Although I was hoping to start posting a few days ago, my computer crashed my first day on the road. Thanks to the Oklahoma City Mac Genius Bar (double thanks to Caleb!) I'm back online and set to begin Poetry Foundation summer camp today. In the next day or two, I’ll try to post impressions from last week’s conference in Vancouver honoring the career of poet-editor-activist-social critic Roy Miki. But I wanted to open by saying a few words about some areas that I hope my posts will begin to explore and open up for conversation.
This morning I went to the only breakfast place within walking distance of my hotel here in OKcity, a Denny’s off the interstate. When my wife asked our waitress about the closest movie theater (in case we needed to escape the 90 degree heat), she said, “Well, I’m not from around here. I moved here two months ago so I could work at this better restaurant.”
Now, I spent nearly a decade myself working at a highway exit fast food restaurant (Wendy’s) in Buffalo during the 1980s. These days, I spend a good chunk of my time trying to figure out the relationship between all the (global) implications of the story of my waitress at Denny’s (I know her name, but won’t include it here) and this thing I’m involved in called poetry.
Does contemporary poetry have any desire to open a dialogue with my Denny’s waitress (or my former Wendy’s co-workers)? --and I’m not talking Joe Wenderoth here. What is the relationship between contemporary poetry and the working class, the working poor, and the under- and unemployed?
Walk into any Target, Dollar General, Aldi, Taco Bell, or any of the other countless workplaces in the service sector strips that repeat themselves, ad nauseam, across the American landscape, and look at the workers, particularly the adult workers, those people trying to raise families or trying to supplement their (meager or lost) retirement, those just trying to survive, and ask, “What is the relationship between what (my) poetry has to say and her? And him? And them? (And us?)”
William Carlos Williams famously wrote in “Asphodel” that men [sic] “die miserably every day” for lack of what is found in poems. My question would be to ask what do poems die miserably every day from? From what is found in women and men working at an interstate exit fast food restaurant?
Until next time,
Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants, Shut Up Shut Down (afterword by Amiri Baraka), and Coal Mountain Elementary (2009), all from Coffee House Press. His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan...