Chicago Gun Violence Is Subject Of New Book Written By 100 Poets

‘American Gun: A Poem by 100 Chicaogans’ was written to humanize the city’s statistics

Steve Miller
June 23, 2020 - 8:00 am
American Gun: A Poem by 100 Chicagoans

Big Shoulders Books

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- One hundred poets have co-authored a poem about gun violence in Chicago.

According to Chris Green, a senior professional lecturer of English at DePaul University, one of poetry’s most important powers is its ability to personalize the impersonal. He hoped to give a human voice to the statistics of gun violence in Chicago and reached out to a diverse group of writers, from famous poets to aspiring ones, to the teens directly impacted by the city’s gun violence, with the goal of collectively writing a single poem.

The poem is titled “American Gun: A Poem by 100 Chicagoans” and is now available as a free e-book. The book was published by Big Shoulders Books, which  is a unique press in DePaul’s English Department, with a mission to give voice to issues and communities in Chicago that might not normally have a voice.

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Chris Watkins, a second-year graduate student at DePaul studying English, contributed to the project, because he sensed its importance.

“Writing is mostly a solitary habit, but the act of 100 poets coming together and agreeing to say something cohesive about the problem of guns in our city — that’s powerful and important,” he said. “It felt like a whole city of poets coming together.”

The poem is written in the pantoum form, which repeats certain lines throughout.

Poetry, according to Green, is a powerful medium to use to respond to social issues. He founded the poetry collective, the Poetic Justice League, to respond to different social issues through poetry. While working with groups of four poets around the country who were writing pantoums about gun violence in general, he realized it would be an apt project for Chicago in particular.

“The pantoum form, even though it’s not meant for a group, allows for a kind of chorus to sing together,” he said. In a pantoum, the second and fourth lines from each four-line stanza are repeated as the first and third lines in the next stanza, so when written by a group, each poet adds two original lines to each stanza. 

“Every line in a pantoum repeating twice mirrors the repetitive violence in the city, and gives the poem a feeling similar to the idea of semiautomatic gun fire,” Green said.

DePaul University said the last quarter of the poem was written by young poets on the South and West sides - and the final stanzas were written by students from the city’s alternative high schools.

A print edition of “American Gun: A Poem by 100 Chicagoans” will be available later this summer. You can pre-order a free copy now