Poetry's Public Commitments
On Thursday night, I gave a lecture at John Carroll Unviversity in Cleveland on "Globalization, Social Action, and Committed Pedagogy"—thanks to an invitation from my pal Phil Metres. It's a triangle of concepts that I've been trying to bring into conversation for some time. That is (for me), how could developments in labor history and labor organizing (esp. transnational social movement unionism), the Marxist praxis at the center of critical pedagogy, and what we do as both poets and teachers of poetry be brought into conversation? As part of the presentation, I referenced some of the historical precendents (and the recent video) that I discussed here in my recent post on Domestic Workers United—and how I'll be expanding on that work with migrant service sector workers in London (for the "Poetry and Revolution" conference) and through a larger project with global domestic workers in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). I also touched briefly at the end on Henry Giroux's newish book, On Critical Pedagogy, and Giroux's comment that "[t]he question of what educators teach is inseparable from what it means to locate oneself in public discourses and invest in public commitments."
A few weeks earlier, I participated on a "panel" with Patricia Smith (whose new book Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, btw, is fantastic!) at what's become my favorite poetry conference in the country, Split This Rock. I put panel in quotes because, instead of the more typical academic paper presentation panel or a multi-person poetry reading, our event was structured like a live radio call-in show with WEAA FM's Marc Steiner serving as moderator. Titled "Writing the Disaster" (borrowed from Blanchot), the discussion touched on Patricia's poetic work around Hurricane Katrina, mine on the Sago mine disaster, and much more, twisting (as public conversations so often do) around the ethics of one's poetic practice, poetry's "public commitments," and other related areas. And following the broadcast of that hour-long conversation on WEAA earlier this week, our Split This Rock panel is now available online for anyone interested in listening to two poets hash out these issues in public.
Can we keep these conversations going once April ends?
The momentum for analyzing and reforging the politics of dominance and subordination as well as the participatory pedagogy of the general assemblies and working groups was prevalent last fall in Zuccotti Park and at Occupy sites around the country (and around the globe). Now, as #OWS transitions into its very first "in just spring" with May Day actions (coincidentally, on the day after National Poetry Month concludes), perhaps a larger, participatory conversation on poetry's public commitments is also on the horizon.
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...