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Taxi Cab Workshops with Mark Nowak

By Harriet Staff


Mark Nowak is at it again, taking the poetry workshop out of the classroom and situating it in some unexpected place. This time, we find ourselves in a NYC taxi. The New York Times reports on the culmination of Nowak’s efforts at the PEN World Voices Festival, where veteran cab drivers performed poetry written in Nowak’s workshop:

These are the bards of gridlock, a group of New York City’s yellow taxi drivers coached in recent weeks to produce a series of poems about their jobs, to be presented as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. On Saturday, inside a darkened theater on Lafayette Street, the drivers recited their work as a roomful of the city’s literary class observed. “The idea is to take the creative writing workshop out into the community of workers,” said Mark Nowak, the group’s instructor and the director of the master’s program in creative writing at Manhattanville College. Mr. Nowak said he had in the past organized similar workshops for Ford autoworkers in Minnesota, Somali nurses, and electricians from Chicago.


Each of the three drivers who volunteered to participate had spent at least 20 years driving a taxi: Davidson Garrett, 60, from Midtown, who has driven since the 1970s to support acting and writing pursuits; John McDonagh, 58, from Middle Village, Queens, who in his spare time hosts an Irish-American radio talk show; and Seth Goldman, 53, from East New York, Brooklyn, who claims to have been deemed by his family “the only Jew in New York without ambition.”

Their entries sketched the majesty of a day’s first fare and the indignity of shepherding a belligerent reveler, the tyranny of fleet owners and taxi commission bureaucrats, and the empty city that the drivers scoured for fares after Hurricane Sandy.

The article goes on to offer descriptions and choice quotes from the poems; one poem describes driving past Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s address in the hopes of being flagged down, while other ones pick up on themes of Occupy Wall Street:

Many of the day’s verses recalled the season of Occupy Wall Street, including Mr. McDonagh’s “West Street Story,” about delivering a rider to 200 West Street, the Goldman Sachs headquarters.

“The 1 percent don’t do buses, subways or walk,” he wrote. “The 1 percent don’t touch cash. It’s credit card, and it’s a write-off.”

There’s yet more! Head over to read it all.

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Posted in Poetry News on Monday, May 6th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.