Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Mark Nowak and the Domestic Workers United
Mark Nowak is nothing short of my contemporary poetry hero. Having worked in autobiographical lyric modes in his lovely first book, Revenants, he has embarked upon increasingly experimental poetry practices, employing radical jumpcuts, documentary collage, and a widening vision of poetry as a social force capable of telling individual stories at the same time as acting as a kind of social critique.
His Coal Mountain Elementary, which tells a story of the Sago Mine disaster and the plight of miners worldwide (especially in contemporary China), was even staged as a play. The elegiac cast to his work--for example, in CME and even in his Ford Plant poetry dialogues--always had an embedded politics to it, but he's been working hard to create a social poetry that leans forward, and that empowers people to get their voices and stories heard.
His recent project, working in writing workshops with Domestic Workers United, has activated the possibility of poetry as a story-telling arm of a wider global rights movement for domestic workers, whose rights are not protected and are vulnerable to abuse by employers. Think of it: poetry as empowering not only for individuals to come to terms with the truths of their lives and to express it to themselves and others, but also for creating dialogue with others coming to terms with their truths, adding their voices into a chorus that calls for structural change, for dignity and rights, for justice.
These videos represent the first steps in that work. I look forward to his next steps, and hope that more poets would use this model of the workshop, to bring poetry outside of the halls of academia, and into the places where people live and work.