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Valley of the poems casts a spell Poetry flourishes with the crops in California's San Joaquin Valley page 3

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Date published: 6/5/2006


"They say I'm a Mama's Boy like it's a bad thing, when all along I thought that's what a man was.

A Mama's Boy they say,

with hands too soft for picking legs thin as sprigs of mesquite."

Many of the valley's youth take another way out, joining the military like Fresno poet Brian Turner.

If the isolation of wide-open country made Turner a poet, his grandfather's stories of military adventure gave him the guts of a soldier. But what ultimately pushed him to sign up, like many young people here, was the more prosaic need for health insurance and a steady income.

In Iraq, he was haunted by a landscape that was eerily familiar, where owls rested on grape vines, grasshoppers scratched the dirt, and the world was reduced to stillness. Long hours of boredom were frequently shattered by the violence that permeates "Here, Bullet," a collection of poems for which he won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, given by the nonprofit poetry publisher Alice James Books.

In his "Katyusha Rockets," the two places merge, and for a moment, the war is here, and bombs are falling on a Memorial Day parade in Fresno:

"where lovers and strangers and old friends entertain themselves, unaware of the dangers headed their way, or that I will need to search among them "

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