I have just finished reading a new and arresting poetry collection, Bullets and Bells, which according to the writer of the book’s Introduction, Colum McCann, is an attempt to use poetry as a vehicle “to start talking to one another, not with a legion of sound bites and statistics but with human texture and longing to at least lessen, if not eradicate, the violence that afflicts us.” The volume will be coming to your favorite bookseller next week.
I am certainly no expert when it comes to poetry, so I certainly accept the editors’ judgements that poets like Billy Collins, Patricia Smith, Natalie Diaz, Robert Hass and 50 others represent the best of the best. On the other hand, I applaud the work and advocacy of the activists, public figures and gun-violence survivors who contributed commentaries following each verse. I read the poems as someone who can enjoy such works in a rather simple and emotional way; the commentaries from Shannon Watts, Dan Gross, Donna Dees-Thomases, et. al., are about what I would expect.
I couldn’t agree more that we need to find a way to create some kind of universal language or a set of expressions that will allow everyone to talk about guns and gun violence without the discussion invariably degenerating into a ‘you’re wrong, I’m right’ squabble from which nobody ever emerges with anything beyond their own ideas more strongly reinforced. And to the extent that artistic expression – music, poetry, painting – is universal, maybe there’s some truth to the idea that through something like poetic expressions about guns we might reach a common ground.
But with all due respect to the editors of this volume, I found the poetry collection incomplete. Because if the editors truly believe that a “vast majority of the people in this country feel the exact same way about one thing: they abhor violence,” then how come there isn’t a single poem written by someone who likes guns? It may be difficult for the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to believe what I am about to say, but the truth is that, generally speaking, gun owners do not feel any kind of responsibility for the 120,000 deaths and injuries which occur each year with guns. And more to the point, most of them also believe that their gun protects them from the violence committed by others.
Two weekends from now I am going to drive to a local gun show which is held in West Springfield, MA four times a year. The location for this show happens to be about one mile from the neighborhood across the Connecticut River in Springfield which has an incidence of gun violence equal to or above any other neighborhood on Planet Earth. If I were to walk up to someone at the show and ask whether he believed there was a connection between what was going on at this gun show and the people who would get shot in the South End of Springfield over the following several days, the guy would give me the deer-in-the-headlights look; he wouldn’t comprehend the question at all.
So in the interests of helping the editors of this fine, little volume, I have penned a brief series of couplets describing guns from a gun-owner’s perspective, and if the editors of Bullets and Bells decide to publish a second edition, perhaps they will include my verse as well:
Held my first gun when I was six years old, toy gun but I loved it just the same.
Wore it in my little leather holster, knew I was just playing a game.
Got my first real gun when I was twelve, gave a swamp rat in the Florida Glades fifty bucks.
A beautiful, Smith & Wesson K-38 revolver, great-uncle took it away – the memory really sucks.
Once I bought every Colt 1911 pistol model ever made stuck them in a closet, played with them once or twice.
Wanted to buy a bike after my divorce, the Colts more than met the Harley price.
Still have plenty of guns lying around, the wife sometimes looks in a closet and gives out a sigh.
She’ll never understand I’ll be a gun nut until the day I die.