Coal Mountain Elementary

Poetry by Mark Nowak, with photographs by Ian Teh and Mark Nowak

April 1, 2009 • 6 x 9 • 170 pages • 978-1-56689-228-5

A singular, genre-defying treatise from one of America’s most innovative political poets, Coal Mountain Elementary remixes verbatim testimony from the surviving Sago, West Virginia miners and rescue teams, the American Coal Foundation’s curriculum for schoolchildren, newspaper accounts of mining disasters in China, and full-color photographs of Chinese miners by renowned photojournalist Ian Teh.

About the Author

A poet and labor activist heralded by Adrienne Rich for “regenerating the rich tradition of working-class literature,” Mark Nowak regularly leads transnational poetry workshops between American and international trade unions. The author of Revenants and Shut Up Shut Down, he has also been a contributor to the Poetry Foundation's Harriet blog.

A Malaysian-born, British photojournalist, Ian Teh has been documenting working conditions in China for over a decade. His photographs have appeared in Newsweek, Time, Fortune, the New Yorker, and the UK Independent Magazine and have been widely exhibited, most recently in Beijing.


“A stunning collage. . . . Nowak’s willingness to submerge his own voice beneath these other accounts, privileging other voices—those of survivors, widows, journalists—above his own. He is a legislator whose job is allowing others to be heard.” New York Times Sunday Book Review

“Mark Nowak is restoring the perspective of working class Americans to contemporary American poetry.” Buffalo News

“The aim of making poetry to make change, to make history, is what makes Nowak’s work most radical and most daring, moving into the realm where knowing is a kind of collective being and doing.” —Kenyon Review

Coal Mountain Elementary is an imaginative and shocking reminder of what it means, in the most human and poignant terms, to be a miner, whether in this country or in China, or for that matter anywhere in the industrial world. It is also a tribute to miners and working people everywhere. It manages, in photos and in words, to portray an entire culture. And it is a stunning educational tool.” —Howard Zinn