A Moving Experience but a little Wearisome,
This review is from: Phantom Noise (Paperback)
Brian Turner's Phantom Noise was his long awaited follow up to Here, Bullet. Those of us who were excited, thrilled and disturbed by Here, Bullet were kept waiting 5 years for Phantom Noise. In this collection Turner returns to a familiar subject and some of his past themes. On this occasion, however, Turner writes from a supposedly distant perspective of California but haunted by memories, reflections and the juxtaposition of past and present - a juxtaposition that is so lively and vivid that at times the reader could be forgiven for thinking that Turner was back on the battle fields of Iraq.
Turner with his direct experience of war, as first person narrator of many of the poems in the collection, conveys his dreams and reminiscences of the past very clearly. The phantom noise and experience such as: "I can see the Turkish cook with Sharapnel/in the back of his head, his mouth still foaming./beside him the dead infant from that cold blue morning," belongs to another place and time but it is hard to distinguish whether or not Turner is still in that place - the arena of war. But then, as if to increase the ambiguity, as opposed to the world of phantoms we are awaken to the reality of Turner's plight when in the same poem, Perimeter Watch, Turner asks: "Where is my M-4? My smoke grenades?/my flack vest and plates of body armor? I wander the house/searching for them, hear the 12-year old voice outside/the front door - where is my father?"
Many of the poems are littered with horrible repeated features and incidents of war. I suppose brilliant realised in a poem entitled The Inventory from a Year Spent Sleeping with Bullets. The poem is laid out against the usual shape of a poem taking the form prose to make an inventory of the narrator's experience. There are repeated topics found in other poems such as: a dead child, someone slumped over the wheel of a car, torture, pieces of body on the dashboard of a car and so on. These are clearly the horrors of war.
Nonetheless, there are poems that provide relief from the harshness and brutality of war. Suddenly as you read through the collection, you come across poems such as Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon and Lucky Money. What we get in these two poems is a reflection back to childhood. The poems' tone are solemn, the subject mater touching. The reader is charmed by the two poems' innocence and naivety.
In some of the poems the rhythm and tone convey a sense of urgency. So in Al-A'imma, a long poem, and Guarding the Bombers there are no full stops until the last line. Or as another example of this sense of urgency in the title poem Phantom Noise, Turner eschews punctuation completely. Along with the sense of urgency, the feeling derived from these three poems is one of a verse that harks back to an oral tradition - meant to be spoken. If you read the collection notice the constant refrain of "this" and "ringing" in Phantom Noise which places this poem not only in an oral tradition but also conjures up a sense of music.
Broadly, in this collection figurative language and tropes are minimal. The language is made up of a diction and syntax that are down to earth and of every day use. However, this does not necessarily make the poems easily penetrable. This is due to the fact that the text is cram packed with events and incidents which deceptively commands a careful read.
I could not help being touched an moved by Phantom Noise but having said that reading the collection I felt a little weary of another visit to the subject of war by Turner.