In the wake of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, March for Our Lives Houston organized a rally at Downtown’s City Hall on June 11.
Among the approximately 600 people participating was Houston Youth Poet Laureate Avalon Hogans, who was appointed the city’s sixth youth poet laureate last fall. The writer, activist, and recent graduate of Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts performed her poem “A Lesson on the Intruder Drill Alphabet” at the event.
Since the Uvalde school shooting on May 24, there have been multiple mass shootings in the U.S., including one that killed 7 and injured dozens at a July 4th parade in Highland Park, Illinois. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 320 mass shootings have taken place nationally so far in 2022, and Everytown for Gun Safety reports 95 incidents of gunfire on U.S. school grounds this year, with 9 of those in Texas.
Houston Arts Journal reached out to Avalon Hogans for the following interview and permission to reprint her poem written for March for Our Lives Houston. Note: Hogans is now publishing under the name Avalon Jaemes.
A Lesson on the Intruder Drill Alphabet
When I was a little kid,
I knew my ABCs
A, as in apple, the red fruit we eat.
A, as in ant, the small bugs by your feet.
A, as in alarm, the one booming through the intercom,
as you hear the principal yelling, “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”
B is for be, and
C is for calm.
because if you B as in breathe too loudly, then the B as in bad guy will find you.
So, be calm, and do so with C as in caution.
D is for drill,
as in, “It’s okay sweetie, it’s just a drill,
and when it’s all over you have that math test still.”
E is for eggs, elephant, elbow, and
“Everybody get down!”
F is for fear.
G is for “Get away from the windows and door!”
H is for how and happen.
How could anyone let this happen?
Because I, J, K,
I’m just a kid.
L is for look.
Like don’t look through the window, just look down.
M is for mommy,
who you miss and wish you were with, instead of here where
N, nobody is telling you what’s going on.
Except to say it’s going to be
But you know it’s not, so you ask your teacher if you can
P, please go home.
You’re shushed and told to just be
R is for rabbit, rocketship, rainbow, and
reform, a word you’re still too young to know
but will learn to advocate for as you grow,
because the S, silence is
T, too loud.
And twelve years later, when you’re older,
U as in Uvalde will be
V, very deeply grieving in that sound.
So child, I know you’re scared that you can’t even so much as
ask questions, or even look around,
let alone X, the second letter in explain, how you’re feeling now.
Y is for you.
You will be okay because this is just a drill.
You are one of the lucky ones.
Z is for zebra, zucchini, and zoo.Avalon Jaemes
You made it to the end of the lesson today, school is over,
how blessed are you.
Can you tell me a little bit about the process of writing this poem? What “inspired” it and its form? What were you thinking and feeling as you wrote it?
The form of this poem was inspired by the alphabet. I chose this as inspiration because growing up, I learned how to recite my ABCs around the same time I learned how to hide from an intruder at school, much like most children in America did. As I was writing this, I was thinking about what it was like to be a child learning how to read, write, and speak, but still not knowing the words to describe how fearful and wrong it is that they must have frequent drills for a possible school shooting.
The school shooting in Uvalde came less than 2 weeks after a horrific racially motivated shooting in Buffalo (and since then there have been more). Would you share how you felt during those days, how you processed the news?
During those days, I felt completely anchored by grief. As a poet and activist, it’s my job to write and speak. But some days it’s impossible to verbalize the magnitude of such tragedies. My heart truly goes out to all the families and friends of the lives we lost. May we continue to fight for this overdue justice.
What has it been like for you to grow up during this “era” of school shootings? How has it shaped or impacted your school experience?
Growing up in an era of school shootings has definitely impacted my school experience. It has made me feel very anxious and cautious at times as a student.
Amanda Gorman and other Houston poets have also written poems in response to Uvalde in its aftermath. While many people have connected profoundly with those poems on social media, others express skepticism of the importance of poetry during times of crisis. How do you respond to that – why write poetry when poetry alone cannot literally “fix” something?
Poetry may not be a tangible solution to any social issues, but it serves as a megaphone to these issues. Poetry is a form of spreading awareness. Words hold power. Words are not actions. Words command actions. Poetry is important during these times because it connects people together, verbalizes problems and goals, and inspires others to use their own voices.
What are your college and future writing plans? And in the short term, what else is on your plate – and your goals – for the remainder of your term as HYLP through fall 2022?
I’m very happy to announce that I will be attending Rice University in the fall. I plan on majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and minoring in African American Studies. I hosted my Poet Laureate service project in mid-June at Black is Primary, a Juneteenth event curated by [Houston Poet Laureate] Outspoken Bean at Post HTX, where I read poetry, donated books to kids, and hosted a drive where I gathered hundreds of other books to donate to local schools. As for my goals, I want to continue pursuing writing. Earlier this summer, I had my first live spoken word set in a major city outside of Houston, so I am hoping to continue expanding my audiences. And as always, I plan on continuing to use my voice and spark change.