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.
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.