What brings someone to the knife, the pistol, the fist? What drives the hand to pull the grenade’s pin and lob it in a high arc over someone’s head? What do crosshairs signify when superimposed over someone’s life, and what are the dynamics involved in the pull of a trigger? And what happens to us when the rifles are set aside, when the gravestones are placed in their rows and the word “postwar” is used?
There are lessons to be learned within the paths of bullets and in the undoing of civilization, the structures and norms that hold the world in a loosely agreed-upon compact. The rubble yields an immediate archeology of trauma, pain, loss. Of course, war and conflict encompass a vast landscape stretching from this very moment back into prerecorded history. It is too vast a subject for a few pages in a book or journal. Many argue that war and violence cannot even be written about, or that only a profound silence can follow violence—not art, or literature, or crafted meditations on combat and suffering. Even if we consider the voices in these pages as doorways into still further landscapes, each serving as a kind of experiential metonym, we find ourselves holding a small cup of blood, a small bright cup of tears, overflowing from the downpour of one century into another.
In this special portfolio, I’ve sought to gather voices from many parts of the world and from a wide array of experiences, with all the creative work here connected in some way to war and conflict—from combatants and civilians on the battlefield, as well as from the wartime trauma and knowledge that surviving generations inherit. In these pages you’ll discover essays, poetry, and fiction drawn from firsthand experience, from the ruins of the imagination, from oral histories passed down one soul to another from as far back as the American Civil War. I’ve asked a number of writers to create short “snapshots” from some aspect of war and conflict they carry within themselves. Most of the work included in this issue [End Page 7] comes from writers whose work may already be familiar to you, although this is the first time in print for a few of the writers included here. Whether you read the portfolio from start to finish or dip in and out of these poems, stories, essays, and conversations, I hope you’ll find this issue intriguing and thought-provoking. Chilean poet Raul Zurita sat down with Nathalie Handal for a special interview—one which proves interviews with writers can sometimes be art forms in and of themselves. Finally, responding to the literature of war in terms of aesthetics and craft, members of a distinguished group of writers and thinkers also offer their thoughts in a roundtable discussion—a conversation that can perhaps serve as a background to the creative pieces in this issue.
I want to thank all who contributed work to this portfolio and to all who offered suggestions for the assembly of this study on war and conflict. I’m indebted to Neil Astley (poet, publisher, and editor at Bloodaxe Books), as well as to Sarah McGuire (poet, founder, and director of the Poetry Translation Centre) and James Byrne (poet and editor at The Wolf); their advice and assistance in contacting writers far and wide was invaluable. I’d especially like to thank Ilyse Kusnetz for her keen editorial eye and poet’s ear. I’m also thankful for the generous support and guidance given by Prairie Schooner’s managing editor, Marianne Kunkel.
Finally, I would like to thank Kwame Dawes for his kind invitation to guest edit this portfolio for Prairie Schooner. It is simultaneously an honor and a humbling experience to stand, for a moment, at the helm of such a mighty vessel.
I hope the creative work within these pages might add to your own internal dialogue on war and conflict—and all that comes after. [End Page 8]
Brian Turner is a poet (Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise) and an essayist...