Monday, December 5, 2011

A Conversation with Brian Turner

Today I spoke with the poet Brian Turner who previously served as an Infantry Team Leader with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq. Turner earned his MFA from the University of Oregon before serving seven years in the US Army. His poetry has been published in two volumes, “Here Bullet” in 2005, and “Phantom Noise” in 2010. His work has appeared on National Public Radio, the BBC, Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and Weekend America, among others. Turner is currently the director of the low residency MFA in Creative Writing at Sierra Nevada College. Turner discusses the nature of war poetry, his creative process, and the purpose of his poetry in our conversation.


A Confrontation in Beit Ummar

Every week, international and local protesters descend to the main entrance of the village of Beit Ummar, located between Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank to protest the expansion of three nearby Israeli settlements. The Israeli Defense Force maintains a watchtower and personnel holding area at the base of the main road. The peaceful protest movement in the West Bank, which is characterized by weekly demonstrations on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the Territory against Israel settlement expansion, the occupation, and other related grievances. These peaceful protests are haunted with the occasional recourse to violence, a specter which each side, Israeli military forces and Palestinian protesters, often blame on the other. On July 22, 2011, I watched as a peaceful protest dispersed and then turned violent. Some speculate that stone-throwing Palestinian youth were looking for vengeance in light of a confrontation between an Israeli soldier and local man the day before. That said, the transition from passivity to violence that morning raised critical questions on Palestinian political activism and the Israeli military presence in the West Bank.

Image: CrossTalk.

The Modern Bakery in Birzeit

The Modern Bakery of Birzeit is situated along the main highway connecting the Northern West Bank Towns of Nablus, Jenin, and Toulkarem with the de-facto capital, Ramallah. The Bakery is run by Soleiman, an American-born Palestinian whose family is from this small, Christian town famous for its olives and local University. I visited Soleiman at the Modern Bakery on August 22, 2011 to discuss his thoughts on bread, the West Bank economy, and his observations of life from behind his storefront counter.