I live in St. Louis. For a while now, gun violence has been a problem. You know that from the news and from talking to people in the city. The majority of my African American students at SIUE are from Chicago, and they frequently talk to me about the dangers of gun violence in their cities.
One reason, among many, that the students sometimes sense a disconnect from the poets we cover in class concerns the absence of poems about the troubling conditions immediately affecting their neighborhoods. The students value that the poets write about history and celebrate aspects of black culture. But they also take note that the poets seem to rarely depict gangs, murder, gun violence , and a range of other problems.
It's not just poets. Literary scholars, for instance, hardly seemed concerned, at least in our published articles, with those issues that lead African Americans to feel unsafe in their neighborhoods. Will the rising murder rates in some cities, I wonder, lead prominent poets, novelists, and literary scholars to take up some of these issues a little more in their works?
I suspect that spoken word poets and unpublished poets in struggling neighborhoods have been actively engaging these issues. Their works, however, rarely appear on course syllabi. It's perhaps also true that major publishers have shown less interest in publishing poets who address these issues.
Further, poets and literary scholars have relatively few models for adequately addressing contemporary concerns in struggling African American neighborhoods and communities. There are also socio-economic matters at work, whereby many leading poets reside outside the low-income neighborhoods that most affected by issues like crime, violence, mass incarceration, and so forth.
Despite all these things, I still wonder when and if poets and literary scholars will deal with issues like gun violence? What would it take and mean for writers to do more to address some of these topics, which occupy substantial concerns for large numbers of African Americans?
• A notebook on gun violence