This is Semi-Automatic Pantoum, directed by Matt Mullins, made to accompany the collection Semi-Automatic Pantoums: A Collaboration on Gun Violence [PDF] by the Chicago-based collective Poetic Justice League. According to their origin story,
In 2018, in the season of Donald Trump and longing for another time, Chris Green was driving down a Chicago road to see his poetic super heroes Jan Bottiglieri, cin salach, and Tony Trigilio. He proposed The Poetic Justice League, a group for poetic non-silence on the big issues of the day. They dreamed up PJL to unfold group poems, to wake up poets and readers to a sense of newborn responsibility. [links added]
The pantoum is one of those forms with repeating lines, which makes it a good if macabre fit for the subject of semi-automatic weapons and the semi-automatic reactions of various political factions to the American epidemic of mass shootings. Matt Mullins added some lines of his own to the video, but otherwise the text is the same as “There Are Bullets in This Poem” (page 5 of the collection). As Matt said in an email on Monday,
It’s intensely disturbing that these horrific mass shooting events just won’t stop happening (I write you this the morning after we realize that families can’t even go to a food festival without being murdered by someone with an assault rifle.) American gun violence has gone far beyond insanity, and yet, as we all know, the politicians in the palm of the NRA will do nothing.
To write your own semi-automatic pantoum, see the collective’s instructions for teachers.
The Poetic Justice League hopes that high school students form their own PJL chapters! You will receive a PJL hat and will be included in all publishing and promotional ventures . . . and we will continue to include you in all future PJL political poetry adventures.
The only requirement is that students contribute their own collaborative political poems modeled after PJL projects. For now, we’re seeking semi-automatic pantoums–we will post the pantoums on our site.
What better way for Moving Poems to return from hiatus than with the latest video collaboration between artist Cheryl Gross and poet Nicelle Davis? And as a nature lover, the subject matter is close to my heart. I feel that way too few poets really grasp the severity and horror of the extinction crisis, let alone the threat it poses to the human imagination and, arguably, our very souls. I found this cycle of poems so moving, especially accompanied by Cheryl’s inimitable, unsettling animation.
Nicelle has a brief column about the collaboration up at Cultural Weekly:
Death is a charmer; nothing makes us feel more alive than brushing shoulders with Death at a bar, in our cars, or at 5,000 feet in the air. Every time we risk and survive there is a thrill. We feel like we won more life because we are not the one dying.
There is something sexy about Death, how when poachers take a machete to the face of an elephant, the gaping wound resemble a wet vagina, how sex is always better once it’s gone, or when whalers take a grenade harpoon to a whale—even more so when an entire species is gone, how life looks for life even inside a zoo.
But Death is a trickster. We can never win at Death’s game. We remain alive, while our humanity is dying. Soon, there will be nothing of our lives worth living for.
Commit to Memory: The Precipice of Extinction is a multi-platform project that addresses the eventual disappearance of our culture using animals as metaphors. We explore issues of global warming, displacement, assault and poverty.