“It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.”
It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.
Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet (Alice James, 2005) won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award for poetry, and has gone on to won a slew of other prizes. Turner is the real thing – he was an infantry team leader in Iraq for a year, and did a spell in Bosnia before that. As a result, his poems have a kind of journalistic authenticity, they are poems of witness in the truest sense, their impact made stronger by the fact that they describe the reality of a conflict that still rages, still fills our television screens.
Yet Turner is so much more than a journalist. Like his soldier-poet forebears (Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg) Turner blends the horror of the daily reality with passages of lyrical contemplation and dream, finding beauty in the loss, seeking the exquisite in the devastated. They are, inevitably, poems tinged with sadness, but it is a pure sadness, unalloyed with any sense of pride or mission that would make them parochial. Indeed, much of his work reflects an attempt to engage with other cultures, to study the poetry of Iraq and it’s people.
Today’s poem reflects that engagement. The epigraph to the poem comes from The Gulistan of Sa’di. (Sadiq means friend in Arabic). In his notes on the poem, Turner writes: “The year [The Gulistan of Sa’di] was written, Daras Salam (ancient Baghdad) was sacked – it is said that 800,000 lay dead in the streets after forty days of siege followed by forty days of brutal plunder.”
There is something strangely comforting in this. Perhaps, after all, the wars will never end – but neither will the poetry.
P.S. Coming soon to a theatre probably fairly far from you! Turner also features in a forthcoming film. See details here.