Several times this month, fellow Harietteers have posted wonderful lists of books they’ve been reading, catalogs of their poetry bookshelves, overviews of new poetry volumes, histories of their late modernist avant garde archival projects, and the like. Probably not so surprising to those who read my posts, my own reading patterns tend to drift more to volumes of political economy and labor history that eventually spin back around to influence the way I think and write about working people here in the U.S. and across the globe.

One very recent book that I’m digging my way through, Workers Across the Americas: The Transnational Turn in Labor History, addresses one of the central roots of my working-class writing projects: transnationalism. Culled together by Leon Fink, editor of Labor: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, Workers Across the Americas groups twenty essays into seven key themes: the challenge of transnational labor history, labor and empire, indigenous peoples and labor systems, international feminism and reproductive labor, labor recruitment and immigration control, transnational labor politics, and labor internationalism. The volume includes essays by historians like Aviva Chomsky, whose Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class is (to me) essential reading on the transnational working-class, and John Flores, whose work on “municipal socialism” couldn’t be more timely during the current wave of attacks on public sector unions. Historians like Premilla Nadasen, Camille Guérin-Gonzales, and Nelson Lichtenstein provide compelling introductions to the sections.

Later in June, I’m going to be heading to Venezuela for the 2011 World Poetry Festival. And while I’m incredibly excited to read in Caracas and smaller towns in the countryside—and to meet poets from countries around the world – I’m equally excited to experience the ways in which writers and workers are co-negotiating the Bolivarian revolution. Books like Workers Across the Americas help prepare me… as a poet. They allow me to create and imagine frameworks for processing the incredibly complex cultural and political geographies (and the incredibly complex global working-class lives) that poetry, for me, must engage.

Originally Published: April 27th, 2011

Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants (Coffee House Press, 2000), Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2008), and Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009). His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New...