Poems by Dean Rader, Montana Ray, Danez Smith, Brian Turner, and Elizabeth Willis register a perplexing trend in American poetry: the use of gun and bullet tropes in poems indirectly or not at all about guns. Many of the poets employing these tropes publicly oppose gun violence and promote poetry as a refuge from it, yet their poetry, paradoxically, affirms guns’ literary power. The five poets selected for this study represent different styles emitting from diverse histories, ages, and literary backgrounds. Their poems likewise branch across a range of contexts and levels of abstraction. Studied together, their poetry exposes the centrality of guns not only to US America's collective self-image as a social body and national power but also to the American literary imagination. In light of this apparent contradiction, this essay considers what the pervasiveness of gun and bullet tropes suggests about the efficacy of poetry as enemy, accomplice, or rival of guns.

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