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St. Johnsbury Welcomes Soldier-Poet

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There's nothing particularly lyrical about what's currently going on in Iraq. But in poet Brian Turner's work, fleeting beauty emerges from devastation. The "embedded poet" has been lauded by The New York Times, The New Yorker and Salon.com for his collection Here, Bullet, in which he writes about his experiences as an infantry team leader in Iraq in 2003. This Thursday, the seven-year Army vet with an MFA will read his visceral verse at the St. Johnsbury Athenaum.

Beth and Dave Kanell, who own Kingdom Books in Waterford, are responsible for bringing Turner to Vermont. Beth Kanell says she met the poet - who lives in California - at the Brattleboro Literary Festival and "accidentally ended up having breakfast with him." When she opened Turner's book, she "was expecting to find poems written by a soldier," she says. "Instead, I found poems by a poet who had been a soldier."

The Kanells were also impressed by the poet's thoughtful demeanor in person: "You can see him reflecting on things," says Beth. "There are no quick answers." They decided to pay Turner's agent the funds needed to bring him to the Northeast Kingdom - a first-ever such expenditure for the store, which specializes in poetry, mysteries and first editions. Before his evening reading, Turner will speak to an English class at St. Johnsbury Academy and attend a "poets' potluck" at Kingdom Books, where he'll also spend the night. (The store doubles as the Kanells' home.)

To publicize the reading, Beth Kanell says she went not just to the papers but to the offices of the local Army and National Guard recruiters - and to Burlington's Peace & Justice Center. Where does Turner himself stand on the war he evokes so powerfully? "I haven't heard him state one position," says Kanell. "He feels very close to other veterans. I encourage people to come and ask him."

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