For more than five years now, Brian Clements has led an urgent and frustrating effort to end gun violence in America. The kids in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died last week when their school was shot up by a former student, give him hope that maybe this time the outcome will be different.

“I am personally glad to see the people of Parkland, and especially the kids, speak out more vociferously, and I hope their voices will become the new voices of leadership,” said Clements, a poet from Newtown, Connecticut. He has helped edit a new literary anthology, “Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence,” published by Beacon Press.

The book includes more than 50 poems by well-known poets, including Richard Blanco of Bethel, who contributed a poem that he wrote in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people and injured 58 others. Judi Richardson of South Portland, whose daughter, Darien, was the victim of a gun homicide in 2010, also contributed an essay about the damage a bullet can do and what it’s like to watch someone suffer and die from bullet wounds.

Richardson was the lead citizen sponsor of a 2016 ballot measure to require background checks on all gun sales in Maine. The measure failed. She and her husband co-founded Remembering Darien, a nonprofit committed to helping victims of violent crime.

Clements, Blanco and Richardson will read from the book and talk about gun violence and what can be done to end it at 7 p.m. March 6 at the Portland Public Library. The Telling Room, which empowers youths by helping them become better writers, is hosting the reading, and Telling Room writers also will participate.

Clements’ wife taught at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 children and six staff members died in a shooting in 2012. She still teaches in the Newtown school system.


Since that attack, Clements, a professor of writing at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, has made ending gun violence a priority. The anthology is one result of his efforts. He took a sabbatical to promote the book. Clements and his team of editors are scheduling events like the one in Portland in every state and the District of Columbia.

The goal, he said, is to use the book to begin community conversations. He arranged the book so that each poem is followed by a response from a victim of gun violence, a community leader or activist seeking changes.

“There is kind of a conversation that rises out of the dynamic between the poem and the response to the poem, and we are trying to replicate that at our events,” he said.

Over the weekend, when he heard the students from Parkland speak up confidently and with conviction, Clements sensed that maybe, just maybe, people will listen to the youth of Parkland and laws will change. He is hopeful.

“It’s good to see the people in Parkland are dealing with it the way they are,” he said. He noted that most mass shootings at schools have been at elementary schools and colleges, “where the responses have been more circumspect and controlled. It’s interesting that high school students are speaking out in a way we haven’t seen other people do.”

Richardson is eager to hear what the students of Portland have to say, and hopeful about their ability to take control of the conversation. “We are getting all these students speaking up and getting involved,” she said. “We are at a critical point here.”


In the book, she responded to a poem by Aziza Barnes, “I Could Ask But I Think They Use Tweezers.”

“To me, her poem is about the physical effects of gun violence on the body and how the bullet breaks your system apart and how a bullet is so small and yet so powerful,” Richardson said. “When I read her poem, I thought about our daughter. It resonated with me.”

Darien survived for three weeks in a hospital, after being shot several times by masked intruders who broke into her Portland duplex. She spent two days in intensive care and 18 days as an inpatient. Her parents watched her suffer as she worked to recover, and she died of complications from her wounds after being discharged from the hospital. One bullet traveled the length of her thigh and lodged in her hip, where it remained. Another bullet shredded the thumb of her left hand.

She died unexpectedly on Feb. 28, 2010, while visiting a friend in Miami. The Florida Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Richardson died from a pulmonary embolism caused by a blood clot, a result of the wound to her thigh.

“The bullets caused so much damage that we couldn’t see,” her mother said Monday. “We were hopeful our daughter was going to live, but there was too much damage. The response I wrote was just that. I was hopeful. We watched our daughter suffer, but we never realized she wasn’t going to make it.”

Her murder remains unsolved.


Blanco readily agreed when asked to contribute a poem because he thought it was an important and powerful project. He has written about gun violence before. Blanco referenced the Sandy Hook shootings in the poem “One Today,” which he wrote and delivered for President Obama’s second inauguration.

He offered the editors of the anthology “One Pulse, One Poem,” which he wrote after the Pulse shootings in June 2016. “Let’s place each memory like a star, the light of their past reaching us now, and always, reminding us to keep writing until we never need to write a poem like this again,” he writes.

“Things seemed urgent back then,” the poet said in an email. “And yet, nothing has changed. My favorite poem in the anthology, ‘The Gun Joke’ by Jamaal May, speaks to that absurdity. I think it’s time that we give up on our government and take matters into our own hands – create a national citizens initiative, similar to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to sustain that sense of urgency that will hopefully lead to a tipping point.”

For the Telling Room, working with Clements to host the community discussion was a natural partnership, said Celine Kuhn, the Telling Room’s executive director.

“Gun violence is on the mind of every student who walks through our doors and every student we meet in a classroom,” Kuhn said. “We feel a responsibility to amplify student voices on this issue, as they’re the ones most affected by it on a daily basis.”

Clements met representatives of the Telling Room at a national writing conference a few years ago, and thought of the Portland organization when he began arranging the “Bullets Into Bells” event in Maine.


“Their mission so closely aligns with the idea of the conversation we want to have with the book,” he said.

It will not be an abstract discussion, Clements promised. It will include facts and data about gun violence in Maine, so people can better understand how gun violence affects their communities.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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