By Gregory Crosby

October is my favorite month, even if, growing up in Las Vegas, it didn’t feel remotely autumnal until Halloween, not coincidentally my favorite holiday (even if so many of my friends insisted on celebrating something called “Nevada Day”). Long a devotee of horror movies and Gothic literature, I spend every October immersed in the pleasurable shiver of the supernatural.

But true terror always intrudes, and October now also means the uncommon yet commonplace tragedy of American culture that burst forth from the 32nd floor of Mandalay Bay on the first of the month last year. Uncommon in that it was the worst mass shooting in American history; commonplace because recent American history is littered with the intractable horror of mass shootings, one after another after another after another.

When these monstrous crimes occur, the issue of response is always at the forefront of our minds: how do we grieve again the same tragedy, one that happens over and over and over? How do we convince those entrenched in the ideology of the gun that they have created a world in which such horror is normalized? How can we dismiss forever the inadequate and meaningless phrase thoughts and prayers from our lexicon?

As a poet, the issue of response is straightforward: I wrote a poem. The poem was entitled “Gregory Crosby Marked Himself Safe During the Violent Incident in Las Vegas, Nevada” (taken from Facebook’s feature that allows people to let other know they’re okay during an unfolding disaster) and later published on KNPR’s Desert Companion blog. The poem does what poetry is singularly adept at: it tries to find new language—a new way of speaking—that renews the language that has dulled our senses and frozen our hearts as this species of despair has grown over the last 20 years. It tries to articulate what the epidemic of American gun violence really feels like, now, in this moment.

Whether it succeeds is, as always, for a reader to decide. But the constant attempts we make to understand, interpret, and renew our language is one of the signal virtues of poetry, even in a world where the image has overwhelmed the word, and our discourse is rife with lies. Language, with all its faults and flaws, is still the locus of so much of what it means to be human, and poetry is language at its most human: our desire not just to communicate, but to transcend the limitations that make communication so fraught, so difficult, and so liable to abuse.

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Gregory Crosby is the author of the poetry collections Walking Away from Explosions in Slow Motion and Spooky Action at a Distance. He lives in New York City. On October 20, Gregory will be presenting poetry readings of his work at the 2018 Las Vegas Book Festival, “A Conversation and Poetry: Gregory Crosby Back in Town.”  His presentation is on Saturday, October 20, at 10:30 am in the Poetry Pavilion.

Photo credit: Adam Courtney

Cheyanne TreadwayThomas