Jimmy Santiago Baca is a poet from New Mexico. His most recent collection of poems A Glass Of Water (Grove, 2009).
On “Morning Shooting”
“My poem is about the sorrow of gun violence and racism against Mexicans and the tweet-idiot’s white nationalism.”
Richard Blanco was selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in US history. His collections of poetry include Boundaries, Looking for The Gulf Motel, Directions to The Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires. His memoirs include For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey and The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. Blanco has written occasional poems for the re-opening of the US Embassy in Cuba and Freedom to Marry, among others. His many awards include the PEN Beyond Margins Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and a Lambda Literary Prize. He serves as the first Education Ambassador for The Academy of American Poets.
Tara Bray is the author of Small Mothers of Fright (LSU Press, 2015) and Mistaken For Song (Persea Books, 2009). Her recent poems have appeared in Poetry, Crazyhorse, Agni, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, and The Hudson Review, and have been featured on Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She grew up in Georgia, and now lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she teaches research writing at Virginia Commonwealth University.
On “How My Mother Died”
“This poem was written when I was a young woman coming to terms with my mother’s death that happened when I was thirteen years old. My father was cleaning his guns; she was accidentally shot and killed, and as you might imagine, there was a lot of speculation in my small town around her death. To complicate the issue even further, there are decades of allegations against Remington involving lawsuits that claim certain models of their rifles ignite with no one activating the trigger. Though never involved in such a lawsuit, my family was contacted about the potential problems with these guns back in the 1970s and made aware of the possibility of legal action. Remington still denies any defects in their guns and believes user error to be the cause of the deaths, but they have agreed to replace all of the triggers free of charge. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, because the class action suit that led to the agreement is pending appeal, and sadly, penning down the cause of my mother’s death will never change the fact that as a teenage girl, I was forced to house the trauma that follows such a horrendous event. Because of my experience, I will forever feel passionate reducing gun violence in America, and I take a special interest in the children whose lives have been changed forever because of a gun. Having my poem appear in this collection is one of my proudest accomplishments.”
Brian Clements is the author, most recently, of A Book of Common Rituals. He lives in Newtown, CT, where his wife, a teacher, survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Many Americans, especially those who grow up in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, as I did, are used to seeing and using guns—hunting, target shooting, skeet, and just going out to shoot are part of American culture. But we’re also used to hearing about gun incidents—negligent gun handling by a friend of a friend, a cousin in a hunting accident, a guy around the corner dropping his pistol—that result in injuries in death. We’ve become conditioned in our culture to just write off those incidents as part of life. But because we do chalk those incidents up to the norm, we enable the abnormal—domestic violence leading to shots fired, someone with anger issues going off at work, the more and more frequent mass shootings, which inevitably catch wide attention for a few days and then are forgotten. We can’t afford to keep doing this; if we don’t take small gun problems seriously, they will always lead to big gun problems. This poem reflects back over some incidents with guns in my own life (though not all of them); if we all wait until a tragedy like Sandy Hook happens in our own home towns before we take action, then we aren’t far from the time where everyone actually will have had these incidents in their home towns, perhaps involving their own loved ones.
Kyle G. Dargan is the author of four collections of poetry—The Listening, which won the Cave Canem Prize; Bouquet of Hungers, which was awarded the 2008 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Logorrhea Dementia; and, most recently, Honest Engine, which was a 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist and a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. All four books were published by the University of Georgia Press. Dargan is an associate professor of literature and assistant director of creative writing at American University in Washington, DC. “Natural Causes” is from his forthcoming collection Anagnorisis (TriQuarterly/NWUP, 2018).
On “Natural Causes”
“I live in southeast Washington, DC, which sees a good portion if not the majority of the DC’s gun violence—with most of the victims being males under the age of thirty. As a recent Washington Post investigation details, DC’s gun laws do little against the reality of guns coming across state lines from dealers in Virginia. And while I attended school in Virginia and understand the nature of the guns and the farming/hunting culture there, I struggle to understand how the cost of respecting that culture must be a steady stream of dead brown boys in DC. Unlike those dealing the guns, I cannot turn a blind eye to these children killing each other. They die on my own block.”
Rita Dove is a former US Poet Laureate (1993-1995) and recipient of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for Thomas and Beulah. The author of numerous poetry books, most recently Sonata Mulattica (2009) and Collected Poems 1974-2004 (2016), she also published a collection of short stories, a novel, a play and, as editor, The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2011). Among her many awards are the 2011 National Medal of Arts from President Obama and the 1996 National Humanities Medal from President Clinton. Rita Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
Martín Espada’s latest collection of poems from Norton is called Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), Alabanza (2003), and Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996). He has received the Shelley Memorial Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona, and has been issued in a new edition by Northwestern. Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Rebecca Morgan Frank is the author of Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country and The Spokes of Venus, both from Carnegie Mellon University Press, and Little Murders Everywhere, a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her poems have appeared such places as The New Yorker, Ploughshares, APR, and Guernica. She is the Jacob Ziskind Poet in Residence at Brandeis University and the co-founder and editor of the online literary magazine Memorious.org.
On “Gunning for It”
This poem emerged from thinking about the ways our ongoing awareness of statistics about gun violence can both terrify us and allow us to distance ourselves from the individual realities of each incident, each individual tragedy. I also wanted to interrogate the argument that armed citizens will some help keep us all safer: Not only can we not guarantee that guns in the hands of citizens will be used for righteous and just acts, or to protect the innocent or vulnerable, but we know, from statistics, that the opposite is true. Our nation’s ongoing gun policies leave citizens protected merely by chance, by luck.
vanessa german believes in the power of art to heal, to resist misery & to make a future where all human beings can be as dimensionally human as they can muster the courage to be. german is an artist based in Pittsburgh’s historic Homewood neighborhood. She created the ARTHouse and Love Front Porch as spaces where anyone can come and make something if the door is open.
Robert Hass’s most recent books are a book about poetics, A Little Book About Form; a book of essays, What Light Can Do; and a book of poems, The Apple Trees at Olema. He teaches English and Environmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
“Like everyone else, I was appalled and sickened by the shooting in Miami. The long history of the gun had been on my mind for a while—and the deep craziness of American gun policy and gun culture. Reading the very valuable work of C. J. Chivers in the New York Times on the story of the Kalashnikov gave me the impulse to review that long history and to mourn.”
Jane Hirshfield’s newest books, both from Knopf 2015, are The Beauty (longlisted for the National Book Award in poetry) and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Hirshfield is chancellor of The Academy of American Poets, and her work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, The Paris Review, five Pushcart Prize Anthologies, and eight editions of The Best American Poetry. Much of her recent work is engaged with the sciences, the environment, and issues of social justice and non-violence.
Dana Levin’s fourth book is Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016). Previous collections include In the Surgical Theatre, Wedding Day, and Sky Burial, which The New Yorker called “utterly her own and utterly riveting.” Recent poetry and essays have appeared in Best American Poetry 2015, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Boston Review, and Poetry. Levin is a grateful recipient of many honors, including those from the NEA, PEN, the Library of Congress, as well as the Rona Jaffe, Whiting, and Guggenheim Foundations. A teacher of poetry for twenty-five years, Levin serves as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Maryville University in St. Louis. http://www.danalevinpoet.com/
On “Instructions for Shopping”
“To write ‘Instructions for Stopping’ I sat in a room, saying ‘stop’ over and over in order to hear how it sounded, to feel how it felt in my mouth. Then I wrote it down. Then I added a period, which posed the deciding question. Each one of us has to decide, daily, if we will greet the world with rage or love; and how that decision effects the goal of a safer, less deadly society.”
Wayne Miller is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Post- (Milkweed, 2016), which won the Rilke Prize and the Colorado Book Award in Poetry. He has co-translated two books by Moikom Zeqo—most recently Zodiac (Zephyr, 2015), which was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Award in Translation—and he has co-edited three books, most recently Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century (Milkweed, 2016). He teaches at the University of Colorado Denver and serves as editor/managing editor of Copper Nickel.
On “Ballad (American, 21st Century)”
“In 2014, I was living in Kansas City and commuting to the University of Central Missouri, about fifty-five miles outside the city. My then-two-year-old daughter was in preschool on campus and usually in the car with me. That spring, a highway shooter in the ‘Grandview Triangle’—a tangled highway interchange—shot into about twenty cars over a month or so, and each day I would brace for our ride through the area. We also, around then, were given a training on how to defend our classrooms from an on-campus shooter. At a certain point, I began picturing all shooters in the news as the same, faceless guy popping up in different places at different times. All of this contributed to the terrified space of the poem, where it’s intentionally unclear what’s ‘real’ and what’s in the speaker’s imagination.”
Dean Rader’s debut collection of poems, Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize and Landscape Portrait Figure Form (2014) was named by The Barnes & Noble Review as a Best Poetry Book of the year. Three new book projects—Suture, collaborative poems written with Simone Muench (Black Lawrence Press), Self-Portrait as Wikipedia Entry (Copper Canyon), and Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, edited with Brian Clements & Alexandra Teague (Beacon)—all appeared in 2017. He is a professor at the University of San Francisco.
On “Self-Portrait in Charleston, Orlando”
“‘Self-Portrait in Charleston, Orlando’ arose out what felt like non-stop thinking about race, terrorism, the history (and routes) of slavery, geography, Christianity, gun violence, and their metaphorical—as well as literal—confluences. I thought writing this poem would help me with that. It has not.”
Christopher Soto (b. 1991, Los Angeles) is a poet based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the author of Sad Girl Poems (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) and the editor of Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books, 2018).
On “All the Dead Boys Look Like Me”
“The poem was written in the days after the mass shooting at a queer nightclub in Orlando, FL, where most of the victims were Latinx. I mourn. And I want femmenized leadership in this world. Gun violence is a byproduct of America’s hyper-masculinist culture, obsessed with domination and filled with fear of the other.”
Tess Taylor is the author of a chapbook and two collections of poetry, The Misremembered World, selected by Eavan Boland for the Poetry Society of America’s inaugural chapbook fellowship; The Forage House, a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award; and, most recently, Work & Days, which was called “our moment’s Georgic” by critic Stephanie Burt and named one of the 10 best books of poetry of 2016 by The New York Times. Taylor’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, Boston Review, Harvard Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and she has received awards and fellowships from MacDowell, Headlands Center for the Arts, and The International Center for Jefferson Studies. Taylor currently chairs the poetry committee of the National Book Critics Circle and is the on-air poetry reviewer for NPR’s All Things Considered. She was most recently a Distinguished Fulbright US Scholar at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. “Memory with Handgun and Tetherball” is from her forthcoming collection, Rift Zone.
On “Memory with Handgun and Tetherball”
“I grew up in El Cerrito, CA, a then-working class white suburb which bordered Richmond, CA, a town that was then a national epicenter of drug and gun violence. As I revisit my childhood landscape in current work, I am amazed to see how often the figure of gun violence appears—without me even having ‘set out’ to write about it. But I realize that guns and the threat of gun violence was always nearby. I had a gun turned on me in the sixth grade, the same year as the Stockton Massacre. Many of my classmates suffered from gun or gang violence during the years I attended school with them. Many died. The line ‘I lug my dumb survivor’s grief’ is an attempt to begin to reckon with the sheer trauma of having survived a place and a childhood that so many others did not survive, about feeling the weight of the stacked inequalities and also sheer luck that made that survival possible. It’s my way of beginning to try to name the trauma that even those of us that do escape or survive such violence feel as we go on in a culture where people—our classmates, our friends, children we knew—have not.”
Robert Wrigley’s most recent book of poems is Box (Penguin, 2017). He lives in the woods, near Moscow, Idaho, with his wife, the writer Kim Barnes.
On “Kalashnikov Candelabrum”
“The Peace Art Cambodia Project takes artists from around the world to teach art, especially metal art, to Cambodians young and old. The most abundant medium in metal there is decommissioned AK-47s. Hundreds of thousands of them. Mark Solomon, a friend and metal artist from Moscow, Idaho, has taught in Cambodia with the PACP. You can see some of the project’s art at https://www.goworldtravel.com/travel-peace-art-project-cambodia-turning-ak-47s-into-art/. The candelabrum in the poem is not pictured there; it’s in Mark’s house, near the summit of Moscow Mountain. Knowing the provenance of the steel it’s comprised of only makes it more beautiful.”