HILLSIDE, NJ — Born of tragedy and outrage, a new book of poetry has been published by former Hillside Board of Education member and Councilman George L. Cook III. “The Blood Is on Your Hands: Poems Against Gun Violence” was rushed to press in response to the massacres in a Buffalo, N.Y., market on May 14, which left 10 victims dead, and at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, which left 19 students and two teachers dead.
In his poems, Cook stridently calls for gun laws that will protect citizens from attacks from racist and hateful people. One incredibly poignant poem in the collection is titled “I Am an AR-15,” with the lines: “I will kill until you stop me / from my terror you will never free / But don’t blame me because … / I am an AR-15 / I am a mad man’s dream.”
The poems range from expressions of sorrow, to memorials to victims and heroes, to anger at the ineffectuality of current firearm laws. Cook doesn’t just lament the current state of affairs in the United States in relation to gun violence — he tasks each reader with speaking out and working together toward a solution that would ensure safe schools, markets and places of worship.
While the poems are beautiful and visceral, the book’s one drawback is its many typos, such as having a section of poems dedicated to “Valde, Texas.” Still, the poems are worth reading.
It is clear to the reader that Cook feels passionately about this subject, and he knows how to communicate that passion across the page.
“The inspiration (for the book) came when I was asked to speak at a local memorial in Hillside for the victims in Uvalde, Texas. With the shooting in Buffalo happening just a week before Uvalde, I was still angry and didn’t want to just write a speech and wanted something that really conveyed how I felt at the time, so I wrote the first poem in my book, titled ‘The Blood Is on Your Hands,’” Cook told Union County LocalSource. “After reading the poem at the ceremony, many (people liked) it and suggested that I get it copyrighted. I thought it was a good idea, but if I was going to go through the trouble of getting it copyrighted I might as well put together a collection of poems on the subject of gun violence.”
So he did — and quickly. Cook felt so strongly about the subject matter that the words seemed to spill forth from him.
“When I’m truly inspired to write, the process is relatively quick for me,” he said. “I was extremely angry at the mass shootings in both Buffalo and Uvalde and wanted to express that anger in the only way I knew how. The words just flowed as I typed. I wrote the first poem in under an hour and then took ideas that I wanted to incorporate in that first poem but that just didn’t work. I wrote the other poems based on those ideas. The book was done in maybe three days.”
While just three days for such a book may seem impossible, Cook was aided by the fact that this was not his first foray into being a published poet.
“I have written two short books of poetry before ‘The Blood Is on Your Hands,’” Cook said. “The first was ‘Let’s Talk Honestly’ in 2004, which discussed issues in the black community, and the second book was a collection of poems titled ‘Love,’ which I wrote in 2010. These were poems about anything one might love, whether it be a person, a song, a sports team, etc.”
While the writing process was in some ways cathartic for Cook, it has not lessened his resolve to push for commonsense gun safety laws. And he wants his readers to do the same.
“I hope that (my book) will make the reader think about how we view guns in this country, especially when handguns are the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States,” Cook said. “I want people to really think about an age limit to own a gun. We as a community have decided that those under 21 are not old enough to legally drink or gamble because we believe that people haven’t developed enough to have the good judgment to handle those things, but when it comes to guns, it’s like Oprah: a gun for you, a gun for you and a gun for you.”
In addition to making readers — who can buy the book in both paperback and for Kindle via Amazon at https://tinyurl.com/35cmt3fr — think about the gun violence issues in this country, Cook hopes his poetry will inspire them to do something about it.
“I also hope that the book inspires readers to reach out to their elected officials and demand meaningful change, not just some weak legislation,” he said.
As his book’s titular poem reads: “The NRA makes it rain / And politicians continue to gain / off a mother’s pain / Our children die / But we keep hearing lies / While fathers cry / As the bodies pile up, you claim you care / But please don’t you dare / Offer us any more of your useless thoughts and prayers.”