New England Literary News | Nina MacLaughlin

Poems take on gun violence; a love song to Martha’s Vineyard

Sandy Hook survivor Abbey Clements contributes to “Bullets Into Bells.”
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Sandy Hook survivor Abbey Clements contributes to “Bullets Into Bells.”

Abbey Clements was a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults there. She survived. The trauma motivated her husband, Brian Clements, a poet, to find a way to use his art to stem gun violence in the nation. “We as activists have to find ways to get people emotionally engaged. That’s one really strong thing that poetry can do.”

So Clements, along with poets Alexandra Teague and Dean Rader, have put together a potent collection. “Bullets Into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence’(Beacon) gathers a number of poets — Robert Hass, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Jill McDonough, Ada Limon, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ocean Vuong, and Danez Smith, among others — and pairs them with activists and survivors of gun violence writing responses to each poem.

Clements says he didn’t want the book to be merely literary. With a call-and-response feel, it becomes a “conversation in the American community,” he says. The voices of the survivors and activists “are just as important as the poets,” Clements says. “Maybe more important.” Abbey Clements, in her response to a poem called “[When a child hears gunshots]’’ by Meghan Privitello, writes, “154 shots. They heard them all. I thought they were folding chairs falling.”


Events for the book will take place in every state, bringing area poets and activists to read and talk. On Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 6 p.m. an event takes place at the Boston Public Library with editors Clements, Teague, and Rader, as well as Andre Dubus III, poets Martín Espada, McDonough, and Rebecca Morgan Frank, and a number of other guests, including members of Moms Demand Action, Newtown Action Alliance, Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary, and a local ER doctor.

Vineyard scenes from Simon

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Peter Simon, brother of singer Carly, has been photographing Martha’s Vineyard for more than 50 years. He’s recently sifted through more than 10,000 images and culled around 750 into a collection that serves as loving portrait of the island, its visitors, its inhabitants, its geography. “Martha’s Vineyard: To Everything There Is a Season’’ holds striking shots of the dramatic cliffs of Aquinnah; of young and old taking splashy pleasure on the shore; great hippie-style shots of people hanging out nude in grassy fields and mud baths; sunsets, sunrises, busy harbors, quiet cottages blanketed by snow. There are also shots of island personalities and famous visitors — Henry Louis Gates Jr., Spike Lee, Hillary Clinton, James Taylor, and many others. Simon captures each season with an eye that celebrates the island’s beauty. Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Geraldine Brooks writes short introductions to each section. And 20 percent of the proceeds of the self-published book, which can be bought on the photographer’s website ( will be donated to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

Making a stand in Concord

Thirty-seven Christmas trees fill the Concord Museum, each one featuring decorations based on beloved children’s books. “Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature,’’ which runs through Jan. 1, includes trees with ornaments based on “The Mermaid’’ by Jan Brett; “Thanking the Moon’’ by Grace Lin; “The Day the Crayons Came Home’’ by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers; “Brave Irene’’ by William Steig; “Do Fairies Bring the Spring?’’ by Liza Gardner Walsh and Hazel Mitchell; “Firebird’’ by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers. Over a dozen of the authors and illustrators whose work decorates the trees, including D.B. Johnson, the honorary chair of Family Trees, Leslea Newman, Giles Laroche, and others, will be at the museum to talk with visitors Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Coming out

“Mouths Don’t Speak’’ by Katia D. Ulysse (Akashic)

“This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America’’ by Morgan Jerkins (HarperPerennial)


“Greetings From Angelus: Selected Poems’’ by Gershom Scholem, translated from German by Richard Sieburth (Archipelago)

Pick of the week

Story Boyle at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge recommends “The Secret Lives of Color’’ by Kassia St. Clair (Penguin): “Did you know there were taboos among dyers against mixing yellow and blue dyes to create green? Or why ‘taupe’ is even a color (thank the British)? This book is a rainbow of information, full of history and folklore, tidbits about chemistry and botany, from ancient times to the recent past. A fascinating read, one you can pick at lazily as your curiosity guides you.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at

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