"The boy's face
Climbed back down the twelve-year-old tunnel
Of its becoming, a charcoal sunflower
swallowing itself. Who has eyes to see,
Or ears to hear? If you could see
What happens fastest, unmaking
The human irreplaceable"
- Excerpt from the poem "In Two Seconds," by Mark Doty, dedicated to Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot and killed by Cleveland police in 2014 while he was holding a pellet gun; from the new collection, "Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence"
Gun violence in America weighs heavy on the mind and the heart, and yet even the mass shootings of children have not compelled a wave of change.
What that change might be is highly debatable, but in the wake of each new shooting, poet Alexandra Teague saw people lining up to take one of two sides — either for guns or against. The language of poetry, she thought, could help open the conversation.
“I think poetry has this power to help us reimagine. Violence can just become this statistic of people dying across the country. If it’s not you or your family member who is affected, it can be just numbers, and I think these poems deeply humanize what it means to be losing lives.”
“Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence,” is the first anthology in the U.S. to focus on the effects of widespread gun violence. It pairs work by well-known contemporary poets with responses by law enforcement officers, gun violence survivors, first-responders, families of victims, clergy members, politicians and others.
“Many poets have been writing on this subject for years, it’s just that no one has collected their work together,” said Teague, who edited the collection with poet Dean Rader, and Brian Clements, whose wife was a second-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School and survived the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Clements and his wife have devoted themselves to the cause of preventing gun violence, Teague said. He reached out to a diverse range of people affected by gun violence or working on prevention efforts and asked them to write responses to the poems.
“Survivors, advocates, and allies can change hearts and minds — and move more people to join our fight for solutions,” Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, write in the forward. Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman in 2011 while meeting with constituents at a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store. She was one of 13 wounded. Six people died.
Teague said her hope is that the book will reach a wide audience and put language to the tragedy that is gun violence, this includes not only mass shootings but also domestic violence and accidental shootings. She thinks it could help spur a complex conversation that goes beyond a black-and-white view of the Second Amendment: that all guns are right or that there should be no guns.
“We need a discussion about what rights and freedoms mean for everybody,” Teague said.
The book will be released nationwide Tuesday and the reading in Moscow will be the first event associated with it, with a national launch the following week in Boston. Several poets will read from the anthology Wednesday night at BookPeople of Moscow, and there will be presentations by the Latah County Brady Chapter to Prevent Gun Violence, Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse and Melanie Neuilly, a Washington State University criminology professor.
“I’m really glad this is the kind of community that really wants to support this and have this reading right away,” Teague said.