Looking for book recommendations? Here’s one of my favorite interviews I’ve done, since I basically just got to shout out a bunch of my favorite writers: N.K. Jemisin, Danez Smith, Carmen Maria Machado, Ed Bok Lee, Patricia Smith, Bao Phi, Jeff Chang, Marjorie Liu, Emily St. John Mandel, Ruth Ozeki, and more!

Check it out.

Speaking of books, some cool news concerning my book coming soon. A sincere thanks to everyone who’s picked up a copy.

This is a brand new poem; basically a “written the day of the performance” poem. It’s kind of an experimental piece, in terms of how it work as a “poem,” but addresses something that a lot of my work engages with in one way or another: power.

On that note, I also wanted to share this series of videos from Ricardo Levins Morales, that I would encourage every aspiring activist or organizer to watch.

I’ll also refer people back to this post, which includes a ton of links, resources, and poems on the connections between violence (especially mass shootings) and how we talk about masculinity.

Full text of the poem below:

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

Poetic logic would state that a poem about mass shootings should open with something narrative, something graphic and shocking that shakes the audience out of their apathy. For people to truly cultivate empathy, that logic would state, they need to not just understand the horror on an intellectual level, but to visualize it, to embody it, to feel it.

But that logic flows from the presupposition that the point of a poem like that, would be to persuade people who do not care, to care. And does change come from convincing monsters to no longer be monsters? Do words have the power to make a coward, no longer a coward? This poem is not “an open letter to the NRA.” This poem is not a condemnation of those politicians who only ever offer their thoughts and prayers because taking any action beyond that is too risky politically.

When we win, it will not be because we have convinced our enemies to love us. It will be because we have beaten them. It will be because we have out-organized them, and made their positions, however deeply felt, irrelevant. That is how power works. Poetic logic would state that this idea should be supported by a metaphor, a concrete image, a heart-rending personal story ripped from my real-life experience. Without that, this logic states, the audience may not be able to relate, may tune out of the poem entirely. So what percentage of the audience am I left with? 50%? 15%? 1%?

What percentage of the people does it take to drive meaningful policy change? 50%? 15%? 1%? Of course, we need to build mass movements. But mass movements have to start somewhere. And maybe, if you are still listening to this poem that contains so little poetry, it is because you are someone who already cares, who knows that small groups of committed people can and have and will change the world, who knows that there is work to be done, and who will show up: and join that organization, organize that march, run for office yourself, do whatever it takes to be part of the solution.

Maybe you already know, that our cynicism, the idea that mass shootings are inevitable, or part of a cycle that is doomed to repeat forever, is not just disrespectful to the activists and advocates and survivors fighting for change every day, but is also no different from the cynicism of so-called lawmakers offering their “thoughts and prayers” again and again and again.

And again: poetic logic would state that a poem about mass shootings, and the power we have to stop them, should close with something narrative: a memory, or anecdote, or scene that offers a glimmer of hope. But hope does not glimmer. It burns. Hope must be kindled. Hope is not the poem. Not the thought. Not the prayer. It is the fire, breathed into life, spreading.

In the spirit of this piece (sharing poems that might be useful entry points into conversations about white supremacy) and this piece (sharing poems reckoning with #MeToo, consent, and rape culture), I wanted to pull together some poems/videos, links, and resources for people looking to start more conversations about the relationship between violence (whether that’s interpersonal/domestic violence, mass shootings, and beyond) and masculinity.

Because as the left focuses on gun control, and the right (disingenuously) focuses on mental health services, I think it’s worth considering that there’s something deeper going on. It’s also worth considering that just because that “something” is a more complex problem than a single policy can fix, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we can do about it.

Reading Up: Articles and Essays
To find solutions, we first have to acknowledge the problem: there is something about the way we teach boys to be men (especially in a white, western, capitalist context) that encourages violence. When we only understand masculinity through the lenses of power, control, strength, and dominance, when our pop culture heroes are so often men (and so often violent men), when our views of “what it means to be a man” are shaped by racism and colonialism– this all helps create a culture in which violence can be committed, normalized, and even rationalized, again and again. More:

  • Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men (Politico)
  • Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings (Harper’s Bazaar)
  • Boys To Men: Masculinity And The Next Mass Shooting (1A)
  • We will never address gun violence if we don’t address the root of the problem: masculinity (Feminist Current)
  • The Boys Are Not All Right (NYT)
  • Toxic white masculinity: The killer that haunts American life (Salon)
  • When We Talk About Police Shootings, We Need to Talk About Gender (Feministing)
  • Who Are The Majority Of Mass Shooters In The U.S.? (AJ+)
Having a Deeper Conversation: Poem/Videos
My work is about using poems as entry points to dialogue, since poems and stories are able to put a human face on issues that are, for some people, too easy to intellectualize or think about in an abstract way. With the above articles as context, my hope is that these poems can be resources for educators (or just people who want to start more conversations) to jumpstart some reflection, soul-searching, and community-building:
  • nayyirah waheed (from salt.)
    • This is the only poem on this list that isn’t a video, but it’s such a perfect entry point, one that sums up this issue elegantly and precisely.
  • Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist 
    • This is a newer poem that powerfully makes the connection between gun violence and masculinity. This poem doesn’t just make that connection, though; it challenges us to see both why that connection exists and why it doesn’t have to. The link includes both the video and some further thoughts/analysis from me on the poem.
  • FreeQuency: Masculinity So Fragile
    • This is full of great lines, but also some incredibly insightful analysis.
  • Elizabeth Acevedo: I use my poetry to confront the violence against women
    • This is a TEDx Talk, but includes multiple short poems. When the national conversation focuses on masculinity and mass shootings, it’s important to keep a broader view of what “violence” means. It isn’t always headline-grabbing. It isn’t always reported. This conception of masculinity hurts people– especially women, trans people and gender-nonconforming people– every day.
  • Guante: Handshakes and Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up” 
    • I’m including both of these poems of mine here because they’re both explicitly about how so-called “little things” (habits, word choices, small actions, etc.) both shape and are shaped by the larger culture. Especially when we think about masculinity– our socialization starts so early, and is so insidious because those “little things,” if we don’t think critically about them, are so easy to never even understand as harmful.
  • Guante (NEW!): The Art of Taking the L
    • A poem, but also a link with a bunch MORE resources.
  • Donte Collins: Genderlect 
    • This is a great exploration of how the positive things we’re taught to think about men are so often rooted in the negative things we’re taught to think about women. Violence can take many forms– mass shootings, domestic abuse, sexual assault, any beyond– but it often starts in the same place
  • Sam Rush, Kwene, & Oompa of House Slam: My Masculinity
    • This piece could be a good introduction to talking about masculinity as a social construct, as opposed to something that is inherently/inextricably “male.” 
  • Javon Johnson: Baby Brother
    • The connection between masculinity and violence includes more than just mass shootings. It’s about the violence we inflict on the people to whom we are closest, regardless of gender. It’s also about the violence we inflict on ourselves.
  • Alex Luu & Jessica Romoff: Masculinity
    • Like the previous poem, this piece explores the issue of masculinity’s connection to violence through family relationships– in this case, a father’s effect on his household.
Next Steps and Other Resources
“What we do” about this is a big question, and will shift depending on who we are, where we are, and what kinds of resources and audiences we have access to. So while “having a conversation” is not the only work to be done, it is an important starting point, and I hope the links and poems above can be useful. What follows are some examples of where people are taking this work:

As always, I’m far less interested in writing authoritative think-pieces as I am in just sharing resources and creating space for dialogue. So if you have other poems for the list, other links to share, or just some thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.