Brian Turner's first book of poems, Here, Bullet, was a harrowing, first-hand account of the Iraq War by a soldier-poet. In Phantom Noise he pumps up the volume as he faces and tries to deal with the traumatic aftermath of war.
Flashbacks explode the daily hell of Baghdad into the streets and malls of peaceful California, at the same time sending Turner's imagination reeling back to Iraq. If he thought he had written all he could of his Iraq experiences in Here, Bullet, he was mistaken, for what he saw and felt there affected him so profoundly that more poems had to be written, years later, from a place of apparent safety.
Brian Turner writes a powerful poetry of witness, exceptional for its beauty, honesty and skill. Like Keith Douglas's poems from the North African desert in the Second World War, Turner's testament from the war in Iraq offers unflinchingly accurate description but no moral judgement, leaving the reader to draw any conclusions. Repetitive media reports show little of people's daily experience of the war and occupation. In Phantom Noise, as in Here, Bullet, we see and feel the devastatingly surreal reality of everyday life and death for soldiers and civilians through the eyes of an eloquent writer who served in the US Army for seven years, with a year's tour of duty in Iraq as an infantry team leader.
"The poems often read as an attempt to explain, understand and come to terms with the terrible things soldiers witness and are party to: the language sparse and precise, the tone questing and urgent. Yet the writing is rarely prescriptive, leaving interpretation open... Turner's resilient, humane poems remind us of war's impact but also provoke and question."
Ben Wilkinson, The Guardian
"Political, topical, precise but also free-rollingly American, his poetry is fresh and alert enough to wake up even diehard prose-sters."
"With courage and an uncommon willingness to see the world as it actually is, Brian Turner returns in Phantom Noise with a bullet-borne language in which helicopters hover like spiders over a film of water. His poem 'Al-A'imma Bridge' alone proves his mastery, and joins him to the tradition of Wilfred Owen and David Jones, for he is their descendant, his poetic gifts detonated into a spray of lyric force that will mark what is possible in poetry for years to come, a chiseling of agony onto paper and a poignant cri de coeur to the republic of conscience."
"It's now six years since Turner left the army, and on the surface he appears fully reintegrated into civilian life. But the poems from Phantom Noise show unequivocally that he's brought the war home with him... The collection is haunted by Turner's battle ghosts: 'sheets of plywood drop with the airy breath / of mortars'; 'cash registers open and slide shut / with the sound of machine guns being charged'; at night, when the lights are out, 'fan blades rotate above, slow as helicopters / winding down their oily gears'... There is optimism. Turner recently married his girlfriend, who appears in Phantom Noise's penultimate poem, 'In the Guggenheim Museum'. The poem is one of the few not dominated by Turner's Iraq experiences; it ends with the pair walking past 'skeletons of art hung around us', which the poet imagines staring at them 'in wonder, marveling at / these two lovers... walking among them – alive'... Turner appears to be in possession of his world again; there is the possibility that he might move out from the shadow of war. But for now, the war poems keep coming."
Sarah Crown, The Guardian, G2 feature
"The poems in Here, Bullet are steeped in pity for the occupants of Iraq, while at the same time remaining on full alert to the likely moment 'when a twelve-year-old / rolls a grenade into the room'... The most effective instrument in Turner's kit is his detachment – the particulars are so shocking that they need no sentimental boost – which is deployed in combination with complex feeling... There are poems in Here, Bullet good enough to hold a place in any anthology of war poetry."
The Guardian ("In the line of fire: James Campbell asks where are the war poets of today")
"Turner writes fantastically well about the sudden strangeness of civilian life after demobilisation."
Andy Croft, Morning Star
"Turner attempts to capture the extreme experience of war by depicting the feelings it generates: the sense of loss, hatred, humiliation, love, uncertainty, and dreamy longing for a normal life."
"Several hundred books have now been published on the Iraq War... but none has felt necessary until now. There's something in the lumbering of prose that cannot capture what poetry, done right, can make immanent with its insistent beat... With Brian Turner's Here, Bullet, we have the first war poetry since Yusef Komunyakaa's Dien Cai Dau that matters."