Poetry News

Mark Nowak Talks About His Poetry Activism at Split This Rock

By Harriet Staff


Poet and activist Mark Nowak is interviewed at Split This Rock! Talk about a good perception of the poetry workshop. In response to a question about the role of dialogue in his poetry activism, Nowak responds: "To me, the poetry workshop is such an important tool for use in progressive organizations like workers centers or repressive institutions like the prison industrial complex because it can operate in what I like to call both the first person singular and the first person plural – the 'I' and the 'We'." Nowak is the recipient of the 2015 Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism, sponsored by the CrossCurrents Foundation. More:

[Mark Nowak:] ...What emerges from my poetry workshops with workers centers and global trade unions, for example, is both a valuation of individual workers’ stories AND the collective understanding that these stories are simultaneously isolated events happening to individuals and repressions that are happening to workers across the world. Thus, the workshops help to build both the confidence in workers’ individual voices and their belief in shared struggle and collective resistance.

[STR:] How do news outlets trigger and influence your poetry?

[MN:] Every day, one of the first news sources I look at is Labourstart. It’s very easy to form an opinion that the working class and the trade unions are a dying breed if all you listen to is the U.S. corporate media. But Labourstart reminds me each and every day of the hundreds and thousands of workers around the world who are rebelling in small and large ways. This kind of daily practice utterly shifts my perspective of living in this world and inspires me to continue to do the work I do.

[STR:] What audience(s) do you keep in mind when you write and publish your poetry?

[MN:] Every poet wants to say “the public,” of course. But for me, I really want to create work that is simultaneously and equally of interest to the literary community and to global workers. I want to feel equally confident and proud when reading the exact same piece at a literary center and at a union hall. I can’t just write for one or the other, or different pieces for each group. I have to write for them together. This is the only way I can be satisfied with what I produce.

Read the full interview at Split This Rock. Mark Nowak will be honored on April 2 at the Arts Club of Washington for his work in establishing "poetry dialogues" among workers around the globe.

Originally Published: March 24th, 2015