Literary Arts Series

Authors visit Bergen Community College

Brian Turner


Brian Turner is our 2021 selection. The event will be held March 11th, at 11 a.m. All are welcome.

We will continue past coordination with Peace, Justice, and Reconciliation on veterans’ issues and “Dialogues on War.” Turner’s poems are about the landscapes of war, labor, loss and fragmentation. In particular, we will make selections from My Life as A Foreign Country and Here, Bullet, a spring campus read.

Here, Bullet reflects Turner’s experiences as a soldier with lyric power compassion and sensitivity. His poem Eulogy is written to memorialize a soldier in his own platoon who took his life, as the military does not recognize soldiers who commit suicide.

Brian Turner is the author of two poetry collections, Here, Bullet, which won the Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times Editor’s Choice selection and the 2005 Beatrice Hawley award and Phantom Noise, which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize in Poetry. He is also the author of a memoir, My Life in a Foreign Country, which made Powell’s Best Nonfiction list in 2014. He was a Guggenheim fellow in 2016. Prior to that he was deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division. In his poetry and prose, Turner conveys both elegant and devastating portraits of what it means to be a soldier and a human being. In addition to his poetry and memoir, he is the editor of the anthology The Kiss (2018), a diverse anthology of essays, stories, poems, and graphic memoirs.

Kim Buchheit, courtesy of Blue Flower Arts


American Homecoming


Thera“This poem is part of a book I’m working on called All of Us Dying in Jack Gilbert’s Arms. This was written in December of 2014, a year and a half after my wife, poet Ilyse Kusnetz, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. As I look back, I can see how I was writing about what I feared most at the time—myself, alone, now walking the path that Gilbert had worn along the side of his own mountain, his arms filled with grief, elegy, celebration, love. —Brian Turner”

EulogyAnd it happens like this, on a blue day of sun, / when Private Miller pulls the trigger / to take brass and fire into his mouth

The Hurt LockerOpen the hurt locker / and see what there is of knives / and teeth. Open the hurt locker and learn /how rough men come hunting for souls.

What Every Soldier Should KnowIf you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon, / it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you. / Always enter a home with your right foot; the left is for cemeteries and unclean places.


2000 lbs.


My Life as a Foreign Country“It’s August. I’m leaning over a rooftop in Mosul, my finger in the trigger housing, an American flag on my shoulder, a split second decision echoing through my head: shoot the man standing in the street with the AK-47. Or not. And the year is 2004. Or maybe it’s 2011. It’s every night I spend circling in the drone aircraft over our bed. My wife in her own dreams. Me, staring at the ceiling; staring down at the landscape below us. The farms and countries laid side by side the way bullets rest in their magazines.”

I Served in Iraq, and American Sniper Gets It Right. But It’s Still Not the War Film We Need.“This isn’t the defining film of the Iraq War. After nearly a quarter century of war and occupation in Iraq, we still haven’t seen that film. I’m beginning to think we’re incapable as a nation of producing a film of that magnitude, one that would explore the civilian experience of war, one that might begin to approach so vast and profound a repository of knowledge. I’m more and more certain that, if such a film film ever arrives, it’ll be made by Iraqi filmmakers a decade or more from now, and it’ll be little known or viewed, if at all, on our shores.”


2006 NPR interview about Here, BulletHis book, Here, Bullet, reflects his war-time experiences in graceful and unflinching poetry. Turner tells Steve Inskeep about the military tradition in his family and why he joined the Army when he was almost 30.

2008 VQR“I was against the war from the beginning and nothing has changed since, other than a deepening and heightening of that belief. To me it just seems like a huge tragedy on a scale that I can’t fathom or understand completely because the numbers are beyond my imagining.”

2014 The IndependentTurner recognises that the marriage of writing and fighting makes for unique, if occasionally unsettling perspectives. Soldier-writers don’t simply bear witness to war, they are implicated in the violence they describe.

2014 Best American Poetry“I began trying my hand at a series of haibun—a traditional Japanese travelogue. Of course, I ended up mangling the form and I’ve yet to figure out how to fully inhabit an English-language version of the haibun form. That experimentation led me to an approach to the essay that was far more fragmented than work I’d done in earlier essays. I was beginning to learn how to trust the jump cut, the bright turn from one thought to another—as well as the reader’s ability to cross the wide synapses between disparate fragments.”


NY TimesThe memoir is divided into 136 short chapters or vignettes, the shortest a single sentence, which chronicle Turner’s wartime experience, from childhood to recruitment, deployment and homecoming, as well as the accumulated memories given to him by his family. Turner’s grandfather served in World War II, his father during the Cold War and his uncle in Vietnam.

Washington PostWith this education, and his father’s stories of reconnaissance flights over Russia, his uncle’s stories from Vietnam, his grandfathers’ from World War II, Turner enlisted in the military: In his family, this is what it means to be a man. Yet Turner is also a poet, and he cannot help but see the world, even the world of combat, in terms of beauty, fragility and heartbreaking splendor.

The RumpusIf you have ever had the opportunity to hear Brian Turner read his poetry in front of a live audience, you might have noticed a technique he uses. Between incredibly serious poems like “Here, Bullet,” he will tell hilarious stories about his time in the military and his life in general—stories that are hilarious at his own expense.

Literary Arts Series

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