had now that he is home.
Turner, Brian. Phantom Noise. Farmington: Alice James Books, 2010.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Hogarth Press, 1963.
“Mental Health Effects of Serving in Afghanistan and Iraq – NATIONAL CENTER for PTSD.” NATIONAL CENTER for PTSD Home. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/overview-mental-health-effects.asp>.
Buttons of Peyote
The dusky sky
pushes my peyote buttons being pressed by an American Eagle
Beep, Beep, Beep, BEEEEP, flatlined in the desert
Yet the sun peeks through, giving a dark hazy, potentially false, sense of beautiful hope
Nothing is ever in order
We watch the melted metal
fall from the afternoon sky.
The Human Shades of Khaki, denim, and window pane
create an urban Twilight – Watches shoot through my
peripheral like streams of Hot tracers.
Desert of Despair
Sand whips around as the blades cut the air
the drab palettes of war separated by the heat
Choppers disintegrating as I pull out my hair
The desert heat will melt the metal
The space in the desert where misery and destiny meet
In the worn skies of the desert of despair
Layer Cake: A Recipe
Step one, mix cultures & ideals into a bowl
Stir with ignorance and xenophobia.
Beat in death until stiff.
Bake at 120 degrees, or until the helicopters melt.
Garnish with WMDs. (if you can find them).
Reading these poems reminds me a lot about people that I know who have to struggle with PTSD every day of their lives. Each of Turner’s poems makes me think of a teacher that I had back in High School who had PTSD. The poem Perimeter Watch uses vast amounts of imagery in order to depict basically a war scene throughout Turner’s house. Fan blades are resembling helicopters, snipers traverse from neighbor’s rooftops, and many other household items and things outside remind him of war. (pg. 21-21)
My English teacher in High School who had this very same disorder would constantly have setbacks during class that reminded him of war. He would tell us to move away from the wall if we were too close because we didn’t know what was behind it. If a student’s cell phone would beep, he would immediately question the noise with a frightening look of concern on his face. Also, there was an instance where he freaked out during our class because a student dropped their book on the floor and the loud bang it made was reminiscent of a bomb explosion to him.
This book of poetry is very applicable to the lives of many who go through this same disorder on a daily basis. I feel like this would be a tremendous thing for someone who has this disorder to read so that they have something in which they can directly relate to that might help them with their own disorder. I think Turner writes in a way that highlights both everything that happened during the time he spent at war along with the effects it held on both him and his family.
Turner, Brian. Phantom Noise. Farmington, Me.: Alice James, 2010. Print.
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.
|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 ringing
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.
The theme of many poems in Brian Turner’s collection Phantom Noise is the mark left on soldiers by the horrific realities of war. Poems such as “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center,” “Perimeter Watch,” and “Phantom Noise” all give concrete imagery to the abstract concept of PTSD, which is difficult to understand without experiencing it.
By putting his experiences into words (like fallen nails turning firing pins at a Lowe’s, or staring out into the night around your yard like a sentry on guard duty), Turner takes ownership of them. I don’t know if any of these poems are autobiographical, but even if their stories were composed from things he heard from buddies, even if they were fabricated for the sake of the poetry, they still establish something for a PTSD-suffering veteran to relate to.
A couple of years ago, NPR did a story about the use of Greek tragedies like The Iliad and Ajax in a sort of group therapy session for soldiers with PTSD. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97413320
“The plays can reassure a soldier, [says Brigadier General Loree Sutton], ‘that I am not alone, that I am not going crazy, that I am joined by the ages of warriors and their loved ones who’ve gone before me, and who have done what most in society have no idea our warriors do.'”
The poem Insignia was one that especially stood out to me. I question the ability for a man to be able to discuss the issues which affect women specifically.
“One in three female soldiers will experience sexual assault while serving in the military.” (Turner 64)
It was discussed in Critical Reading last semester that a author should stick to what they know. Brian Turner is aware of the statistics of this issue although it is not something that he has or even could experience himself. He cannot know the fear that this woman would feel as she closes her eyes at night in attempt to sleep. Only she could write of this experience.